Getting to know Annet - 9. Breast Reconstruction

In Annet's previous Blog: 8. Reconstruction & Rehabilitation, Annet explained the steps required and the decisions which she had to make, before the actual reconstruction could take place. 

After months of rehabilitation and preparing Annet's breast with the help of an expander... the day of Annet's reconstruction surgery (1 June 2017) finally came... 

Annet explains that in the weeks before the surgery, she had so much to do that it kept her mind occupied and left her little time to think about the surgery. She was relieved to say that she was being kept busy as she was very nervous about what was to come...  

Getting to know Annet

The day before the surgery... Annet had her bags packed and was ready to be admitted to hospital, but first... she joined the celebrations of a colleague and friend being awarded her new company car. Her friend (also Annet) did not know that she would be there so it was quite a thrill to surprise her and meant a lot to Annet to be able to be there for her friend.

Getting to know Annet

I was very nervous when I arrived at the Universitair Medisch Centrum in Groningen, but the mood was lifted immediately once I saw Annet. She was in good spirits and shared her excitement about what she had just witnessed and experienced with her friend. 

Annet has this way of effortlessly lightening the mood with her infectious laugh. She must have known that we (her husband and I) were nervous for her, so she just changed the subject and made us feel happy with her, as she shared with us her excitement for her friend. 

Breast Cancer Journey

Later (long after her operation), Annet explained that she was actually very nervous on this day...

Keeping busy in the weeks leading up to the operation made Annet feel as though the operation was still a long way away. It was only once Annet left the garage (where her friend received her car) to go the hospital, that the reality set in... 

Breast Cancer Journey

They (Annet and her husband) were now actually on their way to the hospital and there was no turning back... No more events to go to... no more days to wait... it was actually happening now. This was a moment that she was preparing for, for so long... but did she actually really want this?...

She realised that she was now very nervous of what was to come... 

Breast Cancer Journey

Annet had worked so hard in the months before the operation to prepare her body as best she could by staying fit and eating healthy. She also went for long walks, which helped prepare her mentally as she had some 'alone time' to clear her mind.  

Considering the above... Annet decided to just allow the process to unfold and to just 'go with it'... She did want the reconstruction and feeling apprehensive was natural. 

Breast Cancer Journey

When Annet arrived at the hospital, the staff were extremely friendly and helpful. They were prepared for her arrival and Annet's husband was allowed to be with her throughout. 

The day before Annet's surgery was mostly spent on completing admission administration and for Annet to get briefed on what was to happen the next morning.

The surgeon also came to see Annet and she drew lines on Annet's chest whilst explaining the procedure to her. 

Breast Cancer Journey

The planned surgery would be quite complicated... Tissue and blood vessels were to be removed from Annet's abdominal area to transplant to her breast (as previously explained to Annet when she was faced with all the options). Annet's navel would then need to be moved in order to keep the are natural after the tissue from her abdomen was removed. 

It was really important to Annet for live tissue from her own body to be used, not silicone.

The surgeon informed Annet that she could not predict whether this type of surgery would be successful, until she actually did it. 

Breast Cancer Journey

Annet said that the whole 'check-in' process was very much appreciated. Simply just 'waiting' would have been very painful. 

As can be seen from the choice of Annet's clothing, she always finds a way to remain positive and she carefully picked her outfit for this important day. 

After the admissions process and briefings were completed, we all had a lovely lunch together. Later that afternoon, Annet had an ice cream with her husband which they enjoyed outside in the sunshine and as night fell, he left for home.  

Breast Cancer Journey

In the evening, the final preparations were done for the operation and Annet was left to to rest and with her own thoughts. 

She was worried about her family at home. The operation was due to last all day and she felt that it would be harder for them, waiting for the news from the operation, than it would be for her, going through it. She was relieved about the doctors offering to call her husband with an update during their break in the afternoon, but her son was working in Barcelona at the time. Even though he would be kept busy with his work, she felt sorry for him having to go through the waiting process without any family close by. Luckily they were able to have a long chat on the telephone before Annet went to sleep.  

Even considering all the thoughts going through her mind, Annet said that she was able to sleep, without the help of medication. 

Breast Cancer Journey

Annet had a very early start on the morning of the surgery.

Her first thoughts (when she woke up) were that she did not want to go through with it anymore...  

She felt very nervous as she read and sent her last messages to her family and friends. 

Breast Cancer Journey

When the nurses came to get her at 0700 hrs, she felt that she had to go through with it because of all the preparations having been done and because the surgeons were expecting her. 

Breast Cancer Journey
Breast Cancer Journey

As I followed Annet down the corridors of the hospital up to the last moment where I was able to say goodbye, I couldn't help but notice how unbearably quiet the hospital was that early in the morning.

Breast Cancer Journey

The normal buzz of doctors and nurses rushing around and of visitors roaming the corridors, are quite comforting. On this morning... it was painfully quiet and I can't even imagine how hard it must have been for Annet... the silence allowing her own thoughts to be amplified. 

Breast Cancer Journey

Annet said that once they prepared her for the operation... her nerves disappeared. 

The operation lasted about 10 hours but it felt like much longer... I was relieved to hear the happy voice from Annet's husband when he called me around lunch time to inform me that he'd heard from one of the surgeons and that the operation was going very well! 

Annet said that she woke around 1745 hrs that evening and that she can recall wanting to know how it all went. She was most concerned (typical Annet) about one of the surgeon's who was around 7 months pregnant at the time and that she had to be on her feet for so long... 

Annet could also remember that she was relieved that it was over... and of course that it all went well :) The surgeons told her that they were very happy with the results and they informed Annet that they had already called home with the news. Even though Annet could not see the results yet, it was nice to hear the positive feedback from them. 

Annet was wheeled into the recovery room and remembers that the pain started to set in. Luckily... she was administered some strong pain medication right away. 

Breast Cancer Journey

Around 2100 hrs, Annet was returned to her own room in the hospital and for the first 24 hrs, her breast was checked hourly so ensure that the blood vessels were being accepted in her breast and if her breast was still warm. During the next 24 hrs, the checks were done every 2 hours. 5 Days after her operation... Annet was released from hospital with the caveat that Annet had to return immediately in the case of any bleeding occurring...   

Once home... Annet was not allowed to do anything for 6 weeks. She was not allowed to pick up any objects weighing heavier than 1kg or even wash her own hair. Annet explains that her husband was with her throughout this time and that his support meant the world to her. Her daughter-in-law (Tamara) also helped with the normal daily tasks at home. 

Annet wants to (from the bottom of her heart) say thank you to her family, friends and colleagues for their continued support. She feels that she would have been lost without the love and support which she has received from you all over the past years. 

Annet also wants to say, to anyone going through the same process... who is faced with making a decision about how to (and if they want to) reconstruct their own breast/s: 

Trust your own feelings and do what you feel the most comfortable with.

Annet's choice to go with the most difficult surgery made available to her was because (for her own feeling) the only option which she would have been happy with in the long term. 

Thank you to Annet for sharing with us your deepest feelings and fears and thank you to all the woman out there who teach us on a daily basis, what it means to be strong! 

If you would like to read Annet's story from the beginning... then you can do so here: 

Getting to know Annet