I had decided to opt for the DIEP Flap reconstruction, something that Mediclinic Welcare now offers with Dr Jamil and a visiting specialist from Spain, Dr Marco.
They are the only facility currently in the UAE that is offering this option, which really surprises me as it’s considered to be the gold standard in the US and Europe for breast reconstruction.
Simply put, DIEP Flap is where the tissue and fat from your tummy is used to create the new breasts. No muscles are touched, so making the recovery easier.
Having weighed up all the pros and cons, I had no doubts that this was the one for me. I was very uncomfortable with the idea of implants, after having cancer, the notion of putting a foreign object in my body was alien to me. I wanted something that would look and feel natural. And people told me that implants get cold, so you feel like you have blocks of ice on your chest – that idea just freaked me out completely.
Of course, implant surgery is relatively short, whereas DIEP Flap can take more than 12 hours, but I also didn’t want to worry about having to remove or replace the implants in 15 years, when I’d be in my early 60’s. DIEP flap is a permanent option, which was the deciding factor for me. I really wanted this to be the last step, and then draw a line under it and move on with my life. Some people decide not to reconstruct, and that’s something I had considered – life as a uni-boober hadn’t been so bad - but psychologically I wanted to feel whole again.
I joined a closed Facebook support group on DIEP Flap so I could see how other women who have had the procedure felt about it, and whilst some had suffered from complications, and in some cases the flap didn’t work and they had to resort to implants, I couldn’t find anyone there who regretted their decision. So I went into the surgery on 22nd January feeling physically strong, mentally prepared, and in the best possible place. My doctors have all commented on my positivity during the whole process and have credited it with my fast recovery and the resounding success of the operation.
I opted to have the right breast removed also, so the procedure lasted for more than 15 hours. A stay of 4 days in ICU to monitor the health of the flaps followed. The worst day was when I was suffering hallucinogenic effects from the strong pain meds, and which made me very nauseous, so I was weaned off those on day 2 and then started to feel a lot better.
Everyone was amazed by how I was coping with the pain while taking only Panadol, but somehow I didn’t feel the need for anything stronger, despite my pain threshold being very low usually! Perhaps because I felt the alternative was worse – constipation, nightmares, vomiting and a constant migraine. No thank you!
I also suffered from a partially collapsed lung so my oxygenation levels were too low, and I needed additional oxygen for a couple of days. I was constantly being made to blow and suck on the spirometer to get my lungs working again, and thank goodness the nurses and physios were so militant about it, for it worked and prevented complications like pneumonia, which might have occurred if I hadn’t done my exercises!
I was out of hospital in 6 days, with all but one of the 5 drains removed, which was the best possible result, and it seemed like I was the poster child for the DIEP Flap procedure! I have to say that the ICU nurses were simply amazing, and I wasn’t offended when they told me they didn’t want to see me again – at least not as a patient!
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This is a weekly blog, by Emma Rymer. Emma is a long-time UAE resident, employed in a private sector firm. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and was cleared by the doctors as completely cancer-free in early 2018. She writes this weekly blog in the hope that other women or men going through the same process can find strength and resilience from her journey. Emma lives in Dubai with her family.