12 November 2010
From February 17th (D-Day, a.k.a. Diagnosis Day) through July, the name of the game was “saving life.” It was about a rigorous chemotherapy regime leading up to a double mastectomy on July 19th. But today, and the past two months, the game is all about restoring my body – breast reconstruction. Today will mark my third surgery in five months.
I’m an Inflammatory Breast Cancer Survivor. Even though there are no good cancers, IBC is a terribly aggressive kind of cancer – high mortality rates, and not so good news regarding recurrence. However, in my case, I feel saved. I’m one of the lucky IBC patients who actually had a complete response to the chemotherapy -- with much credit to the brilliant oncologists at the UAMS Rockefeller Cancer Institute. Dr. Makhoul believes that my complete response has decreased my chances of recurrence significantly. I’m laying a bet that this supposition holds true.
Originally my UAMS medical team told me that reconstructive surgery was not in my future – possibly a year or two out from the double mastectomy. And that was fine with me, as long as they cured the cancer. When my post-mastectomy pathology report came back with no cancer cells, I then became a candidate for breast reconstruction, which I’ve been doing for the past several months. Because of the many questions about how this works, I’ve decided to write about the entire process. Like most of my friends, I had no idea what all was involved. So here it goes:
Note: This post is not for the faint of heart. With thanks to the Internet and YouTube, I’m able to show actual photos and videos of what all this entails.
Stage One – Surgical Placement of Tissue Expanders: On August 27, my reconstructive surgeon, Dr. James Yuen, surgically placed two tissues expanders into my chest area. Here’s a photograph of what these expanders look like. The material is made of part plastic, part silicone. I must tell you that these expanders are not the most comfortable things ever inserted into your body. Let me just say that after the expander surgery, they sent me home with more pain medication than after my mastectomy. Does that give you an idea?
The last time I slept through the night without waking up was certainly before expanders invaded by body. Before that time, I would fall asleep in my bed, on my side and wake up wherever and in some random position, usually on my back. After the expanders were inserted, I woke up every time I made the slightest position change. These things are not comfortable! To get a better night’s rest, I now sleep on the sofa, hence, not allowing me to have much movement. Sleep has been a bit easier, but I’m looking forward to getting back to my bed.
Stage Two – Expanding the Breast Tissue: If you look at the expander photo, you’ll notice a silicone bubble or balloon that is used to accept a needle for injection. One month after the expander surgery, on September 28th, I began what would become a weekly visit to Dr. Yuen and his reconstructive team for a series of saline injections into the expanders. It reminds me of being pregnant, how your skin gradually expands throughout the pregnancy. This is exactly the same process – gradual expansion of the breast skin over time. Pain? Not so much in the beginning but I’ve had quite a bit of pain the past several days, since the last injection. If you are interested, click here to watch a YouTube video that shows exactly how the injection/expansion process works.
If you click here, this is another YouTube video of a woman who took photographs of her breasts four days following her mastectomy through her entire expander process. It’s a bit graphic, so only watch if this kind of depiction does not bother you.
Stage Three – Removing the Expanders/Permanent Implants Placed: Today’s surgery involves removing the tissue expanders and placement of the permanent saline-filled breast implants. As I told Allyson last night, today’s surgery is one I’m actually looking forward to, as I’ll soon feel relief once the expanders are removed.
If you click here, this is a rather long and very graphic video of an actual surgery removing the tissue expanders and placing the permanent breast implants. At 1:40 is when this surgeon removes the tissue expander, and at 6:40 is when he inserts the implants. Again, only watch this video if surgical procedures doesn’t bother you.
I’m told that after today’s surgery, most patients can resume their normal routine in about a week. That’s good since I have much on my plate to take care of – getting my holiday shopping and wrapping finished, getting ready for my girls to come home for Thanksgiving, planning an Inaugural Ball, etc. But more importantly, when I leave UAMS tonight or tomorrow, I’m excited about being ME again. I’m calling today’s procedure my “party favors” after the heartache of breast cancer. The masterful Dr. Yuen has restored my shadow, and hopefully there will be no more surgeries or disfigurations to my bodily appearance. Only six weeks of radiation therapy lie ahead, and I can handle that for sure. While it’s still surgery, I think today will be a good day.
Posted by Stacy Sells at 9:40 AM