I’m almost a month out from my surgery and currently undergoing the reconstructive phase of my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. Aside from no longer having a large natural chest and some limited range of motion, I feel basically back to normal. This whole process has been much quicker and less painful than I had anticipated and I am grateful for that. Apparently, not everyone is this fortunate.
They finally removed the remainder of the fluid drains I had coming out of my sides last week. I started out with four and looked like I had a set of grenades attached to me 24/7. Then I only had two drains for a few weeks, and now I finally have zero.
While the drains weren't painful, they were the one biggest obstacle that kept me from looking and feeling like myself. I didn’t like looking like a science experiment. I can stuff my bra with some inserts that the hospital provided me with to make sure my clothes still fit and look normal but the drains were not as easy to hide. Not to mention the tubes would get hooked on doorknobs on a regular basis- Ouch. While I don’t care much about my chest size at this point, I do feel more comfortable filling up my bra to keep some sense normalcy in my appearance and to make my clothing fit.
“So what’s all this talk about reconstruction?” you may ask. I’ll try to explain it as easily as possible. Basically, when they removed the tissue from my chest they placed these temporary implants called tissue expanders where my breasts originally were. These are meant to stretch back out the muscle and tissue in my chest to allow a tight pocket to form for the permanent implants that will come later. Not so fun fact: these expanders are hard as rocks and very uncomfortable; sneezing has become a painful nightmare.
I go to the medical facility once a week to have these implants expanded by inserting a needle into my skin and pumping in filler fluid. I’m still numb from nerve damage so I can’t feel this much.
They will keep doing this until I reach a size I like/am comfortable with. A friend was very adamant about me making the metaphor that this process is like going to an Italian restaurant and having the server grind Parmesan cheese on your salad; they keep going until you have your desired amount and tell them to stop (that one was for you, Conor). This whole process is fairly painless and only results in a little muscle soreness for 1-2 days.
After I have reached the desired size I will have to wait three months before I return for a second surgery where they will replace these expanders with much softer and natural-looking permanent implants. The recovery time for this procedure is fairly short, 2 weeks at the most.
While I have never been one for emotions I would like to share my emotional state for those of you who may go through this process sometime in the future. While I am obviously having some body image issues and slight concerns about how well the reconstruction will turn out, more than anything I feel an immense sense of relief. My risk is down and I don’t have this unknown surgery hanging over my head as it had been for many years. It’s also been fun trying out different chest sizes and seeing the pros and cons of each- how many people get to do that in their lifetime?
Keeping my reasons for going through with this procedure in mind has helped me to stay positive and energetic throughout this whole process. I can’t wait to have all of this behind me and start the next chapter of my life. My life has so much to offer and this process will help me ensure that I get to experience as much of that as possible.