Intensely Personal Post: Mastectomy & Reconstruction

Here is what I've been up to lately:

Immediately after surgery, before the heat was turned up.
I had a "free tram flap" breast reconstruction surgery to replace the breast I lost to cancer five years ago.

This surgery was "stage one" of the reconstructive process, transplanting tissue from my belly to my chest. A second, less major surgery will complete the process in a few months time.

While I recover there will be no lifting or straining, and lots of rest. Today is day 13, and I still feel a bit like I've been run over by a truck.

The first three days after surgery were the toughest. The heat in my room was turned up to 31 degrees C, and I was covered with a plastic blanket into which hot air was blown. This torture device is known by the cute and cuddly name, "Bear Hugger". It should really have been called, "Misery Inducer", but that's another story.

The idea was to dilate my blood vessels so the transplant would have a better chance of "taking". It must have done the trick since things are looking good!

I was so relieved when the heat was turned off on day four and I was able to sit in a chair for a while.

I was elated when I was discharged on day five and could be free of all-things-hospital!

A pretty picture taken before the snow.

Here's what I will be up to soon:

  1. Sketchbook work for an online Creative Quiltmaking course through DMTV. I signed up in July to grab a spot while it was available, but have yet to begin. Now is a great time to dive in.
  2. Finish documenting some family quilts for the Alberta Museum's quilt project. I started this in June, but there always seemed to be more pressing deadlines! Time to get this task off my list.
  3. Watch online quilting videos until I can watch no more! I have subscriptions to QNN, TQS, & DMTV, and now seems like a great time to catch up.

Back to the surgery:

People have been asking why I have chosen to have reconstructive surgery. They wonder if putting myself through all of this is worth it.

Here's the deal.

It's not easy sporting a single.

Nothing fits properly or hangs correctly if you go without a prosthetic breast (which I did for four years). And you feel the cold more than ever. Plus, you are invisible to strangers in the grocery store. Or anywhere else. An interesting side effect, wouldn't you say?

I actually couldn't confirm this until I started wearing a prosthetic breast about a year ago. Once I looked "normal", people made eye contact again, chatting, and being polite to me. Even flirting. Confirmed.

Cancer scares people. It makes them uncomfortable, so they just avoid the whole thing. It was easier for them not to acknowledge my existence than to see the face of cancer. I didn't take this personally. Still don't. I get it.

(It is important to note that my family and friends always recognized ME, and not the disease, loving me through it all.)

Wearing a prosthetic breast is not as difficult as going without, but it's still not comfy.

Clothes do fit, but bras don't stay where they should. They want to lift and twist and shift, so there is the constant discomfort of things rubbing skin and pressing on ribs. It is a challenge to find current clothing styles with necklines that don't gape and show bare chest when leaning forward. And, don't even get me started on swimming.
Things float.
Nuff said.

ANYWHOO...I am looking forward to being symmetrical again!

Allow me to show you a couple of photos to illustrate how amazing the surgery really is:

First, a "BEFORE" photo showing my mastectomy scar.
If you do not want to see it, stop reading now!!!

Scroll down a bit - this is your last chance to stop reading if you choose.

Mastectomy - before reconstruction

Okay, now for the "AFTER" photo. STOP READING NOW IF YOU SO CHOOSE.

This is about ten days after surgery, so there is lots of bruising. AND swelling of my entire body. AND holes here and there in my skin. AND incisions covered with tape. BUT, I have a breast!

Be warned: If you are squeamish, stop reading now!

Scroll down a bit - this is your last chance to stop reading if you choose.

Reconstruction, Stage One

As you can see, in the end this will be a very natural looking (and feeling) part of my body.

It was a scary leap to take, but I'm glad I did it.

Try, Learn, Grow,



  1. Wowzer Carole! You've been through a lot this last little while! I like your openess about your reconstruction. I'm really happy for your big decision especially when you really didn't know what you were up against. Medical Science is so amazing - just like you!
    Enjoy your down time watching and catching up on your quilting. We are so fortunate to have the internet to watch the experts try to teach us something new and interesting. I've found a few You Tube sites that are fun to watch too.
    Take Care! Big Hugs to you and your family!

  2. Thanks for the hugs and encouragement Alberta.
    You hit the nail on the head. Mentors are an important part of navigating this disease. I have been helped along by many supportive "breast" friends (other women who have been treated for breast cancer), and I offer support to others as well. Information is the key to making good decisions, and there are so many decisions to make along the way.
    Hugs right back!

  3. Wow! You are very brave to share your story. Thank you for doing it!! Good luck with your healing. One more thing you can do while recovering is to read a lot of blogs! :)

    1. Hi! Thanks for dropping in. You are right about reading blogs - it's so much fun to find one with lots of projects and ideas. I'll be back to visit yours, for sure! Thanks for your good wishes. I'm very happy to be healing so well.


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