In search of my new bionic boobs

2 Dec

So today’s a big day for me. In about two hours, I’ll be meeting with my plastic surgeon to see what effect the six plus weeks of radiation had on my left side. I’d say my left breast, but there’s not much breast left. There’s a nipple and skin and scars and scar tissue which has adhered to the muscle wall. Your basic beat-up 10-year-old boy look. But with a lot of luck, I’ll hear today that I’ll soon be getting a breast there, hopefully without too much trouble.

That last is a bit facetious since breast reconstruction is not an easy process, although many people still equate it with cosmetic breast enhancement, which is a much simpler, almost cut-and-dried procedure these days. Reconstruction, however, is much more complicated and can involve multiple surgeries and long recovery times. I’m praying that I’ll be able to get what I call the “easy-peasy” reconstruction method involving tissue expanders and implants.

With this method, you basically get a couple of empty tires surgically implanted behind your chest wall which the plastic surgeon pumps up once a week or so (via some kind of valve) until you have the right size. Then they swap out the full tires for your implants (either saline or silicone – still haven’t decided yet) during surgery. I’ll be doing this with my right side which didn’t go through radiation, but the big question is what will happen with old Lefty.

If radiation has screwed the pooch on my skin there (and according to my radiation oncologist, it does with maybe one third of the women who go through it), the skin won’t be able to stretch enough to hold a tissue expander. Which means they’ll be “borrowing” tissue and muscle from other parts of my body to “build a boob.” (When I first heard this, I immediately pictured them nicking tissue from my butt, my thighs, my right armpit, my left knee and sort of cobbling it all together like a boob hot dog. Such is not the case.)

Instead, they usually borrow tissue from one place, like your belly — especially for women who’ve had kids (instant tummy tuck!). Unfortunately (or not), I haven’t had kids and was told during my first consult that my stomach wasn’t big enough to use for the “build a boob” method, which is officially known as a tram flap. (This is another one of those backhanded cancer compliments, like “You’re so young, you’ll be a great candidate for chemotherapy.” The first time I heard that, I didn’t know whether to cry because of the impending chemo or preen because of the “young” word. At 53, you take what you can get.)

Anyway, since I can’t get a tram flap, they’d be looking elsewhere for that muscle and tissue. On my body, not anyone else’s (I’ve had plenty of sweet offers from friends willing to sacrifice their pot bellies for my new boob but the tissue’s got to come from me).  If I have to go with this method, it’ll mean scrapping my carefully saved (and diligently moisturized) skin and nipple on the left side and replacing it with a hunk of flesh from my latissimus dorsi in a procedure known as a “lat flap.” It’ll also mean multiple surgeries to create a nipple, then tattoo the nipple (and aerola). Plus recovery time for both my front and my back. Plus the loss of muscle on my back, etc. etc. 

None of this sounds like a good time to me. If I had my druthers, I wouldn’t have any of it. Not even the tissue expanders embedded in my chest because from what I’ve heard, they can hurt like a son of a bitch as well as feeling like a couple of rocks attached to your chest (can’t wait to see the expression on some swing dance lead’s face when I shove those puppies up next to him).

But the thing is, I want my boobs back — I miss them, I need them, and yeah, I feel like I deserve them, especially after all I’ve been through these last 10 months.

So, yes, I’ll do what I can do get them — endure the pain of the tissue expanders, suffer through multiple surgeries (if necessary) to build a boob out of bits and pieces of my body. And yes, even shamelessly put up a blog post like this, asking all of you to keep your fingers, legs, toes and whatever else crossed for me today.

As always, thanks for the read and for any and all good wishes you can send my way today. Talk to you soon.

11 Responses to “In search of my new bionic boobs”

  1. Nancy's Point December 2, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    Timely post for me. Exactly one year ago today I had my tissue expander/implant trade out surgery. It’s a long road no matter which way you go. Next week I’m posting about my tattooing if I get up the nerve. It’s pretty crazy all we share here isn’t it? Good luck with your appointment. Sending good wishes your way for sure.

