The main problem is using the word “feel,” said Dr. Clara Lee, an associate professor of plastic surgery at Ohio State University. Many women who undergo reconstructive surgery often face broken promises from doctors. They don’t want to give patients false hope or the wrong information, but misconceptions still occur. Dane’e McCree decided to have her breasts removed after learning she had an increased risk of breast cancer, but she didn’t feel like the doctors warned her about the full picture. Although the appearance looks natural, Ms. McCree reports that they’re completely numb, unable to feel anything. “I can’t even feel it when my kids hug me,” she said.
While the breasts may feel “natural” on the outside post-surgery, the patient is unable to feel anything, not even air blowing on the skin. This can be very dangerous! According to the New York Times, “several women interviewed recounted times when they had not realized a bra was cutting into their skin until they saw blood.” Reconstructive surgery focuses on the appearance of the female body, not how the woman feels.
As of now, roughly 25 to 60 percent of mastectomy patients experience nerve damage. The best chance for sensory restoration is to use the woman’s own body tissue instead of an implant to increase the chance the nerves regenerating, but even this results in limited feeling. Luckily, this may be about to change.
A Houston a plastic surgeon, Dr. Aldona J. Spiegel, is working to reconnect the nerves to improve sensation, but Spiegel is careful to explain that it won’t feel like it did before. There are many factors to consider, including the risk of causing chronic pain in an attempt to restore sensation. If you or someone you know is considering breast reconstruction surgery, make sure they know all the facts to make the best decision for their health.
Check out this feature in the New York Times to read more.