Breast reconstruction is not just cosmetic surgery. A woman who has lost a breast or part of a breast is missing a body part, and although breast reconstruction does not actually restore the missing breast, it feels more normal. I had to wait at least three to six months following radiation to have the reconstruction.
I decided on a type of reconstruction called a Latissimus Dorsi Flap. A flap of skin and muscle is taken from the back and transferred to the front of the chest where it is used to cover an implant. There is considerable scarring at the donor site on the back and the use of one latissimus dorsi muscle is lost. It was tougher than I ever imagined and the recovery is difficult and long. I could not use my right arm for many weeks (I am right handed and my husband even had to cut my food for me). I had to keep my arm bent and fairly close to my body. During the day I sat on the couch with my right arm bent and placed it on a snack tray in front of me. I was out of work for seven weeks.
I did not require formal physical therapy to regain the use of my arm after so many weeks of keeping the arm bent and in one position. But, it was a slow process regaining full use. I did a lot of stretching, particularly in the shower, climbing my fingers up the shower wall while the hot water ran over my muscles. I did very gentle yoga, stretching a little more every day. All of this was done under my doctor’s supervision.
Four months after the dorsi flap surgery I had surgery to align my left breast with the reconstructed breast in order to attain symmetry. This was minor, done as an out-patient, and I was back to work in two weeks.
I do get muscle cramps in the reconstructed breast if I turn or twist in a certain way. The muscle that was transferred from the back to the breast “complains” and the result is a sharp cramp that has to work itself out in about 30 seconds. Also, there are times when I feel like I am “wearing” the whole right breast from the surgery sight on my back around to the front. I don’t know how else to describe it, but it is a little weird. Since a muscle is now missing from my back, I don’t have the strength on the right side that I used to have. I can do all “normal” everyday activities without difficulty, but trying to do push ups (for example) is more difficult, bowling became a problem (although if I had continued practicing, I probably could have overcome that difficulty), climbing out of a swimming pool (pulling oneself up on the ladder) is a challenge on the breast muscle. All of these things are minor in the “big picture,” but it is good to be aware of these side effects while in the reconstruction decision making process, especially if your lifestyle is very athletic.