I had a lot of issues with my mastectomy with partial reconstruction – so many that after about a month of extra ER visits, appointments with my surgeon, hospital stays, and extra surgeries that I finally had the expanders removed. I am the exception and not the rule, but the pain I endured for almost a month was honestly one of the most excruciating pains I think I ever had. It was a combination of having both my breasts removed and my body rejecting the expanders, which caused a great deal of infection and pain, and the pain killers didn’t necessarily kill the pain and they came with a slew of other side effects, including horrible constipation.I bought an electric recliner to sleep in because I wasn’t able to lay down and I couldn’t pull a lever. Finally, after weeks of crying and it physically hurting to breathe, I decided to have the expanders removed – that was a “quick” outpatient surgery (I put quotes around quick because although the surgery only took about 45-60 minutes, I had to be there 2 hours before the surgery, then the actual surgery, the recovery room 1, then recovery room 2, then finally after about 6-7 hours I was able to go home). For someone who had just got done having their 4th surgery in as many weeks, I was doing fabulous! Having those expanders removed was the best decision!
My surgeon (God bless him) talked to me a little about other reconstruction options when I went to have my stitches removed and I honestly didn’t want to hear any of it. After that pain I never wanted anyone to touch my chest again…or at least for a long, long time.
I didn’t really have much time to think about anything, anyway, because as soon as I healed from the expansion removal surgery it was time for me to begin chemo. And that nightmare … I couldn’t think about anything other than being sick all the time and trying not to die.
Now, I am a few days away from 3-month check up with my oncologist and I am starting to feel like my old self again … but not really. I still have no breasts and every time I look in the mirror I am reminded about the worst experience of my life. Don’t get me wrong, the women who opt not to have the reconstruction done – BLESS THEM! There is NOTHING wrong with not getting reconstruction. It’s just not for me. When I originally decided to have the mastectomy, it was done with the understanding that I would be having reconstruction at the same time. There were risk factors, “your body may reject them,” my surgeon warned. Me, confident, and probably arrogant, too, because so many women in my family had this procedure done, was like, “it’s cool, doc. Let’s get it done.” I didn’t pay as much attention to his warnings as I should have. Honestly, at that time, I had triple negative, invasive, aggressive cancer in my body and I just wanted it out.
In my family, breast cancer has been a “repeat offender;” I’ve had family members who’ve had this more than once and I tested BRCA positive, and I had a friend who had just finished her lumpectomy, chemo and radiation, all to find out the cancer came back. So I made the best decision for my health. But as I sit here trying to pick up the pieces of my life … I can’t.
Originally, I was going to put off the reconstruction until early 2018. After multiple surgeries and a hell of a hard road from chemo, I just wanted to be healthy for a while and enjoy it. But what I am discovering is that I am not healthy and I am not enjoying anything. I have the stress of surgeries looming over my head, I wear silicone prosthetic breasts when I go out and when I go to work, but when I’m at home I don’t wear anything so that’s constantly messing with my posture and causing a lot of back pain and requiring weekly trips to my chiropractor, and I have a poor self-image. People who know me and know my story tell me not to worry about it and that I’m a survivor and all these positive words … but here’s the thing: they all have their own breasts, they have their hair the length they want, they have choices that were taken away from me. So, while I appreciate their gestures and words – they really do mean a lot to me – it doesn’t change the way I feel about myself and my appearance. I am not a shallow person at all, I am probably one of the simplest people around, but I want to stop agonizing over surgeries and my appearance and everything else that I am going through and try to get this breast reconstruction done.
I have my 3-month check up with my oncologist on Jan. 26th and while I’m there I’m going to find out when he will authorize me to have my reconstruction done. I have to get his permission because he will let me know if my immune system can handle surgeries and if I should wait in case the cancer comes back. I also made a consultation appointment with my plastic surgeon for the next day to talk about what the best option is for me to get my breasts reconstructed. Since my body rejected the expanders, we’ll go with other methods, which he told me required a longer recovery time and were more painful; I’m not looking forward to that at all. But I think getting this procedure done will be another step in my healing process. And if I can’t get it done right now, for whatever medical reason, I will at least have talked to all my specialists and got their professional opinions instead of continuously stressing myself out about it.