For over a year, I have been blogging about my life as a breast cancer fighter and, now, survivor. If you need to catch up on my story, please check out this page for the chronological list of posts.
A few posts ago (back in April), I seemed to be very optimistic about my ability to recover from vacation AND get right back to blogging. Normally, it wouldn’t have been such a feat to do so, but I had something else waiting for me when I got home. Just a few short days after we got back from Disneyland, I went under the knife to switch out my tissue expanders for implants.
I have been putting off this post for a while because, frankly, I have been on an emotional roller coaster ride. More on that in just a second.
When I had my mastectomy, I had a lot of time to stew over things and make preparations. Especially because we had sold our house and we were living with my parents; I had extra help around and I didn’t have to take care of the whole house. I was able to devote a lot of my spare time to reading up on the procedure, purchase things I might need, etc. But now that it was time to finish my reconstruction??
Not this time.
I spent so much time and effort trying to keep our Disneyland vacation a secret from our kids, that I didn’t even start thinking about my implant surgery until the day after we were back from our trip.
Needless to say, I was feeling pretty uneasy about things on the morning of the surgery. When you’re a planner and you don’t feel like you’ve had enough time to think things through, it feels a little like Linus would feel without his security blanket.
But (ready or not) the time came, and I found myself stripped down to a gown with purple marker all over my chest, waiting for my turn in the surgery wing of my doctor’s office. The anesthesiologist got me hooked up to my IV and we strolled into the freezing cold OR. I was under anesthesia within about two minutes of being in the room and then found myself back in the recovery room about two hours later.
I was VERY groggy, but I remember hearing things like “Everything looks great…..good-sized implant…..650 cc…..skin looked good….pleased with results…..”
After I woke up a little more, we went through the discharge instructions (I made sure that Mr. Blue Eyes took note of my pain pill schedule because I knew I didn’t want to get that messed up.) I found out that the lovely post-surgery bra would need to be worn day and night for a while. I also got the date for my post-op follow up appointment.
Then it was time to go home. I set up shop in our recliner for the first day. I took pain meds, napped, and eventually decided it was time to look things over. The post-surgery bra was really cinching things tightly, so I figured I wasn’t getting the full picture. So I unzipped my top, unfastened the bra (which fastened in the front) and took my first look at my “new boobs”.
Sitting in the recliner, wearing my brother’s zip-up hoodie with my menopausal tummy pooch hanging over my waistband, I felt like a fat man with moobs. No joke. Plus, they were back to looking all deflated and wrinkly (the way my one boob looked when we had to remove fluid from the expander before radiation.) There was no outward definition, which (after switching out the missile-shaped tissue expanders) was not what I had envisioned. I can’t really describe exactly WHAT I had in mind, but what I saw on that afternoon of my surgery day was definitely not it.
I cried. I was bummed. But the show must go on.
So my recovery continued. There’s something about being able to endure pain when there is a reason for it. C-section? Yep – – precious baby, here we come! Workout soreness? Absolutely – – bring on the weight loss! Mastectomy? Sure thing – – get rid of that cancer! But this? As I dealt with the soreness of the recovery, I felt like the discomfort bothered me more than it might have if I had been pleased with the result.
But on top of the pain, I was also dealing with some “big feelings”:
This is as good as it gets?? If you have read my breast cancer story, you will know that I always try to look for the silver lining. Positivity is powerful. For much of my breast cancer journey, I was able to use the “silver lining” of this reconstruction as something to which I could look forward with hope. So to have it fall short of what I had built up in my head felt like a bit of a blow.
My boobs are really gone. Along those same lines, I never really fully grieved the loss of my breasts at the time of my mastectomy. I had chemo to worry about and the reconstruction to anticipate. After getting my implants, it was like I hit this brick wall of loss that I had to acknowledge in order to climb over and move on.
What’s WRONG with you, woman?! I had this feeling a LOT after my surgery. I felt like I was being selfish and petty for feeling so disappointed with my implants. Being cancer free with a successful and uneventful reconstruction is something for which I am very grateful, so I felt guilty for getting caught up in the actual physical result.
AHHHHH…… Honestly, no matter how upset I was, I would tell myself to take a minute and feel the relief of having the tissue expanders GONE. Even though my incisions were still sore, underneath the pain I could feel the physical relief of having the expanders swapped out for implants. I knew that part was going to (eventually) feel really good.
After dealing with these big feelings for seven days, it was time for my post-op appointment. I arrived at the plastic surgeon’s office armed with questions about my new…ummm….”shape”.
I stripped down into the paper gown and got ready to talk things through with my surgeon (making sure to swallow the lump in my throat before he entered the room…no more crying over man boobs!). He came in the room and got right to business and I was caught up in confusion…
He was so very pleased with my natural cleavage. (“What cleavage?”) He said that this new implant material doesn’t project outward as much as silicone, so it has a more natural look. (“Hmmm….natural….like a man without a bra?”) He started pushing my implants around inside my chest and he explained that my implants are smaller than the actual pocket they created with the tissue expanders (“So they’re this small on PURPOSE?”) This allows them to move and settle more naturally. He told me that as I massage the skin and help the implants settle into the pocket, they will have a little more outward projection (“Hmmm….maybe there’s hope.”). He said that my radiated skin has done remarkably well and that most women don’t have such positive results (Cue major guilt and huge throat lump).
With that, my doctor was getting ready to leave. I knew I needed to make sure that I said my truth. So, in a very sheepish way, I told him that I was expecting a slightly different result. That I wasn’t feeling very….feminine. He assured me that things would settle and shift. I also asked about the wrinkling and puckering on one of my mastectomy incisions. This puckering had all but disappeared under the pressure of the tissue expanders, but returned all lumpy since the implants were smaller than the pocket created by the tissue expanders. In response to that, he said a few doctor-y things about fat grafts and nipple reconstruction, but then he said what I needed to hear.
“We aren’t done until we’re DONE.”
Meaning…we’ll keep going until we get the results as good as physically possible. Will that mean swapping out these implants for bigger ones? Nope. Radiation put a cap on how far my skin can stretch. This is it. Mainly, he’ll do some fine tuning to this main shape so that I feel more comfortable with the results.
What I will say is that I am already feeling better about the results. The implants have definitely settled into the pocket and look more feminine. I am also trying to buckle down and get some control over my new-found menopause belly so that my new boobs can be the star of my torso and not be dwarfed by my muffin top.
I have learned a lot of lessons from this process (which I will share in a different post, along with some pictures of the results). But overall, I am finally feeling more comfortable with my new boobs. They are not what I had envisioned, but I am grateful for the improvement that I have seen since the surgery.
Onward and upward!!