Reconstruction, Breast Forms or Going Flat. The Decisions are Many, but the Choice Is Yours

by Tara Torchia-Wells from The Unexpected Gift

Once diagnosed with breast cancer an enormous amount of information is thrown your way and often there is limited time to make some very life altering decisions. If you are having a mastectomy or a lumpectomy, the shape or existence of your breast is going to change.

There are many women who come to the Unexpected Gift that choose to have immediate reconstruction. Even this decision has an number of options. The surgeons and plastic surgeons in Manitoba are amazing at what they do, that is a bonus.

When I decided that having a mastectomy with immediate reconstruction was the best choice for me, my plastic surgeon suggested that the donor tissue (this means that tissue is taken from another area of your body – your tummy, your butt, and sometimes even your back or thigh) best for me was my butt. I had a lot of usable tissue there – ha!! If I had not been diagnosed with cancer, I would never have known that this type of surgery existed. It is pretty hard to imagine that tissue is removed from one area of your body and then reattached to make a viable breast.

On the other hand, it would be nice NOT to know about this surgery…..

There is also the option of having breast implants to reconstruct. In hindsight, hahaha, I think I might have decided on this option. I think the recovery would have been easier. But at the time, it is all so overwhelming and the decision I made, I don’t regret. But going through the recovery of a 9 hour surgery and touch up surgeries, I think now, knowing what I know, I may have decided on an implant. At the time, I thought I would have J Lo’s ass – sadly, it doesn’t work that way!

Surgeries have changed a lot too since my surgery – I did not have the option for nipple sparing and I know this is being done when possible.

Many women are unaware that in the case of a lumpectomy, the shape and size of your breast may change. For some women, the change is negligible. When the removal of breast tissue is more apparent a balance breast form will fill your bra and result in a balanced shape. Partials are very easy to wear and are fitted specifically to your surgery outcome. There are many shapes that will provide a significant improvement and provide you with confidence.

As a certified Amoena breast form and bra fitter, The Unexpected Gift can help with a proper fitting. The Amoena Balance partial shapers are made with the same technology that the Amoena Breast Forms are made with. The Comfort+ technology keeps you cool when it is warm and warm when you are cool – they adjust with your body for maximum comfort.

All the bras that Amoena makes have a pocketed cup to allow for the Balance Partial or a full Breast Form when required. The beauty of these bras is that anyone can wear them, they are made so well structurally that when fitted properly, they become an integral part of your wardrobe and help to make your clothes hang properly. A properly fit bra makes all the difference in comfort and confidence.

I see many women who decide to have a full mastectomy and no reconstruction. Sometimes it is a single mastectomy and other times a double mastectomy is decided upon. In the case of a double mastectomy the balance on the spine becomes the same. There are more options for breast forms, lightweight prostheses can be worn as the balance does not affect the spine.

Having a single mastectomy without reconstruction is another option a good percentage of women chose. In this case, having a breast form properly fitted is extremely important. One of the most common complaints that I hear, is the breast form is too heavy or too hot. That might have been the truth 20 years ago – but not any more.

Amoena breast forms are made with Comfort+ technology. This design is temperature equalizing, that reduces perspiration when your bodies temperature increases. There is a thin layer of silicone that covers the cup and provides the most natural looking form, even in a sheer bra. The breast form looks and feels like a natural breast. It is so rewarding to see a woman who is just fitted look at herself and feel confident and happy with how they look.

One of the most important factors of wearing a proper breast form is balance. It is extremely important for both sides of the body to be balanced. With proper weight distribution, the spine stays aligned. This results in other parts of your body, like your hips and knees, to stay aligned too. I have seen a number of women who decide not to wear their breast form and their shoulders begin to turn in to accommodate for being off-balance. They have complaints of their hips hurting, and that is a direct result of the spine not being aligned. The breast form is made so that it is the correct weight to balance the natural tissue of the unaffected breast.

There is actually a science in the technology of making a breast form!

I read an article in the New York Times titled ‘Going Flat’ After Breast Cancer (Roni Caryn Rabin, October 31, 2016) (http://nyti.ms/2dWD0Sx) . The article mentions women who choose not to have any reconstruction and further choose not to wear a prosthetic either. The feeling is that a reconstructed breast is not going to replace the real breast. There is no sensation in the reconstructed breast, often there are more surgeries required and at times the surgery does not work and it may become more of an issue than the cancer itself.

I know for myself, I have had 2 additional surgeries since my reconstruction. The “touch-ups” have been to remove necrotic tissue from the reconstructed breast (tissue that is no longer viable), and to even out the butt to saddlebag ratio. Seriously, peaks and valleys in my NOT J Lo bottom!

Do I regret it? I am alive and I am trying to move forward and not look back – literally. I don’t look as my butt without clothes on. I don’t want to see the scars, for me, they do not tell my story. They might tell my story if I was in a Tim Burton movie. But I will stress – I am alive and grateful for my surgeons.

Since opening a store to help people through cancer, I have learned so much. Would I have decided on an alternative approach to reconstruction, possibly. I am sure we all make a multitude of decisions that we look back on and want to change – I am learning that these are simply lessons in life and to move on with more knowledge and experience than I had prior. You can’t change the decisions that you make, but you can work to make better choices.

Whatever your choice may be, The Unexpected Gift can help. In a very safe environment, with compassion from experience. No matter what you decide, there is no judgment here – just care.

The Unexpected Gift is proud to be an approved retail supplier for the Manitoba Breast Prosthesis Program, www.cancercare.mb.ca/mbpp.