Milestones

Well, I feel like I can finally exhale. I had my swap out surgery earlier this week, and am on the mend from it. For me, the swap out truly signified the beginning of the end of this journey for me. I can stop waiting for the other shoe to drop. I can start to rebuild my strength and life! Words cannot express the sense of relief I feel right now.

My chest is pretty soar and swollen at the moment, so I don’t really know what my new rack looks like. I have to wear a big, supportive post-surgical bra for the next three weeks. Only time I can take it off is to shower and launder it. But, that’s fine by me. I’d rather follow instructions than risk having one of the implants float or twist into a funny position. So, for the near future, I will be sleeping a propped up on my back (no side or stomach sleeping for me).

Dr. Hong did quite a bit of liposuction around both of my armpits as well as my side boob. The tissue expanders caused a lump to form near my armpit (ladies, you know what I’m talking about — the armpit flab!). The expanders also caused a pretty sever fold of skin along the side of my boob. As a result, I am pretty soar and swollen from all the lipo. I haven’t noticed any significant bruising yet, but then again, I always have my surgical bra on — so who really knows what’s going on under there. The front of my right breast is pretty ache-y. I can feel the outline of the gummy implant a bit. But I’m sure that’ll settle in soon enough.

For any of you reading this out there who still are living with your tissue expanders, take it from me, the day WILL come when those pieces of cr** will be removed. Those hard edges that poke at you 24/7 will be replaced by soft. mushy material. I lived with my expanders for 8 months. 8 months! It felt like a lifetime. But the day came and they are gone! I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to write this post!

It is going to be a banner weekend here in SF. Not only does Pride weekend kick off this afternoon (on the heels of the SCOTUS rulings earlier this week) at 3pm at Dolores Park (which is just a few blocks from our house), but we are throwing my “I kicked cancer’s a**” party on Saturday. I can’t wait to gather with my friends and family and celebrate.

I can’t wait to reminisce about how damn far I’ve come in the past 9 months and how much further I’m still going to go. Nothing is going to stop me!

Pre-Op Day

We are heading down to PAMF in about 30 minutes for my surgical pre-op appointment. Tomorrow I go under the knife yet again. This time I’ll be having my tissue expanders swapped out for permanent implants.

I’m not going to lie to you — I have been really, really nervous about this surgery for the past week or so.  I’ve been feeling sick and want to be sure I’m going into this operation with as much health and strength as I can muster.  Obviously, when I had my bi-lateral, I hadn’t just endured 6 months of grueling chemo. So I felt pretty confident about my recovery.

This time around, my body is so weakened from the chemo.  Case in point is this damn virus I’ve been fighting for over a week. At first we just thought it was a cold. Then when I saw Garrett, he put me on strong antibiotics to get me as healthy as possible before surgery.  Only problem was — 4 days into the antibiotic course, I felt even worse.  My bones ached more than ever, the muscles in my arms felt like I had bench pressed 500 pounds, my entire body was itchy and swelling up (I had to take off my wedding rings b/c they were so tight), I had sever GI issues and was throwing up for a couple days straight. NOT FUN. (Here’s something to ponder: I wonder how much of my illness was actually nerves about the surgery versus true virus….)

We decided to switch me over to tylenol, benadryl and gas x (yup, gas x!).  After another few days — I’m starting to feel human again! But now I’m even more scared about this surgery. I feel like I just went through hell — how can I put my body through even more trauma?

I’m actually really looking forward to seeing Dr. Hong today. I know he’ll be able to put my mind at ease and get me to relax leading up to this surgery. I also know that if, for some reason, it’s unsafe to perform the surgery, he’ll reschedule me (I hope it doesn’t come to this though b/c I HATE my tissue expanders and want them out).

Alrighty, well we have to run. I’ll update you on next steps later today!

xo

Booby Trap

Before I jump into this blog entry, let me update you on the hair color situation.  I spoke with a few survivors and they all told me that they held off on coloring their hair for awhile for fear that it would turn out green.  Remember I mentioned that chemo re-growth hair can take dye strangely? Well, I certainly don’t want to make matters worse on my head, so I cancelled my appointment and will wait it out. Who knows, maybe it’ll start to come in darker after chemo is done. I’m done trying to guess what’s going to happen to me at this point — I’m just along for the ride and trying to navigate the bumps as best I can!

