Personal Experience: Tips for Breast Reconstruction

Breast reconstruction surgery can be daunting. The fear of the unknown, what to expect, and how to prepare for recovery may overwhelm a person. Sometimes hearing the stories of other people who have been through it can put a mind at ease. Read on to hear from Catherine, a woman with reconstructed breasts.

Key takeaways:
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    Recovery can be different for everyone. Expect that a lot of your time will be put into the reconstruction of your breasts. Each surgery requires its own recovery time.
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    Breast reconstruction does not result in perfect breasts. The breasts may be uneven or misshaped.
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    It is important to consider all your options after a mastectomy. Before undergoing breast reconstruction make sure that is your choice.

Catherines Story

Catherine had breast triple-positive breast cancer and chose to have a double mastectomy. Part of her treatment involved discussing her options with her breast surgeon. Under her surgeon's recommendation, Catherine had nipple-sparing, skin-sparing breast reconstructive surgery.

Catherine's preparation tips

Prepare a care team - You want a partner who can help you with wound care. Infection prevention is essential. Infections can delay healing and may require additional procedures.

Have a cleaning person on your team - Activities are limited, including vacuuming. Ensure someone can pitch in with the housework for a few weeks.

Purchase bras - Catherine used compression bras from medical supply stores. She wore them for two years. She also shared that she would wear them all the time if they made them prettier.

What was recovery like for Catherine?

Expanders

After the expanders were placed, Catherine had to see the surgeon weekly to have fluid added to the expanders. This safely expanded her skin. The expanders stayed in until she began radiation.

Drains

Catherine was sent home with four drains. Three drains came out after two weeks, but the fourth drain continued to drain. After seven weeks, the fourth drain was removed. When asked if the drains were painful, she shared that she could feel the drain, which was irritating but not painful. There wasn't any pain during the removal of the drains, but they did leave small scars.

Scarring

There will be scars on both breasts. On Catherine’s left breast are scars where the drains were and under the breast. On her right breast, drain scars are also located under the breast, horizontally from the nipple and at the side of the breast.

Pain

On discharge, Catherine was given prescriptions for pain medications. The prescriptions were filled and available, but Catherine said she had no pain during recovery of both steps. She recalled that she used no pain medications during her recovery but acknowledged that she has a high threshold for pain.

Autologous fat grafting recovery

Catherine also had autologous fat grafting. She had it taken from her sides, back, knee, and inner thigh. Catherine had this to shape the breast and provide a layer of fat under the skin around the implant. When she was discharged, she had bandages around her for two weeks. They were necessary to keep the fat secure at the donor site.

Physical therapy

Right after surgery, Catherine began physical therapy. She was told her arms needed to move to avoid having locked shoulders.

Did Catherine experience any risks?

She shared that areas of her breast are numb. She stated that if her husband touched them in those spots, she wouldn't know. Catherine also had lymph nodes removed from her right armpit, losing sensation.

Catherine had radiation on her right breast after the expanders were removed and before reconstruction. Because of the radiation, her right breast is tough and discolored.

Her breasts are not perfect. The left breast, Catherine shared, hangs more than the right. This is because the skin on the right breast is tougher and doesn't sag like soft skin. However, her husband says he cannot notice any difference even though she can.

Breast reconstruction recovery tips from Catherine

Be prepared to commit a significant amount of your time to breast reconstruction. You might need multiple surgeries to shape the breast. Each surgery requires time for recovery.

Be prepared that your breast(s) will not be perfect.

Buy pajamas that have button-down shirts. Raising your arms above your head can be difficult for the first two weeks.

Buy button-down shirts for the same reason.

Catherine shared that it's essential to think about what you want before undergoing surgery. She recommends considering why you are having the surgery and what you want it to achieve.

Breast reconstructive surgery has its advantages and risks. Being prepared and knowing what to expect can help in recovery. Each person will have their own experience but knowing what others have been through before you can be helpful. Be sure to speak with your surgeon about your concerns and expectations.

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