DIEP (deep inferior epigastric perforators) breast reconstruction

Dionne Munday was diagnosed with breast cancer in March this year and treated at Spire Hartswood Hospital in Brentwood. Her treatment included a DIEP flap reconstruction – a cutting-edge surgical procedure where part of the patient’s belly is used to reconstruct the breast after a mastectomy.

“While I was waiting for the results of my tests over a weekend, I made so many deals with any god available. You don’t want to think about what it could be but it’s hard not to. I went in to see my consultant and before he could say anything I said, “it’s cancer isn’t it?” He said the one word I did not want to hear, “yes.”

I felt like I had been winded. My hands started shaking uncontrollably. I was racked with sobs, like when you were a kid. My world stood still... I said to him, I can’t die, I’ve only just learned how to do a French plait in my little girl’s hair! You think, what about my daughter? She is only nine.

He explained to me exactly what was going to happen. We discussed types of surgery and follow-up treatment. He drew diagrams to explain things simply which was brilliant. When the DIEP flap treatment was explained to me I thought, every cloud has a silver lining! Fancy putting part of your belly in your boob!

I went in for surgery in April. The mastectomy and the reconstruction were done at the same time by two surgeons – Mr Ismail and Mr Griffiths - and it wasn’t at all painful. I was up in a chair two days later, and walking to my room the day after that. I saw the new breast almost straight away and it was absolutely fine. I thought, that’s all right! No puckering, a little swollen, but I could work with that.

We told our daughter Ruby everything gradually, in terms she could understand. She was brilliant. I told her I’d lose my hair and eyebrows and would need her help as I couldn’t draw. She said, great, we can draw quizzical eyebrows on you, or angry ones! My husband and Ruby cut my hair off and my husband said, you can practise painting Easter eggs on mummy’s head! We dealt with it by humour; that’s what works for us and what has carried us through.

To anyone who is offered DIEP flap treatment, I would definitely recommend it. When you come out of hospital, and you put your special bra and your top back on, you can barely see any difference. And have it done at The Hartswood, because they’re all amazing, from the catering staff to all the nurses and consultants.”

The consultants' view by consultant plastic surgeon, Mr Mat Griffiths

"The DIEP (deep inferior epigastric perforators)  procedure is regarded as the gold standard for breast reconstruction and involves taking blood vessels, and the skin and fat connected to them, from the lower abdomen and transferring them to the chest to reconstruct the breast. Abdominal tissue is taken, as in a ‘tummy-tuck’, without sacrificing the abdominal muscles.  This gives a much more natural breast in feel and movement, and as no implant is used, there are fewer problems after radiotherapy and no need to have further surgery in years to come”