Sue 2's Story - "My TRAM flap"

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On April 13th 2004, just 6 days after my daughter’s wedding in Italy, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The family went from a wonderful high to the lowest of lows. Everything we had taken for granted and all normality was swept aside.

A mastectomy, 6 months of chemotherapy and a month of radiotherapy followed. All through the treatment I knew I wanted, in fact, needed a reconstruction. The possibility had first been mentioned the day after my initial diagnosis when I saw the plastic surgeon at my local hospital. It gave me the first glimmer of surviving when I was offered the operation as I clung onto the hope that it would not have been mentioned if I was going to be dead by Christmas. The surgeon explained the various methods and likened them to cars. He began to talk about the TRAM flap and when he said “…and now we come to the Ferrari of reconstructions” I knew that was the one I wanted – the nearest I would ever get to a Ferrari! He explained that I was a suitable candidate because I had no tummy scars, did not smoke and was of normal weight. So, after a waiting period to give my body time to recover from the various treatments, I saw the surgeon who was to perform my reconstruction and we began to plan for my TRAM.

Throughout my treatment – chemo and radio therapy – I expected and got severe physical symptoms. I didn’t anticipate the force of the mental/emotional symptoms both for myself and my husband. We had always been comfortable with our bodies and not shy to look at each other. After my operation, I felt disfigured and less of a woman. I was reminded every time I looked in the mirror, as I lay in the bath and every time I used my prosthesis. Outwardly, I looked normal. Inwardly, I felt a mess. I went from someone who rarely wore pyjamas to someone always wore them. My husband found it hard to look at me and never touched the mastectomy scar. I found it so hurtful as I felt I’d been through enough with diagnosis and treatment without cancer causing problems in my marriage. The reconstruction became very important to me.

I knew from the start that a TRAM flap would be hard work. Both my local plastic surgeon and the surgeon who operated on me had told me. Indeed I did 6 months of sit-ups to strengthen my tummy muscles pre-op. I lost the extra weight caused by the chemotherapy and felt I was in good shape when I was admitted.

On January 7th 2006, I had my reconstruction – 7 hours on the operating table, 7 days in hospital, 7 weeks before I felt human and 7 months before I felt normal. This had all been explained to me prior to admission and I was told that there were no short cuts to recovery. Pain control was good but it was very uncomfortable. I had 5 drains, a drip, a catheter, an epidural needle and oxygen in place. The first 3 days were hard but once I could get up and move about things improved hugely and I was keen to get home.

Right from the start my new left breast (Bertha) looked great and I was determined not to do anything that would put it (her) at risk. I knew I had to adhere to the list of do’s and don’ts that I had been given no matter how hard it was to watch my husband wrecking my kitchen.

All the way from the planning, the operation and through my recovery, I had been well informed and got no nasty surprises. I knew what was expected of me and what I could expect. For once, I behaved and did as I was told.

Now, 1 year on, I no longer avoid mirrors, my confidence is improving and normality is returning.

The process is almost finished. I had a nipple reconstruction in December 2006 and just have to have the tattoo to recreate an areola in a few months time. I am still on my cancer journey and still with no guarantees but I am doing it feeling like a woman and feeling normal. This was all I wanted to achieve when I opted for reconstruction. And… I have several pairs on pyjamas that are happily redundant!

This Page was created on Sunday, 18th February, 2007.