2 Women Had Complications After Breast Reconstruction-Here’s What They Did Next

Implant issues, scarring, and breast size and shape imbalance are problems that can develop after breast reconstruction surgery. While some women choose corrective surgery, others decide to keep their breasts the way they are.

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Juni Bucher and Alex Cheadle breast corrective
Juni Bucher (left), a breast cancer survivor, and Alex Cheadle, a triple-positive breast cancer survivor, had more decisions to make after surgery.Courtesy of Allison Andres; Alex Cheadle; Canva

If you have breast cancer surgery and opt for reconstruction, your surgeon may tell you that all you’ll need is a mastectomy, the surgical removal of cancerous growths in the breast, and one reconstruction surgery. All done, right? Unfortunately, according to a study in the December 2019 issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, such is not the case for 40 percent of women who need corrective (or revision) surgery to fix problems that arose during or after their initial surgery. These complications can include implant failure, breast implant illness, or breast asymmetry (when one breast size or shape is different from the other). If you’re thinking about getting corrective surgery, read on to learn how these two women made their decisions.

Alex Cheadle

Alex Whitaker Cheadle, 28, a publicist in Kansas City, Missouri, is a four-year triple-positive breast cancer survivor. After putting off a corrective surgery because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s planning to have surgery this year to replace her breast implant with one that fits better.

What happened A year after her implant surgery in December 2018, Cheadle noticed that one side looked weird. “I freaked out thinking the worst,” she says. It turns out that as her implants settled, the “pockets” that her implants fit in were slightly larger than the implant itself, leaving space for the implant to flip while she slept on her side or stomach or even when lounging on the couch. “This is pretty painless, but quite annoying, since I have to wear my post-surgical bra to bed to prevent it from happening.”

What corrective surgery can do Cheadle’s surgeon will perform fat grafting, which according to UPMC is when fat tissue from one area of the body is injected into the breast area — to give her breasts a more attractive shape, and will swap out her implants for a slightly larger size to ensure a snug fit in the pocket and no shifting around.

Her options While Cheadle could choose to leave the implant alone, she thinks the implant "looks odd when it flips, and it’s pretty annoying to manually flip it back into place — I’m too squeamish to do it, so my surgeon has done it for me.” She also says that because of her small frame, her chest wall looks bony and her implants protrude in a way that doesn’t look natural. “It’s very jarring,” she explains. “The way I look at it, cancer took a lot from me, and this is something I can control that will make me feel more confident.”

What she wants women to know “When I first started going through the surgery process, I didn’t know anyone who had had a revision,” she says. “My doctor was like, ‘You’ll swap your implants out in 10 years,’ and I had no idea a revision might be needed at some point [before that].” Cheadle wants women to advocate for themselves. “Ask questions and don’t be afraid to get another surgeon if you’re not happy with the answers,” she says. “No one wants to do another surgery after all that we’ve been through, but we deserve to be happy with the way we look.”

Juni Bucher

Juni Bucher, 44, is a breast cancer survivor in Los Angeles who had a single breast mastectomy and reconstruction surgery in 2019. She is a nutritional therapy practitioner who specializes in supporting breast cancer survivors. After scheduling a revision surgery, she opted out and decided to keep her reconstructed breast.

What happened During her right breast mastectomy, she was considered a candidate for immediate reconstruction using a silicone implant. “At the time, my surgeon suggested that I should have additional surgery at a later time to lift the other breast,” she says.

What corrective surgery can do A fat grafting procedure can add some fullness back to the right breast where some additional tissue was removed.

Her options Like many survivors, Bucher didn’t rush into corrective surgery, because she didn’t want to be in the hospital again. She wanted to get back to her life. A little over a year after completing her treatments, Bucher consulted with a plastic surgeon who suggested she stick with the original plan (to lift the natural breast and do the fat graft). But the surgeon mentioned that she would be “trading symmetry for scars.” “Between those words and life getting in the way, I never scheduled the surgery,” she says.

What she wants women to know “At the end of the day, I have come to realize that just because the surgery was suggested — and yes my breasts are uneven — it doesn’t mean I have to do it,” says Bucher. Working on her body image instead has made her appreciate herself ‘as is,’ at least for now.

“I’m not ruling it out, and I may still have revision surgery one day, but I’m not sure I want to,” she explains. The removed breast has no sensation, and she appreciates her other breast, which tries to make up for the lack of sensation on the other side. “I joke that my breasts don’t look like sisters — they look like distant cousins. One is high and very perky and the other looks like a 44-year-old’s breast.”