Breast Reconstruction

Breast Reconstruction Awareness: Understanding the Options & the Process

Breast Reconstruction Awareness _Header Image

Breast reconstruction is a commonly misunderstood part of the cancer journey. In honor of Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day coming up on October 17th, I am sharing more about the reconstruction process, my journey and the options women have should they choose reconstruction before or after cancer treatment.

What Is Breast Reconstruction?

Breast Reconstruction Awareness_Group Image

Breast reconstruction is the process that follows when women wish to have the appearance of breasts after a mastectomy. A mastectomy removes all breast tissue creating an almost concave space on the chest wall. Surgeons can then use a variety of methods to recreate the appearance of breasts using implants and/or fat and tissue from other areas of the body. Each woman’s breast reconstruction will be unique to her as will be the options she has available based on her unique situation.

Challenges of Breast Reconstruction

Breast reconstruction is NOT a boob job. As you will see in the images and descriptions that follow, reconstruction is a painful, lengthy and emotionally challenging experience. Some of the side effects and complications may include but are not limited to the following:

  • Limited range of motion
  • Loss of sensation
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Depression
  • Infection
  • Swelling
  • Lifting restrictions
  • Lymphedema
  • Discomfort when sleeping
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Phantom nerve pain

reconstruction process collage

Emotional Impact of Breast Reconstruction

While the surgeries themselves can present their own challenges, the emotional aspect of reconstruction can sometimes be even harder. Going through a 1-3 year process of reconstruction can leave women with deep rooted body image challenges that require professional support and guidance to resolve. It’s important to recognize these challenges as a major piece of the experience so that women can feel understood, respected and empowered throughout the process.

breast reconstruction _emotional impact

What are Your Breast Reconstruction Options?

Depending on each woman’s body, cancer diagnosis, timing and goals, doctors will provide a variety of breast reconstruction options. Some of the most common options are noted below. Each woman’s journey will be unique even if it falls into one of these categories. The important part is that women know their options and feel empowered to make the choices that are right for them physically and emotionally.

Breast Reconstruction_Empowered Decisions

Immediate Reconstruction

Women who wish to go smaller than their original size are generally candidates for immediate reconstruction. With this route the plastic surgeon will put implants in immediately following the mastectomy. This practice was less common when I was diagnosed in 2015, but has become more popular as doctors become more confident with the success of this procedure.

Expander to Implants Reconstruction

The majority of breast reconstructions are done with use of expanders. The expanders (empty silicone balloons) are placed in the chest following a mastectomy. Over a period of 3-6 months the expanders are slowly filled with saline through a syringe until the desired size is achieved. The expansion process is necessary to create a pocket for the future implant and stretch the skin and muscle to the desired size. Check out this post for more on my expansion experience.

DIEP Flap Reconstruction

In a DIEP flap reconstruction, fat, skin, and blood vessels are cut from the wall of the lower belly and moved up to your chest to rebuild the breast. The surgeon will reattach blood vessels of the flap to blood vessels in the chest using microsurgery.

New developments in surgical techniques may allow women choosing DIEP flap surgery to restore sensation in their breasts by connecting the nerves that were cut to nerves in the breast that was reconstructed. This will allow the nerves to potentially regenerate over time. If you’re undergoing a mastectomy and considering this type of reconstruction, talk to your doctor to see if you would be a candidate for ReSensation™. Learn more & find a ReSensation surgeon in your area.

Know Your Options

There are many other options when it comes to breast reconstruction and aesthetic additions including fat grafting, nipple sparing, and 3D tattoos. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your health care professionals before making decisions about your reconstruction. It can also be valuable to talk to other breast cancer survivors before making your decisions as they may lend additional insight. Connect with other women going through breast reconstruction online and in person.

My Breast Reconstruction Journey

My breast reconstruction journey has been a long one. I started with a single mastectomy following my fertility preservation and then immediately started chemo. This all occurred in August of 2015. At the time I didn’t know if I would have radiation and my doctors were not comfort doing immediate reconstruction. While I made the best decision at the time, I now wish I had done more research before choosing a single mastectomy and delayed reconstruction.

Breast Reconstruction Timeline

Surgery options and trends always changing thanks to research and new developments. Three years later I am seeing more surgeons comfortable with procedures that were just starting when I was going through the process. Sometimes I am disappointed but I am also thrilled that women going through the process today have more choices when it comes to breast reconstruction..

Breast Reconstruction_Fat Grafting

Following chemotherapy, I went back in for a preventative mastectomy on the other side and officially began the reconstruction phase. My reconstruction included expanders, an implant exchange, skin revisions and fat grating. The process has taken over 2 years and at this point I am just tired. Eventually I will need more fat grafting, but for now I need a break.  Breast reconstruction requires an immense level of patience and self-love as you are forced to constantly re-adjust to your changing body.

