Fear, anxiety and giant knickers

Breast reconstruction pack

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.

Giant knickers

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.

5 thoughts on “Fear, anxiety and giant knickers

  1. Sokari

    You are amazingly brave doing all this research. One thing I had 2 surgeries a month apart. Each one I had a drain bag for a week and I can say it wasnt painful, though rather yukky looking. Please dont fret over the drains.

    I cant speak to the reconstruction though. Please think carefully about it and what other choices you have.

    The fear is real. How does one imagine thrmselves in this new configuration? My heart goes out to you and if you are tired and weepy know thats ok and you dont have to be stronger at this time. We are brave for surviving this shit storm.

    1. Heidi

      Thanks darling Sokari. Especially for the reassurance of the drains. I was sort of hoping that the last drain I had for the lymph node removal was very much worse than the drains for mastectomy. But I wasn’t certain. I can cope with them being annoying, just not that level of pain again.

      Yes most of the agony and length of recovery is in the reconstruction. I am trying to examine why I’m doing this and is it really what I want. But it’s so tough like you said to know how we’ll feel in our new configuration. So I’m sort of hedging. But it’s a massive decision and no perfect answer. If I wait and delay, the results might not be so good and it means more surgery later. No good options.

  2. Brenda

    It sounds way more intimidating than it actually is. The length of the surgery is probably the scariest part. You won’t remember most of that first night – at least I don’t! Immediate reconstruction is definitely the way to go – one stop shopping! If you get 3 drains, consider yourself a very lucky girl!

    I can imagine that big packet was very overwhelming. I found out about all of the details through some very long conversations with my breast surgeon and plastic surgeon. They were incredibly understanding about my seemingly unending questions – both pre- and post-op. My team is amazing, and I think that has made all the difference in this whole process.

    The only reason I had wound healing issues is because of the attempt at nipple-sparing. Looking back at it, I would probably not try that again. Make sure you have that convo with your plastic surgeon. That’s usually where the tissue death happens – not the overall tissue move.

    Don’t forget – I’m here. Whatever, whenever. Hopefully your care package will save you some store time. 🙂

  3. Heidi

    Thanks Brenda! That’s reassuring that I’ll be out of it that first night. I was thinking I might be. Hopefully I’ll sleep through the whole ordeal. I’m not saving the nipples. They’re considered armed and dangerous too! I’ll have some constructed six months later and maybe some areolas tattooed on. But maybe I won’t care about them by then. So hard to predict a future state of mind.

    You’re such a brilliant person. I’m so grateful for you! Can’t wait to open the package and discover the wonders of drain pouches 😉

  4. Karen

    Hello my love – I am so sorry I missed this post and didn’t see it until today (hadn’t looked at this email account for a few days so I didn’t see the alert) – wow, you are processing so much just now. I wish there was something useful I could say (but maybe that would just be me trying to be a fixer!). The only handy recent piece of information I can contribute is that mum had to do the self-injecting after her hip replacement and it wasn’t bad at all, surprisingly. They give you a box of tiny little short syringes that are already loaded up and easy to use. In terms of the aftercare and recovery process, again, I wish I knew what to say to be helpful. It must be impossible to predict how you will feel and what you will need after your op – everyone must be different. After my 5-hour neck op, I was a space-cadet for a month. Which at least meant that I didn’t really get bothered about anything at all. I lay like a zombie and watched box-sets or listened to the radio. But it wasn’t really an unpleasant state to be in – in fact it was weirdly comforting. Presumably everything will be a bit of a blur for you for a while after your operation. Anyway, I’m rambling and trying to come up with something helpful but not really giving you anything helpful! All I can do is say I am sending so much love xxxxxxxxxxx

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