From the very outset of my cancer journey, I knew at some point along the way I would be loosing not just one but both of my breasts and this wasn’t just because my consultant told me that a mastectomy of my affected breast was the recommended course of action. For me, due to my family history of breast cancer and of course my age- after being screened by family genetics consultants and them not finding me or my mum to have the potential life-threatening braca gene (apparently only 5% of family history cancer patients do) it was ruled that a double mastectomy and immediate reconstruction was the best course of action for me as the chance of recurrence of my cancer sat between 60/ 70 %. They made it clear that this offer wasn’t something that they approved lightly on the NHS but for me, they saw it as a necessary preventative and to be honest was the outcome I had hoped for and after seeing my mum go through her own mastectomy I thought I knew what to expect. Err- How wrong was I? it all became a lot clearer when I met the plastic surgeons at St Thomas Hospital in London. They made it very clear from the outset that the main aim of the surgery was to provide cancer-saving surgery- not cosmetic, so although they would try and achieve the best possible physical result in the reconstruction- their primary focus was removing the cancer- this included an operation that occurred in two parts with two teams.
Part 1: Clearing the complete shell of the breast/ removing the nipple and leaving just the skin of the breast carried out by my breast cancer consultants.
Part 2: The plastic surgeon team reconstructing and creating the best look possible from the chosen surgery.
When it came to this there were three options for me:
1- Double mastectomy and no reconstruction- prosthetic breasts could be worn within my bra. This option was out of the question for me- due to my age, the fact I wanted to go on find a life partner, get married, have children and still be confidently proud of my body
2- For any breast reconstruction the best choice and recommended course of action was a procedure called a DIEP flap which in a nutshell was a tummy tuck and using the fat to reconstruct the breasts giving the breasts a realistic feel and look. This I was told was out of the option for me because I didn’t have enough fat on my stomach to fill my breast shell- let alone for two breasts. Recovery time for this op would be 3-4 months.
3- Implants- This included inserting implants under the pec muscle as there would be no cushion for the implants to fall on, then tissue made from pigs collagen would be inserted in the breast under the implants to create a sort of cushioning. Although a simpler procedure with a 4-5 week recovery- my breasts would be made smaller than I was used to in fact two sizes down (I was a FF in cup size and the implants would be at most DD). I was also told the strength in my pec muscles would never be the same again. As scary and unglamorous as it sounded, this looked like it was the best course of treatment for me.
What I found scarier out of all of this and hard to get my head round was 1- the fact that my nipples could not be saved. So after the surgery, I would be walking round nipple-less for six months until they could be tattooed on 2- the fact that I would never have any sensations in my breasts again and 3- would never have the option of breastfeeding my children and it was at that point i knew the long-term reality of cancer fucking sucks! after this appointment I spent some serious time alone contemplating and questioning my future- I couldn’t see a way out- who would want to be with someone who doesn’t have breasts? How could I ever be naked in front of anyone again? My body is going to be deformed…..
Never the less after numerous appointments going back and forth, planning, prepping and making sure I knew what I was getting myself into- I signed the consent. And as the clinic put it- my bed was ordered- for a 5 night stay at St Thomas Hospital.
The operation was booked for June 15th 2016, six weeks after i finished chemo.
Featured Pic: Top left: Me after my surgery, Top right: My mum at the window of my beautiful room at St Thomas Hospital, Bottom left: Visitors, Bottom right: Recovery bandages and my smaller breasts.