My Fabulous Boobies writer and breast cancer advocate Nicole McLean kicks off our Breast Reconstruction and You Blog Series in anticipation of our Twitter Chat on October 21, Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day. A version of this post appeared on her blog in October 2012. It was reposted with her permission.
I’ve attached a picture to this post of two women who are survivors. The sister in the first picture is posing with so much sass, and showing off her mastectomy scar. The second picture is showing the scars from a breast reconstruction surgery. I selected these two pictures because these two women represent me.
My Mastectomy Story
Four months after I started chemotherapy, I had a modified radical mastectomy.
Definition: a mastectomy is surgery that removes the whole or as much of the breast tissue as possible.
In my case, I had multiple tumors in my breast tissue. At least one tumor was very, very close to my chest wall (which meant that it was close to my bones). And a biopsy revealed that the cancer had started to migrate away from the breast and had entered my lymph nodes (which meant that if it was not caught at that time, it would have entered my blood stream and could have ended up in other organs). So after debating with my medical team and pleading with God for some other option for months, I eventually accepted that losing my breast was the best course of action for me.
Each Survivor Has a Different Choice to Make After Their Diagnosis
Some survivors are eligible for a lumpectomy, which is a breast-sparing procedure that removes just the cancerous tumor and leaves the majority of the breast intact. I wasn’t that fortunate.
[insert advice here: This is why being proactive about your breast health is important. The earlier the cancer is detected, the less invasive the treatment is and the higher the likelihood that the cancer can be removed completely.]
Now, Let’s Discuss Breast Reconstruction – I Chose a TRAM Flap Procedure
The picture to the right shows a woman after she had a mastectomy. The second picture is a sister showing her reconstruction scars and her reconstructed breast. There are a lot of ways that a woman who chooses to have her breast replaced can do that. She can have implants. Or she can choose to have reconstruction that uses her own body tissue (like I did) to reconstruct a breast. There are a few different types of procedures that utilize your own tissue. The surgery I had was a TRAM flap.
Definition: TRAM flap (transverse rectus abdominus muscle) is a surgical procedure that creates a new breast mound using tissue from your belly that is tunneled under your abdominal muscles and up to your chest.
The procedure is very detailed and requires a lot of surgery. But, it is a one-shot deal. Meaning, unlike breast implants, you do not have to have several procedures before your breast is done. I went into the hospital with one breast. I came out of surgery 12 hours later with two. It is not the same way for implants. However, with implants, the surgery is not as invasive and it works if you are not a candidate for a flap procedure.
Life after the TRAM
As you can see from the picture, there is a long scar that stretches from hip to hip along your bikini line and then there is a large scar around the breast. You will also notice that there is no nipple and no areola either. Lemme tell you… the first time I looked at my noobie (noobie = new boobie) I was not prepared for the Barbie-like look. (laughs) However, in all honesty, the option for what amounted to a tummy tuck at the same time I’d get a new breast was sort of the selling point for me.
So, there ya go. Now you know the basics about losing a breast and gaining a new one. There are a lot more details that I could go into but… I’m trying to take you slowly so that you’re not overwhelmed and freaked out. (laughs) But this is it.
Why I chose the TRAM flap
WebMD: Types of mastectomy
Mayo Clinic: Tram surgery
My Fabulous Boobies: I’m back and I have one breast