Receiving the news that you have breast cancer is life changing. Every decision that you make from the time you get your diagnosis is clouded by fear and uncertainty. We understand your anxiety and we want you to know that we care about your recovery. The goal of breast reconstruction surgery is to give breast cancer survivors the opportunity to feel whole again. While not every woman who is diagnosed with breast cancer will undergo a full mastectomy, those who do have options.
What Are Your Options?
Some women are more than happy to use a prosthetic bra, while others prefer to return to a more natural shape. If you do pursue breast reconstruction surgery, you will have some decisions to make including:
- When to have the procedure. It can be done during the same time as your mastectomy or months (or even years!) later. The timing of your reconstruction will be determined by additional treatments you may need, such as chemotherapy or radiation.
- Will you want nipple reconstruction? The nipple will be removed during your mastectomy, so your surgeon can either reconstruct a new one or you can choose 3D tattooing to create a pretty realistic-looking nipple.
These decisions should be made together with your support system and with the advice of your doctor. You can expect to feel emotionally overwhelmed, and the more support you have, the better your surgery and your recovery will go. We want you to have the best surgery and recovery possible. You will be given a detailed list of instructions once you leave the hospital, but we wanted to give you a little glimpse into what recovery will look like.
Not Every Breast Reconstruction Surgery Will Be The Same
Your recovery will depend on your decisions to the previous questions. The length of time you will be in recovery will depend on the type of reconstruction you have plus the time at which your reconstruction takes place. If you decide to have an implant placed at the time of your mastectomy, your recovery time shortens. The skin left over after the mastectomy will be used to cover the implant and you will be set to begin the recovery period. It usually takes about six weeks to get back to normal after your implant.
If you have to (or choose to) wait for a while after your mastectomy, you will have a longer recovery time. Once the excess skin is removed after the mastectomy, the skin that is stitched back together is taut and firm. The process then becomes two-fold. The surgeon will begin by inserting a tissue expander, which looks like a balloon that is slowly filled with liquid so that the skin expands. Over a period of several months (usually 2 to 6) the expander will create a space for the permanent implant. At that time, a second surgery will be done to insert a permanent implant. The recovery after this second surgery is about two weeks.
You Must Be The Patient!
What does this mean? It means that you let other people take care of you! It is so important for your body to rest. It is the main part of a successful recovery. You will be asked not to lift heavy things, to spend time relaxing and wait your full six weeks before returning to your normal activities. Ask for help. Let your family and friends help you as much as possible. It can sometimes be difficult to let others run your house, but in the end, you will be thankful! You may start feeling better after a few weeks and think you are well enough to decline assistance, but unless you are cleared by your doctor, you should continue to allow others to assist you.
Does this mean that you do not have to do anything for those six weeks? NO! The doctor will give you instructions on exercises that you can do in order to keep the scar tissue at a minimum and to stretch the muscles. You will also have a drain and incisions that you will need to take care of to avoid infection. You should also keep a close eye on your mental health during this time of recovery. While it is normal to feel a little different, it is not normal to feel sad or angry all the time. These are signs of depression, a very serious illness that must be treated immediately.
If you have any questions about breast reconstruction surgery, contact our office today!