By Ashley Dedmon
My bilateral prophylactic mastectomy preparation consisted of interviewing doctors, comparing procedure options (what was medically necessary for me), and finding a date and hospital that could accommodate both doctors. Taking the time to meet with doctors to discuss the next best steps and my care plan going forward was essential and my top priority.
I also had questions about my expanders and implants. I was an A/B cup, and I was going to have to go up a size. It was not something I was comfortable with because I had accepted my body, and now I would have to get used to a slightly bigger chest. I wore bras that would give me a nice lift and gave the appearance of a full B/C cup, and so I told my doctor I wanted to look like he saw me when I first walked in. He assured me he would make me look proportioned to my body and modest. I took about two to three months to research my surgical options, expanders, implants and interview doctors. I interviewed seven doctors before making my decision.
Here are some of the questions I asked:
- Do you accept insurance? What insurance do you accept?
- How long have you practiced?
- How many procedures have you performed?
- Do you have a physician you partner with (a surgical oncologist for the mastectomy and a plastic surgeon for the reconstruction)?
- May I see your portfolio?
- How would you perform my procedure?
- Will I be able to keep my nipples? What is the risk of losing them?
- Where will you make the incision?
- How long after the mastectomy will I have the reconstruction?
- What are the surgical risks?
- What is my recovery time?
- What are expanders, and will I need them?
- Is everything we discussed today medically necessary?
- Let’s talk about size! What is your medical and professional opinion on a size to my liking and proportion to my body size?
- What are the complications?
Family and Surgery Preparation
After scheduling my surgery, I let my family and friends know in person. We would meet for lunch or dinner, and I used that time to share my family history, educate them on genetic mutation, the procedure/recovery time, and answered their questions.
I meal prepped for my husband and family before my surgery. I notified my daughter’s daycare and dance school of my procedure, so they could help me carry our daughter to and from the car when I could drive but couldn’t lift. I had my procedure in December, so I sent out Christmas cards, decorated the house, and did my Christmas shopping early.
My husband and I began to talk with our daughter about my procedure, and we both gave her an oversized Peppa Pig pillow and told her if she wanted to lay on Mommy, she had to lay on the pillow and the pillow on me (as a barrier). We said to her that Momma would have surgery and would have a big “boo-boo” on her chest and that Momma would not be able to pick her up. I loved on her even more right before the surgery, extra hugs and kisses. I purchased a back scratcher, a fanny pack (to hold my drains), slip-on house shoes, an oversized robe, and warm socks, pads, and books. My good friend, who had the procedure one year earlier, gave me loose-fitting button-down pajamas and a wedge block to prop myself up. I recorded all my favorite TV shows, updated my iTunes and saved some sermons on YouTube.
A few days before surgery during pre-op, I was very emotional and overwhelmed. I began to doubt and second guess my decision. I asked God to forgive me, if He felt like I wasn’t having faith in Him. I called my best friend she reassured me that I was making an informed and educated decision. She told me that I had sought God diligently, I was in agreement with my husband, and to let go and let God take over. For the first time in my life, I felt completely out of control and had to put my faith in God and truly depend on Him. That was tough. As a Christian, I put my faith in God, but this was different. I truly had to depend on Him and others for what I could not do.
I had to arrive at the hospital early. I had a chance to meet with all of my doctors one final time. I said my “good-byes” to my family, and they gave me some anesthesia and wheeled me back. I had wonderful doctors and nursing staff. My primary nurse’s name was Lynn. That was my mother’s name. It was then I had immediate peace from the Lord. My surgery went well and went as planned. I was in a little pain, but my medical care team made me very comfortable. I was only in the hospital for three days and then discharged to return home to recover.
Life after surgery has had its challenges and has been a humbling experience. The physical journey for me was not bad, but the recovery took time. My husband took a few weeks off from work to be with me. If my husband had to work, we had family and friends on standby to pick up our daughter or take me to my appointments. When my husband went back to work, I would have family stop by a few times a week to help move around. I am a strong-willed person, and my mind told me I could do things, but my body told me, NO! STOP! I had to tell myself, “Ashley, please ask for help; it is not worth hurting yourself. Remember, you just had MAJOR surgery. Listen to your body.”
I had to be patient with myself and build my stamina and strength. I had to learn to listen to my body and my doctors to recover safely and properly. There were times I felt so helpless, trying to help my two-year-old understand why I could not hold her, pick her up, or take her to school and ballet class. Each day it got better, and eventually I discovered my new normal. I attribute my quick recovery to living an active and healthy lifestyle prior to surgery.
From Pain to Purpose
I was not ready for the emotional journey. There were moments I felt less than a woman because I thought my breasts defined me. One of my fears was that my husband would not look at my body the same, but he showed (and shows) me every day that he loves my body. There were moments I cried about not being able to breastfeed again. I was fortunate to breastfeed my daughter and I am glad to have shared that experience with her. I also struggled with my scar appearance, but my husband has taught me to embrace them. I could not have made it through this process without him. I learned to remind myself that my mind, character, and strength define my womanhood. I have learned to embrace my scars because they tell my story and that is, I have been “Gracefully Broken” and rebuilt with strength. On this journey, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges, but along the way, I have discovered my strength and purpose, and all glory goes to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Four years later, I feel empowered, more confident, and know that this decision did not define me. It refined me!
My husband and I are finished having children, so now I see an oncologist gynecologist, where I continue to monitor my ovarian health through bi-annual transvaginal ultrasounds and CA125 testing. We will consider a prophylactic oophorectomy, a surgery that removes the ovaries and further reduces my chances of developing cancer. Right now, I am taking one step at a time.