A collection of interviews with and stories from women who have been affected by breast reconstruction
My second routine mammogram at the age of 54 showed a problem and I was called to NNUH for investigation. A further mammogram and then a biopsy revealed extensive DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) in my right breast. At my appointment with my Breast Surgeon, Mr Peley, and Breast Care Nurse, Alison, I was told a mastectomy was necessary and, subject to a clear sentinel lymph node biopsy, it would be possible for me to have my mastectomy and a breast reconstruction at the same time if I wished. In the past I had wondered why ladies bothered to undergo reconstruction but when faced with it personally I knew immediately that was what I would like! Within a couple of weeks I had an appointment with my Plastic and Reconstructive Consultant Surgeon, Andrea Figus, who, after taking my history and looking at my body shape, gave me 3 choices, an implant, latt dorsi (using back muscle for form a breast with a small implant) or a DIEP flap (using tummy tissue to form a breast). Again my decision was instant but I was sent away for 2 weeks to think it over properly but I did not change my mind! Mr Peley then performed the sentinel lymph node biopsy under general anaesthetic and after a short wait I was given a clear result.
Six weeks later Mr Peley performed my mastectomy and then Mr. Figus, assisted by Miss Rozina Ali, performed what I call the ‘pretty’ part of the surgery – they made me a new ‘breast’ using my tummy tissue and also lifted my left breast a little to make a better match. The surgery took about 10 hours and nothing could have prepared me for the exhaustion afterwards caused by constant monitoring but I was glad to know that this monitoring showed the blood supply to my new breast was flowing as it should and there was no infection. I spent a week in hospital being looked after extremely well and much of that time I was resting and listening to relaxing music as well as eating a healthy and calorific diet to aid recovery and healing. Histopathology showed that my DCIS was micro-invasive so I was prescribed a 5 year course of Tamoxifen which I viewed as my ‘insurance policy’. A year later I had more surgery under general anaesthetic to create a nipple, lift the reconstructed breast and to have some fat taken from my inner thighs to fill a dip that had appeared at the top of my reconstruction. Six months after that I had some more lipo infil, this time with fat taken from my midriff. The work was then finished when Breast Reconstruction Nurse Specialist Ruth tattooed my nipple and areola.
I have never regretted any of my decisions and am still delighted with all the work that was done for me. My breasts are not perfect and I never expected they would be but in a bra and pants nobody would ever know what I have been through. Techniques remain much the same today but surgery length and stays in hospital are usually shorter. Soon after my first operation I became involved with Keeping Abreast and now as a volunteer, Secretary of Keeping Abreast Norwich, leader of Wymondham Outreach and clinic volunteer I feel privileged to be able to support ladies having to make similar decisions to my own. I appreciate that reconstruction is not for everyone but it was certainly right for me physically and psychologically.
Keeping Abreast was established in September 2007 by patients Anna Beckingham and Beverley Birritteri and Breast Reconstruction nurse specialist Ruth Harcourt. They recognised a great need for women, both newly diagnosed with breast cancer and facing the possibility of mastectomy, and also women further down the line who are also considering reconstructive surgery, to be able to meet and talk to other women who have been through similar experiences. This allows women make an informed choice about whether or not to proceed with breast reconstruction.
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