It has been three years since I was first diagnosed with breast cancer and since I underwent a bilateral mastectomy and TRAM flap breast reconstruction with Dr. Philip Beegle. Things have been going great. However, in January 2017 during a routine check-up that included a Pap smear, I was found to have a rare cervical carcinoma unrelated to my prior breast cancer diagnosis. Fortunately, this type of cancer has a favorable prognosis and does not metastasize, nor does it require chemotherapy. Still, I did have a momentary feeling of panic upon hearing “cancer” again after all that I have been through! My doctor’s treatment recommendation included a complete hysterectomy and, to date, I have recovered well and remain cancer free!
When people ask me how I am doing three years out from my breast reconstruction, my initial response is “I am alive and well and most importantly, the cancer is gone!” The initial shock of having cancer is over, my reconstruction is completed, and I have recovered. However, looking back there are a few things that I wish I had done differently. Even though both my surgery and my breast reconstruction post-operative recovery were actually pretty easy, with no complications or infections, there are times when I was sorry I had chosen a TRAM. Why? Right after the surgery, I was very pleased with my breasts and I loved them! Then, during the second stage of my reconstruction, I had breast implants placed to improve projection and my nipples reconstructed. After that I felt that my breast size was too big, so I chose to have the implants removed. Today, my breasts are great. They are soft and natural looking, not droopy. When I look in the mirror, I cannot see the scars at all. Although I am actually quite happy with them, I have lost some sensation and miss the breast stimulation and sexual pleasure related to my breasts. I also generally prefer to go bra-less, so in retrospect I now wish that I had not chosen to undergo nipple reconstruction.
What really bothers me, though, is the abdominal portion of the surgery. It is tight, as Dr. Beegle told me it would be, but it is also numb, pooches out a little at the top, and seems bloated after I eat. Before my surgery, I was happy with my abdomen and I didn’t feel like I “needed a tummy tuck!” The scars are healing well and the rest of the abdomen is great, but this “pooching-out” at the top really frustrates me. I am very “sensitive to how I feel” and it makes me feel “less fun.” When I mentioned this to Dr. Beegle, he said that if I lost five pounds it would most likely resolve. I am working on that now, but so far I have not seen any change.
I have several friends who have also recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and each of them chose breast implant or tissue expander breast reconstruction. None of them have had a TRAM. However, each of them has also had a variety of problems and issues with their reconstruction, so maybe issues like these are common. When you are first diagnosed, it is a total shock and a lot to process because it all happens at once! The amount of information you need to absorb and all the decisions you have to make can be overwhelming. Dr. Beegle was great, and was by my side every step of the way, but I wish that I had asked more questions. When I am asked how I am these days, I say “my life is great, I am active and happy and I don’t really think about breast cancer anymore.” That’s the best part. While I have no doubt that Dr. Beegle is the best surgeon, I am still not sure the TRAM was the “best surgery for me.”
About Dr. Philip Beegle
Dr. Philip H. Beegle, a board-certified Plastic and Reconstructive surgeon, has been on the forefront of cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery for over thirty years. If you are interested in learning more about your own plastic surgery options, please contact Dr. Beegle at our office to schedule a personal consultation. You can see examples of Dr. Beegle’s work in our before and after plastic surgery gallery, and check out our Blogging for Breast Care site or follow him on Twitter to get the latest breast care tips.