Barbara shares her patient diary following her journey traveling from Arizona to PRMA Plastic Surgery in San Antonio, Texas for DIEP flap breast reconstruction.

March 2018:

Coming down to the wire right now and we have some new plans! I’ve been ‘sort of’ busy figuring out some health treatment options, but no chemo, yay! I have been feeling pretty good, just consumed with some decision making! The oncologists have me on an immunotherapy regimen called Herceptin, since December through the end of the year, every 3 weeks and it only takes 30 minutes – not so bad with teensy side effects (having faith).

After deciding on and scheduling a single mastectomy with immediate implant reconstruction for March 6, I discovered a new (to me) autologous DIEP procedure that I was previously told I was not a candidate for. I cancelled my March 6th surgery in Tucson and have been researching and pushing for a date for this procedure since then.

The doctors did tell me that if I got the mastectomy, I would not need radiation. I’ve opted for the mastectomy (with reconstruction). This may sound drastic; however the breast shows what is called (multiple) calcifications (the type that they recommend doing biopsies on). In lieu of radiation, constant follow-ups and biopsies, I’ve thus made the personal decision for a mastectomy. Of course, a change in diet, exercise, lifestyle types of adjustments (such as drinking and fast food and junk food), has been incorporated ‘mostly.’ Still learning.

I am leaving with Patrick (my husband) for San Antonio, TX on Wednesday, March 28 to visit PRMA (Plastic Reconstructive Microsurgery Assoc.), where they do what is called a DIEP flap reconstruction. The surgery is scheduled for Tuesday, April 3 at 8am. I am mentally ‘busy’ I guess you’d say, making sure to pack properly, etc….as I have never done a medical procedure out of town to this degree.

They will use my own belly fat/fascia/tissue, including an artery and vein to supply blood flow. DIEP refers to the blood vessels used (Deep Inferior Epigastral Perforator), and there is no muscle removal involved, which is awesome.

PRMA does hundreds of these per year (thousands altogether), and have a highly experienced and skilled team of doctors and staff. There were not any docs in Tucson that actually do this, or have this much experience, and I was told I was not a candidate. Well, lo and behold, the people who actually do these procedures have said, even though I’m somewhat petite, I ‘am’ a candidate. Yay! I will just say that I prefer this, my own tissue, to an implant – that just sums it up. Some women opt for no reconstruction, some women are super happy with implants, and this is all a very personal decision. This procedure can be done years after a mastectomy if reconstruction is desired, or even if implants are removed later as well! I have watched lots and lots of testimonies where women feel ‘whole’ again on having this done. I do know my own preference is for this.

So, here we are! There will be a 6 to 8 week recovery, as opposed to the 4 to 6 week recovery on the silicone type implant – more healing up front for me… but good to go for life (no implant replacement down the road, breakage, contracture, etc.). There will be a big tummy incision that will need to heal, the ‘transplant’ of tissue must be healthy in the new spot, and I will need extra help for a while. My neighbor Ron has loaned me a ‘lift’ chair that I will very likely be using to sleep in after getting home, since it has the perfect position needed. It will also help me stand up! Lots of women have said it was a game changer and highly recommended to at least have a ‘power’ recliner. I have picked up quite a few other tips along the way as well, hoping to be prepared.

Here is our schedule…

Patrick and I are staying here March 28 – April 3 — we’ll get to do some sightseeing until the 3rd!

Hospital/surgery April 3, 8am – April 6 (approx) — private room where Patrick can stay with me in the hospital and enjoy the food!

Staying here after hospital discharge, April 5,6 – April 13, 14, 15 16 — two girlfriends are going to be able to join Patrick and me, taking turns during this recovery time ~ cannot thank you enough Celine and Dolores!!! I also appreciate all my supportive family and friends day to day, and via phone and email!! Will have two follow-up appointments during this time, where the PRMA offices are very close by. PRMA will let me know when things are good enough to fly home.

I must say that I am looking forward to this final step in ‘treatment’… healing and getting on with life. I am sure I’m leaving out tons of info, but off we go!!

April 20, 2018:

As you might know, we’re back in Tucson and everything went really well! The San Antonio docs at PRMA gave me the go ahead to come on home on Tuesday, April 10. Patrick and I were in the lobby of the doctor’s office immediately after that 10am appointment making airline reservations on my tablet! We got home that night, but it did make for a very long day. We ended up being in San Antonio for exactly two weeks! The doc said things look really good and I was doing very well. I also just sent new photos of the surgical areas to them from home, which they said are also looking really good. Thank you Dr. Ochoa and nurse Crystal, all the staff and Brittany for making things happen! I am a happy camper!!!

We got to see some sights right after we got there, until the surgery, and Patrick was a huge help all the way through, thank you brave young man ~ you did great! I wish I had been there to see this, but Patrick was prepared to ‘keep busy’ for the prospective 8 hour surgery ~ it turned out to be 6 hours, which is good. The OR nurse was keeping him updated every couple of hours. He later described that he had gone outside to a park like area of the hospital grounds and set up his ultra compact, bright orange travel hammock. There was some construction going on at the hospital, and he noticed some amused construction workers off in the distance. Until then, he got about 5 minutes of peace on the hammock! They were so amused, they were taking pictures of him! I find that extremely creative!

My friend Celine also arrived in time for my release from the hospital (to the hotel) on the 6th, and she helped out too ~ thank you so much!!!!!!!!! It’s nice to have a good nurse friend! Awesome help and tips! We were beginning to conclude that I was going to be good to go home, and were able to have my friend Dolores not have to come to San Antonio, able stay in Mazatlan a little longer! …sorry for all the plan changes Dolores, I owe you too!!

Alex was extremely happy to see us, as well as the 3 dogs ~ he had his work cut out for him too and did an awesome job of holding down the fortress for two weeks!! I believe this was a bit of a learning adventure for each of us, all in our own way!

So, now I have a very flat tummy that’s healing nicely, and will take some more time. A nice side effect! I also find it a huge blessing that I did not have to wake up without a body part, which was instead reconstructed during the same surgery with my own tissue! I feel like me, and am absolutely astonished at how they can now do this! Thank you universe, lucky me for being at this place at this time with PRMA! The pathologies did come back from the breast tissue that was taken out, and some additional cancer was found (and removed) within a couple of the ducts that were near the original tumor. These were deemed non-invasive, and needless to say ~ the doctor said I certainly made the right decision for a unilateral mastectomy. These were all removed and no other suspicious areas were found (including lymph nodes). This has been a crazy ride, which isn’t completely over, but this was a biggie and I wanted it behind me… now it is!!!! Very happy and very pleased.

Am looking forward to continue healing quickly and getting back into exercising and getting back into the rhythm of things ~ this has been a rather long time-out period on and off, not knowing how I would be feeling from one day to the next.

Thank you again for going through this with me, I didn’t want to be alone with this even if I’ve had to force myself to rely on people and things outside of my stubborn self. This has been a steadfast teacher in the school of life. All of your support has made a tremendous difference.
Stronger and bigger love and hugs… .

Barbara shares her patient diary following her journey traveling from Arizona to PRMA in San Antonio, Texas for DIEP flap breast reconstruction.

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