While cosmetic surgery and reconstructive surgery are often lumped together, these two types of procedures can be extremely different experiences. Take breast surgery for example. Patients who are preparing for breast augmentation, a breast lift, or another aesthetically-focused procedure are typically excited for the improved appearance they’re looking forward to, while many breast reconstruction patients are still reeling from a breast cancer diagnosis or treatment regimen, so their surgery is more about helping them feel whole again than improving upon their existing figure. To help breast reconstruction patients navigate the potentially overwhelming road ahead, I’ve offered some insight into the stages you can expect to go through during your surgical process.
Meeting with a board-certified plastic surgeon is a vital first step. There are many different ways to perform breast reconstruction – some methods use breast implants, others use your own tissue (like fat, muscle, and/or skin from the abdominal or back area), and still others use a combination of both. Even within these categories, there are multiple different procedures and techniques to choose from. The focus of your consultation will be to educate you on the various options and to discuss which methods may be best suited to your specific needs. Don’t be afraid to schedule additional follow-up consultations to be sure you have answers to all your questions.
- Choosing a Procedure and a Surgeon
After you have all the information you need, it’s time to select the method and the surgeon that best fits your needs. Remember that you should make these two decisions together. For example, if your best option is a TRAM flap procedure which reconstructs the breast using tissue from a specific area of the abdomen, be sure you’re working with a surgeon who is highly experienced in this specific surgery.
The details of your breast reconstruction will depend on the method you choose, so after you’ve made this decision, your surgeon can give you a more specialized idea of what to expect. Depending on whether you’ve opted for synthetic implants or for your own tissue to reconstruct your breasts, you can expect to be in the hospital for between one night and three nights.
As you would expect, the recovery process differs based on your individual circumstances. But regardless of how long it takes your body to heal, the most important step is to follow all your surgeon’s post-operative instructions carefully. You’ll be given information about caring for your incisions, when you can resume various types of activity, when to come back in for follow-up exams, and more. All these instructions are based on your unique case, so be sure to refer to your surgeon instead of a friend or website for any questions you may have.
- Follow-Up Procedures if Necessary
Keep in mind that breast reconstruction is a process, and it isn’t unusual for multiple surgeries to be required before you achieve the appearance you’ve been looking forward to. For example, the first surgery may create the shape of the breast, while future procedures will refine the symmetry and contour or reconstruct the nipple/areola. Or, if you choose to use breast implants but need to reshape your breast skin to accommodate the added volume, your first surgery may place a tissue expander, which gradually expands the skin until your future surgery when the implants will be placed. Be patient and let your surgeon guide your expectations.
While this brief summary can help you be more prepared for your upcoming journey, every woman experiences breast reconstruction differently. You may benefit from the support of a patient who has gone through their own surgery, but remember that your best resource for any questions or concerns you may have is the board-certified plastic surgeon who knows your unique medical needs and surgical plan. To get started on the road toward reclaiming your appearance, schedule a consultation with me, Dr. Franklyn Elliott. Or, for more helpful information for plastic surgery patients, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.