Breast reconstruction recovery is another difficult journey for patients who have already endured a variety of medical treatments to heal their body of disease and injury. Breast reconstruction is performed to repair damaged breast tissue or replace a lost breast. The most common cause of severe breast trauma is violent injury, while the most common reason to lose a breast is mastectomy associated with breast cancer treatment.
This guide outlines simple steps which help women to recover from reconstruction mammoplasty mentally and physically.
Breast Reconstruction Recovery from Injury
Women who have been disfigured through acts of violence or trauma, such as an automobile collision, can suffer the complete loss or partial loss of a breast. These women must be medically treated to save their lives before any reconstructive efforts can even be considered.
Women who are lucky enough to recover from their injuries are left physically altered and psychologically changed. Breast reconstruction offers these women hope to put their traumatic pasts behind them and start anew with a repaired or restored breast.
Women who have suffered extreme trauma often have special surgical needs when it comes to their reconstructive procedures, making this already complicated operation even more challenging.
Breast Reconstruction Recovery from Mastectomy
Breast reconstruction is most often performed to repair the defect caused by mastectomy surgery. While mastectomy has become less common due to the increased use of much less invasive procedures, like the lumpectomy, it still remains a widely practiced and highly effective breast cancer cure. Women who undergo complete mastectomy fall into 3 basic categories:
Some patients can undergo mastectomy followed by immediate breast reconstruction during the same surgery. This prevents the woman from ever having to see her body so drastically altered by the breast removal procedure. This option is particularly good for women who will not have to undergo a drastic series of postoperative chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
Other women, either by choice or necessity, do not undergo immediate breast reconstruction. These women will have to recover from the mastectomy first and complete any additional cancer therapies prior to undergoing plastic surgery to rebuild their missing breast tissue. While these women have to live for some time without a breast, it is still a good option for women whose medical criteria indicate waiting for the procedure.
The third category of women includes those who do not undergo reconstruction at all. Some choose not to go through with an additional operation, while others simply pose too much of a health risk to undergo this elective surgery.
Breast Reconstruction Recovery Factsheet
After waking up from your surgery, you will be groggy and sore. Depending on the nature of your treatment and your choice of procedure, you will have a surgical wound on the breast and possibly another on the abdomen, back or elsewhere, due to harvested tissue for organic tissue transplants.
You will be bandaged up and are likely to be wearing one or more compression garments which will help prevent inflammation in the operated areas. You might have a surgical drain tube placed in your newly rebuilt breast, which will be removed in a few days.
There is a very good chance you might feel sick, including headache and nausea. Although this is perhaps one of the lowest points in your breast reconstruction recovery process, you must not lose hope. You have been through hell and back and have come out alive. Not only have you survived, but you have started the process of rebuilding your body and renewing your life. There is nothing quite as sweet as a second chance at living.
Breast Reconstruction Recovery Complications
During your convalescence, you must keep a watchful eye on your surgical wounds.
Look for any signs of infection which might include: redness, foul odor, discharge or heat in the operated regions. If you have a systemic infection, you might also experience a fever, chills, dizziness and other full body symptoms.
Watch for blood loss from any of your surgical incisions and observe any changes in the tissue color. A sudden lightening or darkening of bodily tissue might indicate a potentially serious health complication, such as necrosis. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor or go to an emergency room immediately.
If you received a prosthetic breast implant during your reconstruction procedure, you must follow your doctor’s advice as far as wearing a compression bra, performing breast quadrant massage and especially looking out for any early signs of capsular contracture. Women who have reconstructive breast augmentation are more likely to experience capsular contracture, and other complications, than women who undergo a normal cosmetic enlargement. Be vigilant and you can catch early warning signs which might cause big problems if left unchecked.
Breast Reconstruction Recovery Contraindications
Your doctor will certainly give you a long list of things not to do after surgery. This list will vary as individual patient needs are very specific, but the list is likely to include:
Do not lift anything even moderately heavy and do not exert yourself.
Sleeping instructions might be very specific, depending on the variety of procedure performed. This is especially true for women who have undergone a latissimus dorsi flap procedure, since there are open surgical wounds front and back.
Do not get your open incisions wet or allow the general area to remain moist for any length of time.
Moisturizing lotion may be indicated to fight skin irritation, but make sure not to allow any lotion to get on or in any surgical wound.
Lying around in bed is almost never advised. Movement stimulates the body’s natural healing response. Mild activity, such as walking, is a great way to combat pain and inflammation, as well as speed the recovery process.
Breast Reconstruction Recovery Recommendations
You have endured a trial which few can claim to have survived. You have beaten the odds and triumphed above a vicious adversary, be it disease or injury.
Your breast reconstruction might have been an additional burden, but it will set the stage for true healing to begin. When you started your painful journey, your condition took a piece of your body away from you. The recovery process has been long and difficult, but you made it. You have turned the tables and repaired what was taken from you. Your body is whole again and you are a stronger person from the ordeal.
Rebuilding your body is the ultimate rebel yell, not acknowledging defeat in any respect. Maybe your reconstructed breast is not quite what you have been used to in your past, but it is a great start in rebuilding a new future life.
Remember to acknowledge your losses along the way. It is alright and expected to mourn the loss of your natural breast. It is vital to feel the emotional pain and not repress any of the sadness. While a brave face might seem like a good idea, it really simply tries to conceal the vast suffering you have endured.
If you are to truly heal, you must let that suffering out. Cry. Scream. Weep.
Do whatever comes natural to you. Don’t keep the anguish bottled up. If you do this, your tormentor will win, even in the face of apparent defeat. Do not let the accident or cancer ruin you forever.
By coming to terms with the emotional consequences of your loss and rebirth, you will have come full circle. This time, you will make the most of your second chance and enjoy your newly reconstructed breast, despite any differences it may have when compared to your natural breast.
Detailed information about the emotional effects of reconstructive surgery can be found in our psychology of breast reconstruction section.