After having the breast tissue expanders surgically implanted on March 7, and a decent post-op appointment on March 13, I was able to go in for my first breast expansion on March 20, 2017.
For those of you who don’t know what breast tissue expanders are, here is a picture:
If you’ve followed my Battling Breast Cancer and Beyond blog, you’ll know that last year on April 20, 2016 when I had my bilateral mastectomy, I also had partial reconstruction at the same time. Basically, after they removed my breasts, my surgeon implanted the tissue expanders underneath my chest muscle. I had many, many complications that led to trips to the emergency room, extra visits with my surgeon, being readmitted to the hospital, extra surgeries, and so much pain I could hardly stand it – plus we needed to get my chemo started – so finally, I had the expanders removed at the end of May and began chemo in June.
Anyway, with all those issues, the idea of getting the expanders put back in was so scary. However, my plastic surgeon didn’t think I was a good candidate for the autologous or “flap” reconstruction for a few reasons. The first being my body has been through a lot of trauma over the past year and I have a very low tolerance for pain (read: I’m weak), the second reason is that I’m over the body fat percentage that is recommended – and safest – for that procedure. So, that left us with the expanders. This time my surgeon put the expanders over my chest muscle and used a lot of mesh covering.
Last year, I never made it to one expansion, so when I went for my first expansion last week, I didn’t know what to expect and I was very nervous.
So, here are some photos to show you first hand what to expect – because as usual – I didn’t know.
Photos taken the morning of March 20, 2017, before going to get expanded the first time. You can see by the second photo that the darn drains were still in. You can also see how big the incisions in my chest are. Pretty much my entire chest, all the way to my back. I’m not going to lie, the incisions hurt. They actually didn’t bother me at first – I guess because I was taking so much pain medication – but the past few days, it’s been brutal.
Anyway, so I went in for my procedure. The first thing that happened that day was that I finally got those drains out after two weeks (I didn’t get any pictures of that), but they just cut them out with scissors. It sounds painful, but trust me, after two weeks of having those drains sewn into you, getting them cut out is a great feeling.
Next, it was time to get up on the table and get my first expansion.
So, here’s actually how the expanders work:
A Physician Assistant (PA) will use a butterfly needle to “fill” you. That looks easy enough with the expanser sitting right there on a table, am I right? Well, the thing is, this thing is inside you – so now what?
Well, the PA uses a magnet of sorts to feel around on your chest where the expanders are to find the little metal area where the needle goes in. Once they find it, they’ll use a marker to make tiny X’s on your chest so they can precisely hit the spot and fill you with saline. You wouldn’t want them to puncture the expander because then you’d have to have another surgery to take it out and put a new one in.
Typically, they try to fill about 100-200 ml of saline per side, per expansion. However, because it’s me and I have issues, they chose to only fill me with 75 ml of saline per side.
The whole process only took about 15 minutes and other than the poke of the needle, doesn’t hurt a bit. I was actually very surprised; I thought it was a little more involved, but relieved it wasn’t.
This was taken the afternoon of March 20, 2017, after my drains were removed and first expansion.
I didn’t write right away because I wanted to give it time to see how I’d feel.
The first few days weren’t too bad, a little tightness in my chest and the incisions hurt like heck, but otherwise ok.
By the 3rd day after my expansion I had to go back on the narcotic pain pills. I hate pain pills. I don’t like feeling like my mind isn’t right and just sleeping all the time, so last week I began alternating Motrin and Tylenol, rather than taking the rough stuff. Back to the Oxycodone and Diazepam. I haven’t been able to sleep well because the incisions go almost to my back and the expanders feel sort of like they’re crushing me if I lay on my back, I definitely can’t lay on my stomach, and my preferred sleeping position is on my side, but the expanders feel like they are going to cut through my skin, so that’s out of the question, too. So it’s back to sleeping in a recliner. Lucky for me, I just bought a really nice leather recliner couch that is super comfortable and comes equipped with USB chargers and cup holders.
**My bed for the foreseeable future.
I go in for my second expansion on Tuesday afternoon, we’ll see how it goes, but after this next one, I may need a few weeks in between fills.
This all hurts and each day seems to get a little more painful. Again, I have a very low tolerance for pain, so my results may be very different than yours.
I just want the pain to end and to get these fills done, get these expanders out, and my permanent breast implants in.