About a year after I’d completed my treatments and was achieving a new sense of normalcy in my life again, I was getting rather tired of wearing a prosthesis the whole time. I was ready to address the possibility of reconstructive surgery. We were referred to and consulted with an American plastic surgeon who had a sterling reputation and was practicing between Abu Dhabi and Washington DC at the time. After a long discussion we were given all the options and sent home to process it all and come to a decision. At the time I was very rigid in my way of thinking and therefore there was no way that I was going to have any sort of foreign or unnatural object in my body, so after much thought and debate between Jaco and I, I decided to go for the Gold Standard Tram flap. This decision wasn’t taken lightly as it is a highly invasive procedure with many risks that go along with it, possible rejection being one of them. It involves taking the upper stomach muscles that are situated just below the breasts, severing the blood supply between them and the lower stomach muscles and physically bringing them up to your chest wall to form breasts. I also made an even more radical decision at this point, choosing to have a mastectomy on the right side as well so that the stomach muscles could be brought up on both sides. This would also apparently reduce my risk of a recurrence later on.
My plastic surgeon had informed me of all the risks and told me that because it was such a complicated and long procedure fraught with risks, there were going to be no less than 15 other doctors in surgery with me. Amongst them was the anesthetist, general surgeons to assist as well as an interventionist in case I stopped breathing. I had the utmost faith in this doctor and although I was afraid, I was sure that I wanted to go ahead with it.
Being wheeled into surgery, my stomach was doing somersaults as I clutched onto Jaco’s hand for dear life. I kept on telling him how afraid I was. My mouth was dry and it felt like my heart was beating out of my chest. I closed my eyes and prayed to God and to my mother to get me through this. As we approached the doors to the theatre a doctor approached me and said, ‘You’ll just feel a small prick as I give you this sedative…nothing to worry about.’
The last thing I remember was looking up at Jaco’s face as it suddenly began to fade into darkness. It was a powerful sedative that put me to sleep immediately. The operation took 7 hours and when I came around after it was all over, I wished that I was still asleep…that I could remain asleep until the healing was done. The pain on a scale of 1-10 was an 11. It was excruciating. I literally felt like I’d been hit by a bus. I was cold and shivering uncontrollably and the more I tensed up from that, the more I’d feel the searing pain emanating from my abdomen. I started crying and begging for something to take the pain away. As I battled to breathe, all I remember yet again was the oxygen mask being put on my face and yet another sedative knocking me out. I was never so glad to be going to sleep. A few hours later I came around and this time there was morphine in the mix which allowed me to breathe more easily and get my bearings. I had 4 drainage tubes, two coming out of each breast and two more coming out of my stomach. Not a pretty sight. To add to it all, I developed an uncontrollable cough from the intubation tube that they had put down my throat allowing me to breathe during surgery, which had caused irritation. Each cough was agonizing as I clutched a pillow to my stomach which didn’t help at all really. As the days passed however the pain became more tolerable and the swelling went down.
I left the hospital and went home just 6 days later. In the end the results were very good. The plastic surgeon definitely knew what he was doing, but in order to achieve perfect symmetry, he had to resort to putting in a small saline implant on the left side anyway, which meant going under anesthetic and the knife twice putting my body under even more strain. In hindsight if I could’ve foreseen that happening and taking everything else into consideration, I think the option of just having implants put in to start with would have been the wiser and definitely less painful route to go. The good news is that there was no rejection and I have since never had any complications. All’s well that end’s well.