I’ll cut right to the chase. Strangers are stopping me on the streets and asking me about my boobs. What size am I now? What size am I planning on becoming? When do I have another surgery? How do the fills feel? I’m here today to answer all of those burning questions and more!
But first, a disclaimer: Strangers aren’t really stopping me on the street and asking. That would be…weirdly fun.
There are many different methods of breast reconstruction following a mastectomy. The one I chose was implants. After my surgery, they removed all of the breast tissue and did a nipple sparing mastectomy and placed tissue expanders with alloderm on each side. They filled them partially with saline and I went home.
The tissue expanders look like what would happen if an implant and an inflatable balloon met and had a baby. This technique is used to stretch the skin slowly over time. Starting 3-4 weeks after surgery, most patients will get filled weekly with saline that is injected into the expander to gradually fill it. This process is supported by a tiny valve mechanism located inside the expander. Timing-wise, it can take several weeks or several months to complete the process. Once you’re at the desired size, then you stop doing the fills for 2-4 weeks and then a second surgery involving the permanent breast implant is done at the time. This surgery is called the “exchange” surgery.
My mastectomy was November 14th. My second surgery to repair the left side was December 2nd. I did not get my first fill until sometime in February. I have now had 5 fills on my left side and 1 fill on my right side. This has been done over the course of 8 weeks. I guess you could say I’m in the slow lane of reconstruction. Numbers wise, I have 265 ccs of saline in at present. What does this mean? I still resemble an A cup. My PS wants me to get to 400 and we can reevaluate. The size of the permanent implant is dependent on a few things: first, obviously being size preference, but there’s also another important component which involves what looks “normal” on a particular frame. At 5’6 1/2, I’m not overly tall (yep, I earned that 1/2 inch after a long and tense debate with the PA at UCSF when I told him I was 5’6 1/2 and he didn’t believe me and made me get measured …for a second time.) but I also have broad shoulders and back, so it appears my card-carrying days as an IBTC member will be numbered.
These are some pics of what the expanders look like. In the top left, don’t they look like little fried eggs? The dark circle is the place where you inject the saline into. It’s got metal in it. And that’s the place where the needle penetrates the expander. Crazy, right? But wait, there’s more: they take the device in the center pic that looks like a Viewfinder which I’ve been calling a “Studfinder” and that enables them to identify where the port is, so they can mark my skin. Then, as illustrated in the right pic, they stab me with a needle and inject 50 ccs at a time. BAM!
The needle doesn’t really hurt, but gives me a terrible case of the “heebie-jeebies” so I look away and try to think of anything (anything!) other than what they’re actually doing at that exact moment. Pain-wise, I don’t really feel that either. A little soreness one time from skin stretching, but that’s it and considered mild compared to the other things I’ve been faced with.
Remember when I said that back in October, I drew out a timeline and figured I’d be done by January but added 2 more weeks just in case there were any delays? Ha. My timeline keeps revising in my head. As for Dr K, he’s not even talking timeline. And no, he’s not being shady, that’s just how they work in the reconstruction business. “Wait and see” is their mantra, next to of course their other favorite “We’ll know more next week.” I completely get it – no false hope, no fake promises and no take-backs. So for the time being, I’m in a “schedule free” zone.
Had you fooled, didn’t I? Were you just starting to think, “Huh, that cancer has really affected her, she’s not done a full pro-con outline combined with a optimal color-coded calendar analysis?”
While it’s sad but true that I have yet to choose my color palette for said calendaring project, that hasn’t stopped me from framing it in my head a little. I think it’s entirely possible that I’ll be finished with fills sometime in April or May, meaning that the exchange surgery would be sometime in May or June.
So there you have it! Boobs, boobs, boobs!