8 Women Weigh in on the Hardest Part of Breast Reconstruction

Photo by Kim Harms

When people are comfortable enough to ask me about breast reconstruction, one of the things they want to know is “What was the hardest part?” It’s a tough question to answer because there are so many hard things about it both physically and emotionally. The following eight women (who represent a variety of breast reconstruction procedures) attempt to answer that question today.

Heather Lau – Reconstruction with Tissue Expanders

Photo Courtesy of Heather LauIt was definitely physically hard for me. I got expanders put in two months after chemo, and my body was still recovering from that. I thought the drainage tubes were awful. I had to have them in for almost three weeks, and they were painful and made sleeping impossible. I would say the first month after getting the expanders in was the hardest for me

Learn more about Tissue Expander Reconstruction

Read more of Heather’s story.


Krystal Ruby – DIEP Flap Reconstruction

Photo Courtesy of Krystal RubyThe hardest part of the process was not being able to play the role of Mom, like I normally do. It was hard having people wait on me. My husband played the role of Mom and Dad. He did so amazing, but it was still hard to deal with. I wanted to hug and squeeze them, but instead they hugged my legs and that was tough.  I wanted to do stuff with them, but for those first 3-4 weeks, I couldn’t do much.

Another hard part was looking at my chest for the first time. I was scared of what I would see, and that fear in the not knowing made me feel sick. But I was actually pleasantly surprised when I looked. I still had boobs! They weren’t big, but I wasn’t completely flat either. I knew at this point things were going to be okay.

Learn more about DIEP Flap Reconstruction

Read more of Krystal’s story.


Amber Schoenauer – Single Mastectomy with Tissue Expander Reconstruction

Advocating for myself.  I felt my team of doctors didn’t always communicate among themselves, so making sure we all had the same goal was an added challenge.

Read more of Amber’s story.




Valerie McClure – Bilateral Mastectomy without Reconstruction (Going Flat)

Photo courtesy of Valerie McClureThe hardest part for me is the loss of the pleasure they provided in my intimate relationship with my husband. I know that he received pleasure from them as well, and it was challenging to have that taken away from us as a couple. However, my husband was and continues to be an incredible partner throughout my cancer journey and its aftermath. Ultimately, this experience has brought us even closer together, and we continue to have a very satisfying physical relationship. (And, it is worth noting, reconstruction wouldn’t have restored sensation.)

Another issue that has been somewhat difficult for me is shopping for clothes. I have always kind of hated it because I am short and nothing seems to fit quite right.  Now, I have the added challenge of needing to find outfits that don’t require natural cleavage to look flattering.  Even though I spend 95% of my time wearing t-shirts or sweatshirts anyway, on the rare occasions that I want to dress up or dress for really hot weather, my choices are limited.  V-necks and scoop necks are out because, when I lean forward, you can see the prostheses pull away from my chest.  Tank tops and bathing suits aren’t any better because they tend to expose the side of my bra with the prostheses showing through the pocket. While I am fully aware that this is only a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, I do sometimes allow myself a brief “pity-party” while clothes shopping!

Read more of Valerie’s story.

Tamara Becker – Latissimus Dorsi-Flap Reconstruction

Photo Courtesy of Tamara BeckerThe hardest thing for me was being sick and having a newborn. I feel like I missed a lot of Mallory’s first year of life because the focus was on me and my illness and surgery and treatment, rather than on her first year of life and her milestones. Also, just being sick and admitting that I needed help doing things like preparing meals or taking care of my kids. It’s easier to be the one helping someone else in need, than being the one in need.

Learn more about Latissimus Dorsi-Flap Reconstruction

Read more of Tamara’s story.


Rachel Akslen – Reconstruction with Tissue Expanders

I think the hardest part for me was the sleep deprivation.  I have learned that I am a much different person when I’m so over tired.  I’m not very patient with the kids and am just crabby.  It also made it easier to feel sorry for myself and question my decision.

Read more of Rachel’s story.



Kerry Brannan – Twice Diagnosed, Reconstruction after Second Mastectomy (20 years after the first)

Photo Courtesy of Kerry BrannenPhysically it was so very tough having both sides of my chest surgically affected.  It took a long time (weeks?) before I could comfortably lift much of anything, or, of course, raise my arms.  Also, it was probably almost 2 yrs before I felt like what was in/on my chest was really a part of ME.  I still don’t call them “my breasts”.  But it does finally feel like “me”.

Read more of Kerry’s story.



Cathy VanMaanen – TRAM (Transverse Rectal Abdominal Muscle) Flap Reconstruction

Photo courtesy of Cathy VanMaanenGosh, I know it was hard.  I remember the first tiny walk outside, and going to the physical therapist to help get range of motion back in my arm.  But I was SO fortunate not to have to go through any other treatment that in hindsight, and we’re talking 17 years, it wasn’t that bad.  So many patients go through so much more, and I am alive and well so have no complaints.  The beauty of hindsight!

Learn more about TRAM Flap Reconstruction

Read more of Cathy’s story

By KimHarms

Kim Harms is an author, speaker, and part-time library assistant with two decades of freelance writing experience. She has a degree in English from Iowa State University. She and her husband Corey have three super-awesome sons and one crazy dog. A two-time breast cancer survivor, her first book, Life Reconstructed: Navigating the World of Mastectomies and Breast Reconstruction (Familius), is a guide for women walking the breast cancer road. She is currently working on her second book, a devotional for women going through breast cancer.


  1. I had a bi-lateral mastectomy 4 weeks ago. The hardest part were the drains. My husband (prior to surgery) bought me the Build a Bed from Brookstone. It’s basically cushions that you place on top of your bed. My only night of restless sleep was the first night. After that, using the cushions, I slept wonderfully. Using them I felt no pain and no discomfort. I highly recommend them and provided the information to my medical team. Looking forward to my first expander fill next week.

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