You are in charge of your body and your happiness.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 27, breast reconstruction felt like it would be the icing on the metaphorical cake that was cancer treatment. The bow I would add to close the cancer chapter of my life.
I would soon find that I underestimated my understanding of breast reconstruction and the role it would play in my mental healing.
After 5 years of revisions and five surgeries, I’ve finally closed this chapter.
There are some key things I wish I knew about breast reconstruction from the beginning.
As procedures become more and more advanced, breast reconstruction options expand.
It’s important to know all your options because breast reconstruction is a huge decision. While you can always make changes later, that first decision is a big surgery and you will feel more comfortable and empowered knowing you understood your options.
Whatever you desire, there are options available and you deserve to know them all before going into surgery.
While this makes sense, I think there is still a part of our mind that wants to believe our breast reconstruction will end up looking like a Hollywood boob job.
That is just not the reality. I am not saying your results can’t be amazing, but it’s important to compare apples to apples.
To get a better sense of what you can expect, talk to other breast cancer survivors, ask if they would be willing to share photos, and ask for reconstructive before and after photos during your surgical consults.
Just like you want to make sure your oncologist is a good fit, you will also want to ensure the surgeon is right for you.
The first time around, I did not get multiple consults and I regret it.
Having gone through a revision this year, I spoke to four plastic surgeons this time around.
Make sure the plastic surgeon has ample experience performing your surgery of choice. Also, make sure they can accommodate you with the look that you desire.
For instance, do you want more fullness on top? Are you looking to stay the same size, or do you want to go a bit larger or smaller?
If you are looking for experts in a certain type of reconstruction, like DIEP flap or DUG flap, consider reaching out to other survivors for recommendations.
Like us, surgeons give their opinions and suggestions based on their own experiences and comfort level.
If a plastic surgeon doesn’t feel comfortable with a particular type of breast reconstruction surgery or technique (such as fat grafting), they may not think that option is what’s best for you, when, in fact, it may be.
This is another important reason to talk to multiple surgeons. You will find out additional options and be able to articulate what you want.
While breast reconstruction can be one route to healing for those who choose to do so, the long term process can be fraught with disappointment and exhaustion, both physically and emotionally.
Each surgery left me better prepared for the next, but there was always a sense of disappointment lurking in the back of my mind.
I knew my reconstructive “foobs” (a common breast cancer term for fake breasts) would never transform me back to my pre-cancer self, but there was always a hope I would be satisfied.
It took me 5 years to get to a place where I feel at peace with my body, ready to accept my breast reconstruction. Show yourself some grace if you also have these emotions.
I often hear from women who are disappointed with their breast reconstruction but are conflicted with the pressure to be “grateful to be alive.”
Just because we’re happy to be alive doesn’t mean we can’t also be unhappy with our reconstructive results.
It’s important to remember that you can always make changes. You deserve to be happy with your results, and most insurance will continue to cover (most) revision surgeries as required by federal law.
While surgeons are amazing humans capable of bringing incredible change and rebirth to our bodies, breast reconstruction is very personal. The more you speak up for yourself and advocate for what you want, the happier you will be with the results long term.
I found the only way I could find physical and emotional acceptance was to move to the driver’s seat for all reconstructive surgery decisions.
Today, when I look in the mirror, I see an incredibly strong and fulfilled woman who has walked through cancer, navigated five surgeries, lost babies, birthed a baby, and can finally close the chapter on breast reconstruction — at least for now!
I reserve the right at any stage of life to change my mind and have additional revisions because I am in charge of my body and my happiness. Never forget that you are in charge of yours, too.
Anna Crollman is a style enthusiast, lifestyle blogger, and breast cancer thriver. She shares her story and a message of self-love and wellness through her blog and social media, inspiring women around the globe to thrive in the face of adversity with strength, self-confidence, and style.