I had a couple of doctors updates yesterday. One with the breast surgeon and another with the oncologist. On the good news front, my oncologist said that my left breast felt like ‘a normal lumpy breast’ rather than a breast with a large cancerous tumor! This is a sign that the chemo is working. He also commented that this point we are on ‘auto-pilot’, finishing off the chemo regime with switch to weekly Paclitaxol (T-chemo) starting Labour Day for 12 weeks. It also means I have about 12 weeks to figure out surgery.
I was so confident in my decision for no reconstruction, but that confidence was built upon assumptions that are proving to be incorrect. The surgeon re-enforced my concerns about lumps and bumps. The reality is, that I’m not a skinny girl. There is only so much a breast surgeon can do – their priority it to remove the cancer and with a mastectomy to also remove all breast tissue. Even with no reconstruction, I’m looking at two surgeries – the first to remove the cancer, and the second to clean up lumps and bumps – in part because they cannot predict how you will heal. The surgeon strongly recommended a consult with plastic surgery and radiation oncology before I make a decision. So now I’m reconsidering my options.
If radiation is not necessary – then I’ll be a strong candidate for immediate reconstruction. This would mean, during the same surgery I would have my breasts removed and a procedure done to replace my breasts with something. The something is either an implant or some fat from another part of my body (usually the stomach). Breastcancer.org provides a good high level description of the different reconstruction options. Personally, I’d rather go flat then have implants – in part because my body tends to react negatively to foreign objects, but also because they need to be replaced every 10-20 years. There are a couple of options that use stomach fat (not muscle) that may actually work out for me (Diep Flap and Siea Flap). I despise how they advertise it on the comparison chart as getting a bonus “tummy tuck”, but in essence that is what happens. They move excess fat from your tummy and replant it in your breast – replacing the breast tissue with the tummy fat. If it works well, it gives a more natural look and feel as compared to implants – but the surgery time and healing time is greater.
The surgeon did a good job of encouraging me to think beyond the immediate time – think one year, five years, beyond. One of my realities is that I’m not suddenly going to become a skinny girl. That isn’t in the cards for me. So, my body will inevitably have various rolls and folds. Previously, I wrote a bit about my concern for Buddha Belly. So I need to consider, what option is going to leave me with the better self-image of my body? Since being diagnosed, I’ve enjoyed a positive self-image (more so than before diagnosis), but I don’t know if that would still be the case after surgery.
The other thing that is often pointed out is that you do not know how you will react post-surgery. You may not think of your breasts as an important part of who you are now, but that might very well change when you wake up and they are gone. This is one of the more frightening aspects of whole process. You could be ‘certain’ and wake up to discover that you were wrong. One of the common approaches is to leave as many doors open for surgery. So, rather than doing double-mastectomy with no reconstruction, they do a double-mastectomy with skin sparing techniques. The surgery takes longer, but it leaves you with more of your skin, making reconstruction easier. You can then decide later if you want reconstruction. Using this approach keeps the door open for options but also draws out the number of surgeries and the length of time you are being treated. If you make the reconstruction decision before the mastectomy and you are a good candidate, they can do the first two surgeries at once (reducing the number of surgeries and overall healing time, but increasing the healing time as compared to mastectomy alone).
So now I shall wait again, for the next set of consults, to see what my options actually are. And then, maybe I’ll make a decision, but maybe not …