Woman to Woman


When you’re going through something big in your life, there isn’t anything more comforting than talking to someone who has been through it before.

For women who are having breast reconstruction surgery, a doctor is certainly available to answer many of your questions, but it’s also helpful to hear from another patient who has had the same surgery. What should you expect? How should you prepare at home? How will you feel when you wake up after surgery? What clothes are best to wear? When will you feel like yourself?

Meet Shirley. She’s a patient at The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction who had a double mastectomy, followed by DIEP breast reconstruction surgery. She wanted to have a ‘girl-to-girl talk’ with other patients, so she wrote a 31-page booklet filled with raw, honest tips and advice that could help others. “No offense to the medical team that put together a technically comprehensive document, but boy did they leave out a lot of information that would have been helpful!” she wrote. “The kinds of things that, really, only a patient would know.”

Here is just a sampling of her tips and advice:

It’s a process, not a procedure:After the initial surgery, Shirley reminds patients that they will have one or two more minor procedures for final “sculpting.” “It’s important that you look at your reconstruction as a process, not one procedure and it’s done,” she writes. “Some healing is required between steps, and so there will be months between each step.”

Be vigilant at following instructions: Shirley made sure she followed her doctor’s instructions completely. That means that she ate a high-protein diet, made sure to exercise and took her vitamins. “I wanted to do whatever necessary to make sure everything went smoothly,” she writes. “Getting in shape prior to surgery will set you on a path to stay in shape, which will preserve your new body! Now that I have a flat tummy and perky “girls,” I’m more motivated than ever to stay fit.”

Go shopping before your surgery: It’s not just about retail therapy that will make you feel better. Shirley is advising patients to find specific clothing that will help with recuperation. “I would recommend that you get a very good idea of where your incision line will run and try to find some clothing that will be comfortable and not hit right on it for when you get home,” she writes. “And have large shirts at hand so that your drains will fit under. They need to button up the front, too, because it will be uncomfortable to raise your arms at first.”

Arrange help: “Another thing about showers — you have to dry off with a towel. So, here I was with limited arm movement juggling four drains and trying to dry all of my pieces and parts,” she writes. “I wasn’t supposed to be alone for showers the first couple of days. Dizziness and lightheadedness are common. My husband stayed with me and even helped me towel off, dress me and blow dry my hair. Naps usually followed showers.” If you don’t have a spouse, a trusted family member or friend should be available to help you.

Paint your toes:“Everyone will see your feet,” she writes. “I got so many comments on how pretty my toes looked. For some reason, that was comforting to me.”

Shirley also provides a day-to-day synopsis of her recovery, including her challenges such as sitting up after surgery and her accomplishments. Her booklet is helpful and inspiring to other patients who also may be struggling with finding the “light at the end of the tunnel.”

From one woman to another, Shirley gets you there.

The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction would love to send Shirley’s book to anyone who like to receive it! Requests can be made via email, Facebook message, website chat, or phone at 843-849-8418.