On to the actual blog post…

I met with my plastic surgeon on Monday.  He didn’t fill my expanders any further.  In fact, we are officially done filling them. Not because either one of us is completely satisfied with the size of my new boobs. But because filling them will only expand the tops of them where my tissue is getting thin. I used to be a big C/small D, now I’d guess I’m a B, maybe even a small B.  All in all, I’m generally happy with the where we are. At least they are relatively symmetrical and most of my surgical scars are hidden.

We spent the entire appointment discussing the type of permanent implant that I’ll get once I’m done with chemo.  He showed me three different “gummy bear” implants.  Gummy Bear implants are silicone-filled and are all the rage now because if they get punctured, nothing will leak. Their consistency is that of a gummy bear, hence the name 🙂

OK, moving on! One was a generation 4 model and was very squishy — I loved it.  It felt really natural (not that I really remember what real boobs feel like anymore). Gen 4 is the type of implant they use for breast augmentation.  They can use it for reconstruction, but it can be tricky because we don’t have much tissue or any fat to really hold the thing in place.  According to my doctor, the aesthetic of this squishy model can end up being far from desirable for recon patients.  Some of the draw backs for mastectomy patients are (1) you can have permanent rippling (usually around the edges of your boob) if your tissue is too thin (b/c this gummy has no structure on its own — it’s just a bag of fluid — so if your own body doesn’t hold it in place with a thick enough layer of tissue/muscle, you will be able to see the ripples in the bag), (2) it can look like a tennis ball sticking out from your chest (again, this gummy has no shape to it, it’s just round) and (3) if your tissue is weak, this gummy can spread out under your armpit pretty far, which really bothers some women.

The other two were generation 5.  Gen 5 are FDA approved as part of a study.  I guess the studies are based on the size of implant you’ll get. The size that I will need, just closed it’s latest study.  My doctor thinks that they’ll open a new one by the time of my swap out surgery (late June) and if they don’t, he said we have to push my surgery and I live with my expanders for awhile longer. FML.

Both of the Gen 5 models are tear-drop shaped. Which is good for mastectomy patients because it allows for a “natural” look when we don’t have any fat and little tissue.  Because they are shaped, they are less likely to ripple (ripple-free is still not a guarantee with these puppies, it’s just less likely because they are stiffer and more structured). Some drawbacks are that the Gen 5 won’t move at all and they’ll remain fairly firm to the touch. I mean, yes sure you can grab and squeeze them and they’ll move a bit and be smooshy. But they will still be pretty hard. Also, the Gen 5 are pretty thick, so it’s hard for your body to transmit heat through them. So most likely, my foobs (fake boobs) will be cool to the touch.  This strikes me as really odd and something that will really bother me. But, according to doctor Hong, this is very common with post-mastectomy patients and is hard to avoid — no matter which implant you pick.  I suppose there is a chance that my tissue and skin will do a fab job and this won’t happen to me.  Glass half full, right?!! Also, right now, I have a decent amount of sensation/feeling left in my chest. I’m not sure I’ll retain that after my swap-out — which is sad to me.

So, at the end of the day it sounds like my permanent implants are going to be a lot like my expanders — which doesn’t make me jump for joy that much.  The one thing that will be different and that I’m psyched for is the hard metal disc at the top of my foobs will be gone — so the perm implant has to be softer in that respect!  Dr. Hong and I talked about how some patients are actually sad after their swap out b/c they liked the look of their expanders more than then the perm implant. I’m betting he told me this story to help me set realistic expectations for what’s to come. Oy.

End of day: I trust Dr. Hong implicitly. He did a phenomenal job with my mastectomy scars and he continues to keep my best interests at heart (even when I don’t because vanity gets in my way). So, we will go with the Gen 5. He said he’ll do some minor nips and tucks that I’ll be happy with. For example, he is going to lipo that fat bit of skin right under my armpit. YES! Haha! No, in all seriousness, that part of my body was changed for ever after the mastectomy and it’s huge and bulgy now. I suspect it had something to do with pulling my pectoral muscles over and down to make my new boobs, but I’m no expert. So I’m glad he talked to me about the small little things he’ll be able to do to help me feel better about the final outcome.

Here are some photos of all the implants. The first pic is of all three implants. From left to right is the Gen 4, small Gen 5 and then big Gen 5. I’ll likely need the big Gen 5, but Dr. Hong won’t know until I’m on the table.  It will depend on scar tissue, how big a cavity the expanders made, how thin my tissue is and all sorts of other doctorly things. Oh the things I’ve learned in the past 7 months!