Travel with children is one thing. Travel after breast reconstruction is something else. Unfortunately I got to experience this last year. After the removal of the majority of breast tissue from my left breast and reconstructive surgery that took me from a 38C to 36B on one side, things I otherwise took for granted had to be rethought in a whole new light. That included travel – whether commuting in the car, traveling on a plane or train, or simply walking from one point to another, I had a set of challenges to deal with for months after surgery.
First, some background about how I became a lopsided traveling mom. In April 2010 I discovered a lump in my left breast during an informal self-exam in the shower. After a visit to my OB/GYN, a series of mammograms and ultrasounds by the radiologist, and an exam by the breast surgeon, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that I had breast cancer – until the biopsy results came back.
Much to everyone’s amazement, I fortunately did not have breast cancer but unfortunately had a very rare benign breast disease that mimics breast cancer called granulomatous lobular mastitis (GLM). My immune cells grouped together to attack what they perceived to be an infectious disease in my body, but instead were attacking and destroying healthy breast tissue.
Everyone’s experience with any disease is different. But through my experience I made a few observations about travel – foot, car, plane, train – that might help you or someone you know who is dealing with recent breast surgery.
Tips for Travel After Breast Reconstruction
First, I must remind you that breast health is important! While most people are aware of breast cancer, there are numerous benign breast diseases that are non-cancerous that can affect your breast and your health. An overview can be found on the Susan B. Koman for the Cure website.
Seatbelts. Wow, I never realized how perfectly placed that cross-the-body strap was until I had my surgery! Make sure you pull out the strap all the way and then gently tighten it to fit your body (like you do when putting a child in a car seat). Gauze pads help if the strap cuts into an incision point or a particularly sensitive spot.
Shoulder bags. Nix that idea for a while. Carrying a heavy purse, laptop case or other bag – whether over a shoulder or in your hand – pulls down the upper body and can be rather uncomfortable. A wheeled bag became my best friend– though I had to be careful not to overfill it (pulling could strain, too).
Overhead carriers. I was not able to lift my carry-on with wheels into the overhead bin or push it under the seat without risking injury. So I asked for help.
Take a train. When a tropical storm rolled through, I had to forsake the plane and instead take the train. Lots of room, WiFi, bag next to me – a comfortable and enjoyable way to travel!
Bathing suits. There are specialty stores that will custom fit a bathing suit for you and doctors can usually recommend names. However, many retailers now offer suits that work well for women who’ve had breast reconstruction. Land’s End is one. I was pleased to find out that the suit sitting in my drawer was one of these – and was still perfect!
Sports bras. A year later I still find sports bras the more comfortable option, especially if I am doing a lot of walking. Walking into a store like Jockey, I found that the saleswomen were quite helpful in assisting me with the right fit. Don’t be shy to tell them that you are shopping after breast surgery. Many are in tune with your needs.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Please remember awareness doesn’t mean anything unless it’s followed by proactive maintenance of your breast health.