Today we welcome Janet Gerlach. She opted for a preventative mastectomy, and shares her positive experience with life after breast reconstruction.
I have no regrets about my decision to have a preventative double mastectomy with DIEP Flap breast reconstruction (using my belly fat and tissue to reconstruct my breasts). I now have peace of mind knowing that I took a pro-active approach to significantly lowering my 87 percent risk of contracting breast cancer in my lifetime. Having come from a family infiltrated with breast cancer, I know all too well that going through breast cancer and breast reconstruction is a challenging experience. But I am here to tell you there are many positive stories out there, including my own.
Women who are considering breast reconstruction after mastectomy usually have one concern at the forefront of their minds: How “real” will my reconstructed breasts look?
Put simply, you cannot expect a reconstructed breast to ever feel or look exactly like your own natural breast, but it can come pretty close.
A Long and Winding Road
You will develop a “new normal” and a new sense of you. It just takes time. In fact, sometimes the breast reconstruction process can take longer than cancer treatment. Sometimes we may even encounter a setback in the process and temporarily lose our way.
Regardless of the type of reconstruction we choose, we eventually adjust to the look and feel of our new breasts. We become accustomed to our new shape and size, or even a new profile. It’s an adjustment that takes some getting used to and patience is absolutely required. It took me about a year to feel reconnected with my body.
My Mastectomy and Reconstruction Made Me Stronger
I was afraid of the psychological impact of losing my breasts and wondered if I would still feel like a woman. I wondered how I would ever dress with confidence knowing I lost my natural breasts. I wondered how this would not only change the way I looked physically, but also how I would feel about myself, as a woman and as an individual. Now three years later after DIEP Flap reconstruction, the physical scars have faded and I am confident in my skin. I know I made the right decision for me and my family.
I am still shocked at times when I look in the mirror. Shocked that my incredibly skilled plastic surgeon was able to achieve something fantastic that far exceeded my expectations. My rebuilt chest resembles my natural breasts. My profile is restored and my scars have become less noticeable over time. My breasts feel natural and soft to the touch. My newly reconstructed breasts have become part of me, part of who I am and part of my being. I am a whole woman again.
Loss of sensation is an unfortunate part of mastectomy and we all have to expect to have none after surgery. Although I am numb in the front of the breast, I did regain slight sensation on the outer perimeters of the breast. To be honest, I am grateful for any limited feeling I might have. It’s is part of the sacrifice and accepting the “new” me.
A Positive Experience with Life After Breast Reconstruction
It was hard to say goodbye to my breasts, however, I am happy with the outcome. I came through feeling confident, strong and beautiful. I’ve returned to a sense of normalcy and feel just as feminine as I did before, but now with a newfound sense of freedom. Every woman facing a cancer diagnosis or high risk deserves to feel the same.
The experience will never be forgotten but I no longer wake up thinking about it. In fact, the thought of my mastectomies is now in the distant past and I’ve gone on to live a very happy and active life.
For those of us who either opt to have mastectomies as a preventive measure, or have mastectomies as a life-saving measure, breast reconstruction is an important part of the decision-making for the preservation of our female beauty, confidence, and ultimately individual happiness. In truth, I will never be the same. I see myself different now when I look in the mirror, because I am different, inside as well as outside.
But, at least I am here, stronger and wiser for the experience.
Thanks, Janet! To read more about life after breast reconstruction, check out some of our other articles from this past April.