Receiving the news that you have breast cancer can stir up many different emotions in a woman. Being scared, unsure, and possibly even angry are all normal reactions for some ladies. Others may handle the news differently and feel brave, confident, and determined to get well. When the doctor recommends that she should have a double mastectomy due to invasive cancer, it can bring about even more emotions. If the patient elects to undergo a bilateral mastectomy, she has the option to immediately begin breast reconstruction meaning the plastic surgeon inserts expanders (inflatable implants that stretch the skin and muscle to prepare for permanent implants) as soon as the breasts are removed.
Before a patient undergoes the operations, her plastic surgeon will talk with her about all the necessary disclaimers and outline what the surgery and recovery will entail. Although a caring surgeon will explain to the best of their ability what you should expect, there are a few things that are sometimes left out or even not completely understood until you actually endure the process.
1. After a mastectomy, you should listen to your body.
After surgery, your body will not feel normal immediately, and you will be sore. You have to listen to your body and move according to what feels best for you, but that does not mean that you should not move at all. Dr. Stephen Davidson says, “I would rather have a patient sore from moving too much rather than have one who is stiff from not moving at all.” It is all about doing what is comfortable for you!
2. You will have to get used to accepting help.
When you undergo a procedure such as a mastectomy, there will be normal, everyday activities that are more difficult for you to do. You will need to call in for backup during this time. Because we are in the hospitality state, people will begin asking what they can do to help as soon as you are diagnosed. Let your sweet friends help! This will be a trying time for you, and be willing to accept a little extra help!
3. Breast reconstruction is not a boob job.
Reconstruction is a more complicated procedure than a standard augmentation and tends to require several surgeries. It is a major surgery which entails drains (small plastic bulbs hanging from tubes inserted where your breast tissue was to collect fluid—these are temporary so don’t worry), expanders, and a nip here and a tuck there to get the right size. Dr. Davidson says, “You can expect good results, but reconstruction is more involved than a breast augmentation.”
4. And expanders are not implants.
Though they seem similar, expanders and implants serve different functions and look and feel different. Expanders are temporary. According to Rosemary Turk, Dr. Davidson’s nurse, “patients who do not have chemotherapy or radiation normally have their expanders for 6-8 weeks. If a patient does have to have chemotherapy, the expanders have to say in place for at least 6 weeks after the last chemo treatment.” Expanders are like balloons that are periodically inflated with fluid to stretch your skin and muscles to get them ready for your final implant. While implants feel and appear more natural, expanders tend to be a little more hard and stiff.
5. You may want to wait a bit before you make a decision about when to have nipple reconstruction.
The amount of time you should wait before having your nipple reconstruction varies from patient to patient. Dr. Davidson says, “Whenever you are happy with the results of your breast reconstruction and how your breast look, go ahead and schedule to have your nipple reconstruction.” To save yourself some trouble, insure that you are completely satisfied with the look of your breast before you undergo nipple reconstruction.
6. Your new breasts might look nothing like your old breasts.
Don’t let the results on day one of the new implants scare you. Some ladies will look lopsided and may be really upset. Your implants will settle in and begin to look and feel normal.
Breast cancer treatment is a process that keeps evolving and getting better all the time. Research has led to incredibly better treatment that continues to improve. Don’t be afraid to ask for specific help that you need and don’t quit asking until you are satisfied. That’s what your recovery is really about—being nurtured and putting your health, and yourself, first.