  2. TeganTegan December 2, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    I’m definitely sending wonderful reconstruction thoughts your way. You already have a great attitude; hopefully the great boobs to match will be “easy peasy!”

  3. Linda December 2, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

    Hang in there! Easy for me to say.. because I am going through it right now! I had my left breast radiated 4 years ago with my first breast cancer. When cancer returned this year and after my double mastectomy in September, I was “lucky” enough to have tissue expanders put in both sides….The lat flap was considered, but since I was busty enough with my old boobies that hung pretty low due to gravity, they decided on an expander in the radiated side. I got my 4th fill two days ago, and boy am I tight! The radiated side has a thin muscle that every time they fill it hurts for 10 days before my muscle relaxes enough to breathe. NO ONE knows what you are going through…but since I am going through it right now, I have at least an idea! Even then…we are all different! I will never get my old boobs back, but I will be cancer free in that area! You are in my prayers!
    Linda (age 54…and single!)

  4. Rhonda December 2, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    Best of luck to you Diane. I am currently going through reconstruction with expanders, not exactly a good time, but it is almost over. Can’t wait to go through the tattoo aerola experience. This all feels like some kind of bizzare bad acid trip.

  5. Rebekah December 2, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Wishing you luck goes without saying, and also laughing my head off at “backhanded cancer compliments”. We should start a list!

  6. Kim December 2, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

    I totally “get” you wanting to have boobs.

    For what it’s worth, I had silicone implants put in about 4 years ago. Had I known that I was going to get breast cancer and would be able to bill the insurance company, I certainly would have waited! Oh well. Live and learn. Anyhow, the silicone are awesome. Nobody would guess that they aren’t real. So silicone gets my vote if you’re taking a poll.

    I certainly hope that it all works out for you and that you get to flaunt your ta-ta’s in no time.

  7. The Big C and Me December 2, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    Oh so true. I agree with Nancy above: No matter which recon porcess you choose, it’s a pain and it’s scary and stuff goes wrong, but in the end it all works out. I gotta believe!


  8. Claudia Schmidt December 5, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

    Just found your blog after reading your article about Giuliana Rancic (so sad). I just celebrated my 1 year anniversary of having a bilateral mastectomy. I had the whole expander reconstruction thing and I have to be honest and tell you it’s not easy. I hated the whole process, but now a year out, have gotten pretty used to my new implants. One recommendation – make sure you get to a physical therapist afterwards. My body was so wacked out by all of the surgeries that I thought I would never get any mobility or strength back in my upper body, but the PT helped me regain it in about 4 sessions – nothing short of miraculous to me. Hang in there….I’ll be back to see what your next steps are. Sending good wishes and thoughts your way.

  9. Monica Wall December 6, 2011 at 4:26 am #

    This so made me laugh! I went to a friends 50th birthday party three days after the expanded was put in, danced my bootie off. It was wonderful to fell alive and ps not wear a bra with a halter dress!

  10. VMC December 6, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    HI Again,
    I just had my expanders replaced with my permanent implants on Dec.1. I gotta agree with Monica in my case–the expanders gave me almost no trouble at all, and I loved going braless too. I had the expanders in for 7 months. They put mine in prior to last chemo and radiation. I’m not used to my permanent silicone implants yet, but I’m told they will take a few months to settle in…all in all, I guess I’m doing pretty well, and I sure wish the same for you Diane! I didn’t forsee the emaotioanl efftects of this last surgery, but it’s been less than a week for me, so I have to give myself some time! Part of me wants to be a boy right now…

  11. Mandi December 31, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    I have had several complications with reconstruction but I don’t regret any of it one bit! I have had two separate latissimus flap reconstruction surgeries (I had a bilateral mastectomy). It is scary, but I don’t regret any of it! Feel free to email me if you want details about the lat flap reconstruction.

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