Naw, I didn't have my DIEP in the heart of Texas, but part of my heart lives in Texas, hey there to my Sister Jane Marie. Hey Girl. Congrats on the newest baby of the family, Rebecca, 18 years old! She was just legally adopted by my girl and Sister Jane Marie and her Hubby Rick when Rebecca aged out of foster care. That is awesome! Welcome Rebecca! I'm your Mama's breast cancer Sister, I'm a writer girl that dreams. Welcome to the family Hon!
Lord Lord I don't even know where to start telling you about my experience, and if you're a Sister considering this option, it ain't for the faint of heart Baby. I did not want implants, and after two C-sections and a poochy muffin top, I was willing and eager to transform my belly fat into two breasts made of my own tissue. I was prepared for what was ahead, or so I thought.
I was not prepared for what would turn out to be the most difficult part of restoring my body after a bilateral mastectomy and radiation. If you had asked me at any point during these last three months if I'd do it all over again, that would have been an emphatic hell no.
I realize now, especially with the gentle guidance and wisdom of my Sister, Irish BC Warrior, that this procedure is not for sissies, and its recovery is not measured in months, but way way longer.
I had some wound healing problems, due to radiated tissue, that required a SECOND SURGERY only 7 weeks after the big surgery. Prior to that second surgery, holes on each of my breasts opened up and would not heal, and I had to pack them with gauze.
Lemme tell you, with all that I've been through since a cancer diagnosis, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING was harder than this. I have never been in so much pain and agony as this. I recall one evening in particular, after a visit with my Plastic Surgeon earlier in the day. He had cleaned up my wounds, help me Jesus, then stuffed the hell out of them. Later that night I had to pull out the long ropes of gauze so I could re-stuff them again.
The problem is the dressing gets stuck in there, and there is no way around it, it is damn painful. I had holes in my new breasts that were 3-4 inches deep, and more than one.
I stood in front of my bathroom mirror that night, and felt like a Civil War soldier dressing my own wounds from a .44 caliber six-shot revolver. My poor Husband watched in agony as I completely lost it trying to do this. He could not help me; it's one of those things that hurts so bad and you have to feel your way, no one can help you.
I have had moments during cancer treatment I just wanted to quit, and say "I'm sorry folks, I can't do this, Lord Jesus in heaven, take me home NOW."
I don't even know how I got through it, well, yes I do, the strength and power of my Savior and Heavenly Father, and the love of my family and friends. That is the ONLY THING that kept me going through the biggest physical challenge of my life.
After the first surgery, I had those melt away stitches, but they didn't do the trick. After the second surgery, I woke up to hard Frankenstein stitching, my surgeon wasn't messing around. It looked absolutely awful, but it did the trick.
Sister, if you have been radiated and decide to go for a DIEP, be prepared for wound issues. It's common. Radiated tissue does not have the same blood flow as regular tissue, and there's usually lots of scar tissue that doesn't want to heal or behave. Be prepared.
I am finally getting to a point, in the tiniest of increments as the days pass, where I don't regret this difficult reconstruction choice. Husband keeps reminding me "You're only a few months out..." Sisters keep reminding me "It'll be worth it. Keep going."
After almost 15 weeks, which included one week in the hospital, two surgeries, six drains, incisions from hip to hip and large moon shaped ones on both breasts, and numerous healing issues, every stitch is out, every scab has healed. I'm rebuilding strength, have returned to work part time, and areas of hard scar tissue that itch and hurt are softening, and prickly tingly burning nerves are slowly reconnecting.
In my clothes, I look a lot like my old pre-cancer self, but these new breasts are lumpy, not the same size, have numerous hard spots, and my torso is still very swollen and sore. Did I mention I have a new belly button? I'm also sorry to say my nipples didn't survive the journey. If you remember, I had a skin sparing nipple sparing mastectomy, and although plastic surgeon removed and re-attached them during the 8 hour DIEP surgery, they just didn't make it. After weeks of trying to heal then scabbing off, all that's left of em is a dot on each breast to mark the spot.
This ain't my first rodeo, I know things will get better.
Fight like a girl.
Sister, these are some of the things I'd like you to know if you are considering DIEP reconstruction:
First of all, a DIEP is not a single surgery. The first and main surgery is all about moving the tissue, and its successful blood flow. You've basically had a tissue graft, and that is the main focus of the first surgery, the survival of the graft. There are many smaller procedures after the first one that involve tweaking the large surgery. These are more cosmetic in nature and may include lipo, nipple reconstruction, nipple tattooing, and various nips and tucks to achieve size and symmetry. These later surgeries are done on an outpatient basis, at least three months or longer after the first big surgery.
Be prepared Sister that after the big surgery, your new boobs aren't finished yet.
That first week in the hospital is a real bitch, but no pain, no gain Baby. The sooner you get up and start moving, the sooner you'll begin to rebuild your strength. (I'd like to thank the nursing staff at Stanford Hospital where I had my surgery, for your excellent constant loving care. and of course, my plastic surgeon, Dr. Gordon Lee, for your skill, kindness, compassion and encouragement that we would get through this together.)
Don't let them use one of those dry shampoos on you while you're in the hospital. My hair puffed and frizzed up like I'd been electrocuted in a Tom&Jerry cartoon.
Eat lightly while in the hospital, stay hydrated and be prepared that you may not poop for days.
You will have 4-6 drains while in the hospital. I had six; two in each breast, and two in the groin area for my stomach. I came home with four drains, then down to 2, then all drains out a couple of weeks after surgery. Get yourself a drain belt, makes things so much easier! It's a fabric belt with velcro loops and you can hang all your drains off it. My hospital supplied it to me, check with your Dr.
Also very handy when it's time to shower with drains is a garment or pants hanger with the little clips. I would clip my drains to the plastic hanger, then hang it on the shower towel bar. Your mobility is limited though, so be careful, you can only move as far away as the slack from your drains.
Be prepared to sleep in a chair, with your bed elevated, or with a bed lounge pillow. You will not be able to use your torso to pull yourself up, your legs will be doing all the work. I tried sleeping in a comfortable chair, but really wanted to be in my bed. I made a huge nest of pillows for myself, and even then, getting up and out of bed was a daily victory for weeks.
For gosh sakes, make sure you go home with good pain meds, Vicodin didn't do it for me, I needed Dilaudid. Make sure you mix in stool softeners and gentle laxatives for as long as you're on pain meds. Ativan, an anti-anxiety medicine that also helps with nausea, was a must have for me.
Wear the tummy compression belt they give you in the hospital for at least 6-8 weeks after recovery. Wear a comfortable but supportive bra 24/7 for weeks after surgery.
You will need all the help you can get from your family to help you in the first few weeks.
Be prepared that if you have been radiated, you may have wound issues, i.e., wounds that will not heal. This is typical, your Dr. will get you through it, it does get better! I promise.
One of the remedies I found after the second surgery that really helped my healing was Oreganol. It's a pure form of oil of oregano, which for centuries in many cultures has been used as an herbal antiseptic, anti-microbial and antibiotic. I mixed a few drops with olive oil, and used this on my wounds with great success. I wish I had known about it after the first surgery.
Click here to read about Oreganol P73.
Have or develop a network of Sisters who have been through this! Nobody gets it like somebody who's been through it, and on that note, I am so grateful to my Sisters Norma and Irish BC Warrior Pat for talking me through this!