Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools—We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
This breast cancer survivor had a double mastectomy with reconstruction and reflects on the questions she wishes she'd asked the doctor, in hindsight.
This breast cancer double mastectomy with reconstruction patient shares the questions to ask the doctors, in hindsight.
I knew I would give up my breasts because of my breast cancer and genetic testing results, but I did not know to ask the right questions. The secret desire of my 55-year-old heart was to wind up with really, really attractive breasts — adult dancer sort of breasts; wow-factor breasts. Was that even a realistic hope?
My plastic surgeon, if I remember correctly, asked if I wanted fancy sort of breasts. As an overweight, mature, married mother of two grown children, I demurely said no, but secretly I did. At the end of all the procedures, discomfort, pain and permanent loss of feeling, I wanted these reconstructed breasts to look awesome. If sensation was to be permanently sacrificed and nipples lost, at least I wanted the new breasts to look terrific.
The other day I looked at my freshly completed (still changing) reconstructed breasts and I wanted more. I wanted more lift and more projection, a fuller, more natural sort of shape and scars that were way less visible than they appeared. Was that too much to ask? I wish I had at least asked. Chicken. Chicken. Chicken. Plus, I did not even know the right questions to originally ask.
The results are very, very good. I am grateful to have lumps that — under clothing – appear to the rest of the world as my natural breasts. My surgeon and his staff perform many of these procedures for breast cancer survivors. They are very skilled. Due to their skill, I did not develop infections or have to go back partway through to start over. I did not have huge unevenness, lopsidedness, "dog ears" or any of the other unattractive things I had seen and heard about from other breast cancer survivors who underwent a double mastectomy with reconstruction. I am truly one of the fortunate ones, so why was I in tears that day?
In some of the online mastectomy reconstruction support groups, I had seen some photos of gorgeous reconstructed breasts. Maybe my expectations were out of whack? Maybe those women were younger, not overweight or both. Maybe they had nipple-sparing mastectomies. I just didn't know. Somehow, I had secretly held onto false hope. A wiser me could have asked the doctor more about what to expect. A wiser me would know that each person's body reacts to all these procedures differently. Each person's outcome will be somewhat unique.
My husband says to give everything more time to heal and settle. He is right. Things are still settling and changing, and scars are fading. He also pointed out that I can choose to do some tweaking if that is what I decide I want down the road. My oncologist, a breast cancer survivor herself, had warned me: "If a woman goes flat for a while before doing reconstruction, she tends to be happier with the reconstruction results than a woman who is going straight from her natural breasts to reconstructed breasts." I see now how that makes sense too.
I have a follow-up appointment with the plastic surgeon in the fall. I will ask my questions and make my own choices then. The moral of the story is to first be honest with yourself so you can then be honest with your doctor when facing reconstruction surgeries, and then do your research so you know the questions to ask your doctors. Please learn from my "after" thoughts. Thank you for listening.