Has a whole year passed since my bilateral mastectomy and DIEP reconstruction? Really?!!! Capturing those thoughts and fears from a year ago is easy. It was such an emotional time for me and my family. Much of that time will forever be imprinted on my memory. The day we left home and drove the four hours to Boston felt like a march to my death. The last thing my then 4 year old said was, "I am afraid you are going to die." That was so sad. I tried to comfort her and reassure her, but she was afraid. Truthfully we were all a afraid. It's hard to imagine what a 14+ hour surgery would be like when you are waiting for it to happen.
BUT, on the other side, I can say that it was THE BEST THING I EVER DID FOR MY FAMILY!!! Significantly reducing my risk of breast cancer from 50-85% to 0-2% is life changing. Personally I feel better now than I did before the surgery. Well, it helps that I had a tummy tuck and the removal of painful breast tissue in the process.
In reflecting on my life one year ago today, I remember showering with the special pre-surgery soap, then getting dressed in my sweat pant outfit, then the walk from the Best Western Longwood to the surgical building, sitting on the round couches waiting for my name to be called up to the waiting area. As I type this I can still physically feel the very same emotions. The one thing that allowed me to put one foot in front of the other was my trust in Dr. Tobias and the confidence I had gained from other women who had walked this road before me. I remember being ready.
After the pre-surgical mark-up by Dr. Tobias with his purple marker, I was given some happy meds and off I went. My worries were gone as they wheeled me off. At that point Mike began his wait. I can't even imagine what it was like for him.
As the day wore on, I had the experts with me!! Assembling the right team was a challenge and a gift. I'll give you a bit of background. In 2008, after my second biopsy and with the diagnosis of LCIS, I decided to create a surgical plan just in case I needed it at some point. The line I had drawn in the sand was that if I had had to have a 3rd biopsy then I would move forward with a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.
The challenge was finding my team. I started with tons of online research and must say that breastcancer.org was my greatest resource. Thank you to all the women whom I will never meet, but who helped me during this time. I had been diagnosed with LCIS (as well as ALH, ADH and calcifications). My local breast surgeon often referred to my original breasts as "complex" and "busy". She was wonderful and I had a tough time making the decision to do my surgery out of town. Originally I had decided that I would do implants locally so that I could have my local breast surgeon do the surgery. Anyone who has walked this road knows how great the bond is between surgeon and patient. Doing it locally was also the easiest option. I wouldn't have to leave my kids for any extended time. Implants, although not my first option, were better than the latissimus dorsi option offered by the other plastic surgeon in town. Carving out my shoulder muscles didn't seem like a good idea to me.
Anyway, plan A came to a halt when my insurance provider said that neither of the local providers were in-network. Someone, much higher up, was looking out for me!!! I truly thank God each and every day for that roadblock. Next up was looking at my options in Portland. Another godsend was the plastic surgeon there who said I might be a candidate for the DIEP, which he didn't do any longer. According to my insurance provider no one in Maine did the DIEP, so in front of me was the gift. The gift of being able to look to Boston for my surgery.
Fastforward....I met with a plastic surgeon at one hospital and asked who she had trained with. I actually knew the answer to that question was Dr. Tobias at BIDMC, but wanted to confirm it. So, next up was a consult with Dr. Tobias at BIDMC. I was hooked when I met his nurse, Maria. Then I met him and knew this was the right choice for me.
Not everyone has the gift of time to research her options, so that was another gift I was given.
By the time I met with Dr. Tobias for the first time, my 3rd biopsy had come and gone. So, I was on my way to a bilateral mastectomy with DIEP reconstruction. BUT, I was still dragging my feet a bit. It's a huge decision when you are looking ahead. But when you are looking from the rearview mirror it was just a bump in the road.
A bump in the road? A year ago I never could have thought that. How could 14+ hours of surgery to remove and rebuild your breasts be seen as a bump in the road??? Today, as I type this that is how I see it. Obviously it is life changing, but for the better.
So, today I as reflect on my life a year ago, I want to thank God for getting me over some of the rough spots. I guess I will give you some advice on the rough spots for me. The first one was the phlegm that was left in my throat that I couldn't get out. It prevented me from being able to breathe, swallow, sleep, etc. It was awful. It was awful for two days. If it were to happen again, make them get it out!!!! The second rough spot was my sensitivity to morphine, which made me crazy until the pump was removed. If that happens to you, make them switch it out with something else.
I also want to give heartfelt thanks to my dear sweet husband. He was a saint and continues to be a gift in my life each and every day. Next my gratitude goes out to my sister-in-law, Dot. She'll never know how grateful we are that she stepped up and took care of our most precious gifts. And, of course, my friends who were with me every step of the way. Another gift I received was the gift of two DIEP Sisters, who were truly an inspiration to me as they made their journeys through cancer, treatment and surgery.
As you know my blog is coming to an end. I have Stage III on Thursday, March 31st, then a follow-up appointment. After that I will no longer blog, but will keep it out there for other women.
Hopefully my experience and my blog have been a resource and support to others who have faced some tough decisions in their journey to reduce their risk of breast cancer.