I got a big envelope in the post yesterday. It told me all about my new breasts and how I’d get them. I sat and read it all in one sitting. I like detail. It makes me feel easier with things I can’t control. It helps to know what’s coming. I dislike surprises greatly especially if they come in the form of sharp pointy implements.
Some things came as a shock though in that very helpful pack. Here are the things I wasn’t expecting. Things that made me weep.
I will be in the high dependency unit for the first night after the surgery. I will have a catheter, an IV drip, oxygen mask and half hourly checks. There is a 1.5% chance that the tissue they take from my tummy to make my new boobs will “fail”. It might die. The surgery they perform is called Deep Inferior Epigastric Artery Perforator (DIEP) flap. It’s the most common, used in 70% of cases. They take fat and skin from my tummy and move the whole piece to my chest. Microsurgery is used to reattach each blood vessel to my chest wall. It’s incredible. It also takes 8 hours.
There’s also this chance of failure so if that happens, I’ll need to go back into surgery.
Other things that were a surprise. I will have daily injections of a blood thinner which I’ll have to self administer for a week after being discharged. I’ll have to wear giant lycra knickers up to my boobs for six weeks to hold the wound in my tummy together. I didn’t even know these knickers existed.
This is opening up a whole new world of lingerie. Don’t get me started on bras. I spent four hours yesterday looking at, researching and talking about bras.
I know from painful experience that having the right piece of kit at just the right time can make a profound difference to a healing body. So a certain amount of preparation and research or the right advice can be impactful. Like last time when I spent hours traipsing around shops hunting down button up tops because I wouldn’t be able to lift my arms to put clothing on over my head. Turned out I could have just stepped into cheap vest tops instead and saved myself a fortune and precious time and energy.
So I know the value of the right solutions. But after spending all day fretting and worrying and trawling expensive post surgery websites, I’ll have to wait to talk to the surgeon. Each surgeon has different preferences and techniques and each hospital seems to have different policies. I don’t know what size boobs I’ll get yet until they assess my body’s ability to be shifted about and remodelled. I don’t know whether they will be bigger because of the swelling. There’s a lot of variables and not all of them are clear.
This is hard for me. To sit, to wait, to not have the info I need to tick another thing off the list.
It’s also triggering a lot of unresolved anxiety from the last surgery I had. I coped with chemo and radiotherapy by meditating and processed those experiences fairly efficiently. But being faced with the words “drains” and “pain” is propelling me straight back to the horrors of the last chaotic experience of surgery. Pain is very challenging to process and to manage. Meditation abandoned me last time. A friend who also had breast cancer told me a tip that she had been told. To meditate on one part of the body that didn’t hurt. At one point all she could find was the tip of her nose. I guffawed at this image but it was a laugh fuelled by fear.
My anxiety about pain is immense. It was the closest I came out of all the treatments to defeat. To wishing for death.
Intimately connected to that is the drains. I will have three this time where I only had one before. My fear of those becoming clogged, being snagged, ripping out makes me swallow hard.
There are some reassuring surprises though too. The programme for recovery seems structured with a clear focus. I’m fitter, healthier, stronger this time round. I haven’t had chemo to weaken me. My weight is lighter, my muscles stronger. The hospital have a clear plan for each day I’m there. Five in total.
But I am still anxious. And it’s ok. I don’t need to be fine about this. It’s major surgery and I do sometimes question why I’m making it worse for myself by having the reconstruction. But there’s no perfect options here. Just the best of a bad bunch. And I am still so blessed to have those options.
In this moment though, I’m just going with the fear and anxiety and letting it flow. Best to acknowledge, recognise and manage it. It’s what is real. I accept it.