9 Surprising Things I Learned From Attending a Breast Reconstruction Forum

Last week, I attended a Breast Reconstruction Forum at Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte, NC. It was well-worth the 2 hours I spent, and I am so appreciative for this type of forum. I hope if you’re going through something similar, you have access to these types of resources.

The fact that the plastic surgeon was easy on the eyes didn’t hurt! Shout out to Doctor Clavin! He isn’t my surgeon, but part of the same group. Is it a requirement in medical school that you have to look like a Grey’s Anatomy actor to be approved for the plastics program?

I digress… here are 9 surprising things I learned:

1. There’s a reason why doctors leave some belly skin showing when they move it to the breast during a DIEP reconstruction. It’s so they can visibly tell how healthy the tissue is underneath. It allows them to know if the “transplant” is successful.

2. A form of liposuction can be used  to cover visible rippling from implants. Doctors will take fat from other areas of your body, suck it out, run it through a refining machine, and then inject it back into the areas of your breast that need perfecting. It’s very common for implants to have rippling at the top of the breast, even with the nicer “gummy bear” implants.

3. Gummy bear implants are silicone. I wasn’t sure what material they were. But here’s the cool part. If you cut a gummy bear implant in half, the silicone won’t run out. It will just maintain it’s shape, like a gummy bear. I held it in my hand, and it did feel interesting.

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4. Implants and DIEP can be used together. Not at the same time, of course. But if I don’t achieve the shape/size during my surgery, I can opt to get implants over the muscle, just like regular augmentations.

5. Mesh is used to “hold everything in” under the stomach incision. I found this out when I asked about compression garments after surgery. The doctors said they try to take as little a section of stomach and fat out as possible so people don’t leave the hospital hunched over like they did previously. I believe the mesh partly has something to do with it. Some people are anti-mesh. If you have experiences pro or con, I’d love to get your thoughts!

6. Nerve blocks are being used to cut down on anesthesia and post-surgery recovery. I had to call my uncle, a CRNA, so he could explain to me what a nerve block is exactly. It’s much like an epidural and can last days. I’m nervous about the nerve block because I heard they put it in while you’re awake. EEEK. I want to be knocked out for everything!

7. New regulations are calling for different pain management strategies. The hospital relies on Ibuprofen and Tylenol for pain management after surgery. Because of the nerve block, the surgeons said there is less need for opioid drugs. I’m worried about this one because I don’t like to feel pain, but it’s all part of the process.

8. Everyone will experience SAGGING, even with implants. BECAUSE GRAVITY. Implants will pull the skin and muscle down over time. Fat from a DIEP procedure will sag over time. There’s no escaping gravity, sorry to be the bearer of bad news!

9. Wanting to look NORMAL again is not being vein. All the other women there were going through their own journeys. One woman had implants put in the year before she found a lump in her breasts that turned out to be cancer. She was worried about not being grateful for her life and wanting to have breasts she could be proud of. There is a lot of guilt and weirdness about wanting to look good. The doctor said it was normal to have these feelings BUT it is also our right to want to feel good about the way we look. Plastic surgeon talk? Probably. But it made me feel better.

Now that I’ve had a chance to digest everything I heard, I believe it was a valuable use of my time to attend. I still feel weird about using breast cancer resources, but that’s a “me” problem.

Here’s a picture of what an expander looks like! You can see the magnet inside that guides the surgeons to the fillable port.

Here are pictures of other implants I was able to “feel out”:

If you have information to add or more questions, leave them in the comments section and I will see if I can get you answers or add to my list!

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2 thoughts on “9 Surprising Things I Learned From Attending a Breast Reconstruction Forum

  1. Thanks for sharing the information you collected from the forum. Did they go over the changes in sensitivity and/or stiffness in shoulders, neck, back or chest that accompanies surgery? Just wondering…thanks!

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    • Hi Brandy! The plastic surgeons talked about numerous reconstruction procedures. But overall, I think the sensitivity in the breast area would be little to none after most. The DIEP had a better chance of feeling in the breast area because there are nerves from the stomach tissue that could begin to work again. I am in a couple different Facebook groups with women who have had the surgeries and pain/stiffness all seems very different for each individual. I think it’s based on if lymph nodes are taken as well. Depending on which path you think you’re headed down, I would ask both your breast surgeon and plastic surgeon. My breast surgeon seems to think the plastic surgeons down-play the recovery and severity of the surgery. So keep that in mind! Wishing you all the best on your journey!

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