"The day has finally arrived": Suzie's long wait for breast reconstruction - News & Updates • Breast Cancer Foundation NZ

"The day has finally arrived": Suzie's long wait for breast reconstruction

After 4 ½ years on the waiting list for bilateral DIEP breast reconstruction surgery and being first on the waiting list for more than a year, Suzie and her husband decided to pay for the surgery privately. This is a journal of Suzie’s surgery and recovery experiences.

Day 0 - Surgery day

The day has finally arrived! My husband and I dragged ourselves out of bed at a ridiculously early hour in order to be at the hospital at 6:30am. We were welcomed and taken through to the admission room where I was asked to wipe down my whole body with antiseptic wipes and change into a hospital gown, disposable underwear, and a dressing gown. I was given a heated blanket to wrap around me and the nurse said it was important that I did not get cold. I was visited by my surgeon and my anaesthetist who both checked my understanding of what surgery I was about to have, and discussed what to expect when I woke up as well as the pain relief options available to me. 

At 8:00am it was time to go down to theatre. I said an anxious and teary goodbye to my husband and walked with the nurse into the operating theatre. On the way she warned me that there would be lots of people in the theatre, but I was still surprised to see about 15 people, all in gowns and masks, busy preparing huge quantities of surgical equipment. I was asked to climb up onto the operating table and was covered with a heated blanket. The anaesthetist checked that I was comfortable before placing a cannula in the back of my hand with the aid of some local anaesthetic. Minutes later the team was ready, and the anaesthetist told me he was about to start a small amount of the anaesthetic. I felt a bit of cold going up my arm as he asked me if I was starting to feel the effects. I managed to murmur a ‘yes’ before closing my eyes and drifting off.

The next thing I knew I was waking up in a different room. I slowly opened my eyes, but it was a struggle to keep them open, so I closed them again and began to experiment with small movements of my legs and arms. I could see a clock on the wall which said it was about 6:20pm. Very soon I became aware of an urgent urge to urinate as well as terrible pain in the small of my back. One of the nurses greeted me and explained that I had a catheter in place and my body would soon adjust to it and the urge would go away. The back pain was getting worse, so I tried to change my position in an attempt to relieve it - I remember describing the pain as 6/10. It reminded me of the pain of being in labour. They offered me some stronger pain relief but because I am highly sensitive to most strong pain killers I declined.

For the next 24 hours my new breasts needed to be checked hourly to ensure their blood supply and temperature were healthy. There was a 2% chance that they could lose their blood supply which would mean an urgent return to theatre. There was a 1% chance that despite returning to theatre the flap could die and need to be removed. I was wrapped up warmly with a heated blanket and the room kept at a minimum temperature of 24˚C. I had small thermal foil blankets over each breast to keep them warm. Hourly checks involved a nurse uncovering all the layers on my chest before taking the temperature of my decolletage or tummy as a control temperature, then taking the temperature of each breast using a touch-free thermometer. Then she needed to use a doppler to listen to the blood flow in each breast. The surgeon had put a little stitch in each breast to indicate the best place for the thermometer and doppler to be positioned. I was on oxygen and had my blood pressure and oxygen saturation checked at regular intervals. I also had compression stockings on, and a compression machine that regularly squeezed my lower legs to help prevent blood clots from forming. Overnight I was given regular paracetamol and at 1:00am I asked for some food. I enjoyed savouring a small tub of ice cream – bliss!

Read more about Suzie's breast cancer story

Read rest of Suzie's reconstruction story: 

Part 2: My hospital stay

Part 3: Back at home

Part 4: The weeks after surgery

Part 5: Feeling stronger

Read Suzie's story of being diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer here.