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These Boobs Are All Me: Double Mastectomy and DIEP-Flap without Nipple

Real Talk

March 27, 2024

Content created for the Bezzy community and sponsored by our partners. Learn More

Illustration by Brittany England

Illustration by Brittany England

by The Bezzy Editorial Team

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Elizabeth Berger, MD, MS

•••••

by The Bezzy Editorial Team

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Elizabeth Berger, MD, MS

•••••

After battling breast and pancreatic cancer, she’s thrilled with her final result after DIEP-flap reconstruction. Next on the list is 3D nipple tattoos.

  • Procedure: skin-sparing double mastectomy, reconstruction without nipple
  • Reconstruction immediately post-mastectomy: yes
  • Year of procedure: 2018
  • Age: 55
  • Ethnicity: white

This article contains graphic, intimate images of a postsurgery body. The photos have been generously shared by a breast cancer survivor so that others can benefit from uncensored visual information that may help them make important surgical decisions for themselves.

I found out I was BRCA2-positive at the age of 44, had my ovaries removed at the age of 45, and went under breast surveillance with contrast-enhanced mammograms and MRIs from 2010–2022.

In March 2022, I had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in my right breast and immediately set out to amass a team for a double mastectomy and deep inferior epigastric perforator (DIEP) flap reconstruction. I always had plenty of lower belly fat, and after a family tragedy of losing my sister to stage 4 cancer a few months prior to my diagnosis, I had gained some weight as well.

Two side-by-side images depicting a photo of contributor's breasts before mastectomy and one immediately after surgery
Left: before surgery, Right: immediately after surgery

A dear friend had recently had TRAM flap surgery, and I knew after diagnosis I would likely do the same. However, after I became aware that there was a better surgery that spared the abdominal muscles, known as DIEP flap, I set out to find the best team.

I was also told my nipples were ptotic, or had drooping tissue, and so the decision was made to do a skin-sparing double mastectomy with immediate DIEP flap reconstruction afterward.

In early April 2022, I had a computerized tomography angiogram (CTA) prior to the DIEP surgery to look for adequate blood vessels for reconstruction. During the test, the doctors found evidence of pancreatic cancer, and my world came to a screeching halt.

The breast surgery was put on hold, and I began the fight of my life. I responded well to chemotherapy, surgery, and more chemotherapy, and was deemed NED in November 2022. Luckily, the chemo knocked out the DCIS as well.

During this time, I did more research and found a different team. Almost a year to the proposed date of the original surgery, I was fortunate to have my double mastectomy and immediate DIEP flap surgery at age 55.

In a way, the DIEP flap saved my life!

image of contributor opening the front of button-up pajamas to show her breasts two weeks after surgery with stitches around the nipple
2 weeks postsurgery

I was concerned about healing because I had a vertical scar from my pancreatic surgery, but I used specific techniques [from my doctors] and healed very well with no complications. I also worked with a plastic surgery nutritionist to make sure my body would be ready for healing.

My chest was bigger than I wanted it to be, and I needed a belly button after pancreatic surgery. I waited 6 months and went through a second phase of operations. Some abdominal repair was needed from the prior surgeries, which led to a difficult recovery.

In April 2023, I had a phase 3 surgery with a little more reduction of my breasts and more abdominal contouring. I still have some issues with size and the area of skin under my bra, so I may be going back for another phase.

image of contributor's breasts 8 weeks after her third revision surgery showing stitches removed
8 weeks postsurgery, 3rd revision

Even with some body image issues that I’ve had all my life, I’m glad that I was able to do autologous tissue reconstruction. I had nerve grafting, so I have sensation in my breasts, and I’ll get 3D nipple tattoos when I’m sure I’m done with further surgeries. 

I look in the mirror and marvel that these boobs are all me!

Bezzy BC and Young Survival Coalition are partnering to create What It Looks Like, a series showcasing photographs of different breast reconstruction choices on bodies of all shapes, sizes, and colors.

We’re spotlighting breast cancer survivors’ reconstruction decisions and stories so that other women facing mastectomy surgery can see and hear about many different real-life outcomes.

If you’re a survivor who’d like to share your reconstruction (or flat closure) images and story, we’d love to hear from you. Just have your photos ready and fill out this submission form.

Images and stories will be anonymously published on BezzyBC.com.

Medically reviewed on March 27, 2024

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