Missing my Former Breasts

Yes I miss having feeling in my breasts and the natural appearance of my former body. Down the line I may explore further options to improve the aesthetics of my reconstructed breasts, but for now, I am happy with the woman I am today. My breasts are just one small part of me and I am ready to focus on building a family.  The imperfections, lumps, and scars remind me of where I have been and where I am going. Cancer does not define me, it has inspired me to thrive in spite of everything I have been through.

Breast Reconstruction

I encourage any woman considering breast reconstruction to talk to others and research your options before making any decisions. The more you know the more empowered you will be to make the right choices for you. Being an active and educated participant in my breast reconstruction decisions has allowed me to feel at peace with the decisions I made even when I faced disappointment over the appearance or results. You are the only one who knows what is right for you and in time you will be the one to heal yourself throughout the breast reconstruction journey.

This post is brought to you in partnership with ReSensation


    Melisande Balleste

    October 14, 2018Reply

    As always a 👍 blog post.


      October 14, 2018Reply

      Thanks so much!! So glad you enjoyed it

    Jennifer Petkoff

    October 14, 2018Reply

    Reconstruction is so hard emotionally and physically. I had the diep flap and I’m happy with my choice but my body feels so foreign to me with all the swelling, scars, no nipples. Lots of self love and patience ❤️. So thankful for your blog and your raw honesty.


      October 14, 2018Reply

      I couldn’t agree more. I still have rough days 3 years post diagnosis where I don’t recognize my body!


    October 14, 2018Reply

    so informative very helpful, thank you


      October 14, 2018Reply

      I am so glad to hear it was helpful! Thank you so much for reading!

    Wendy Thibodeau

    October 14, 2018Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story. I opted for immediate reconstruction after a skin sparing double mastectomy. All was going well, 8 weeks out I was hit with a staph infection and had to have my expanders removed. I have since been through 2 additional surgeries to remove the excess skin. Expanders are scheduled to go back in 2/13/2019 and I am feeling a little anxious about this next stage. What am I to expect, will I be able to work while going through this expansion and how much is it going to hurt? UGH! Thank you again, I look forward to your blogs.


      October 14, 2018Reply

      UGGHH I am so sorry to hear that! There always seems to be unanticipated setbacks or at least there for for me as well. The expanders are uncomfortable but they’re only temporary to mentally it was easier for me to process that stage. Check out my blog post all about the expanders for me. Sending you lots of love!

    Amy W.

    October 14, 2018Reply

    I am just beginning the reconstruction process after bilateral mastectomy. I look at you and think you are beautiful, I don’t see your scars. But since I know what breast cancer does to our bodies, I feel your words and know how painful the process is. Thank you for sharing!!!


      October 14, 2018Reply

      Thank you so much for your perspective. I hope you can see your own body the same way you see me as you go through the process


    October 17, 2018Reply

    You are inspiring!!!! 7 years ago I had a lumpectomy. Fast forward to today, I am 7 weeks out from a skin/nipple sparing bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. (I found your blog a month before my surgery!) I was surprised when I woke up as I was expecting tissue expanders. I had had radiation on my left breast with my first cancer and my plastic surgeon was concerned my skin would not be able to accept immediate reconstruction. He tested the blood flow to my left breast while I was on the operating table and decided to put the implants in right away! I was so surprised when I woke up! I am healing and recently back to exercising! I am so grateful for the ever increasing options available to us. Your blog really helped me prepare myself for my operation. Thank you so very much for sharing!!!!!


    October 31, 2018Reply

    Wow u been through so much
    !! You are beautiful Anna! Brace and strong!


      November 5, 2018Reply

      You’re so kind


    February 23, 2019Reply

    Thank you for sharing! I also had a double mastectomy, ( cancer in only one breast and atypical cells in the other so I opted for the double.) And Had immediate implants. Had chemo and used the “cold caps” to try to save my hair. It definitely helped, I kept about 65% of my hair. I’m now going for radiation. Your hair regrowth blog helped me relax a bit because its been over a month since my last chemo treatment and I’m not seeing any regrowth so I’ll wait patiently and cross my fingers! Thanks again. Stay strong 💪


      February 23, 2019Reply

      So great to hear from you! I’m so glad to hear the cold capping worked well. I hope more women have that option in the fire. Best wishes and lots of love for radiation


    September 2, 2020Reply

    Had my bilateral mastectomy with expenders placed in August 2019 . My body rejected those and had 2 more surgeries until decided that it’s time to take the expanders out in nov 2019. I have been flat chested for almost a year now and just scheduled my free flap reconstruction for October 2020. Doctor told me that surgery will take 10-11 hours and 5 days in ICU…..I’m really scared. I was curious if anyone went through this…..


      September 2, 2020Reply

      Hi There, I have not been through that experience but I know many women who had flap reconstruction. I would suggest reaching out in the Young Survival Coalition group to get insight from others on Facebook.

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