To boob or not to boob that is the question . . .
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer and realized I was to have my breast removed, I said that I would have breast reconstruction. After all this hell, I deserved a reward, right? I was thinking of blaring positive of reconstruction: smaller, perkier breasts. I mean who wouldn’t like to have perky breasts at 80?
I made an appointment with the breast reconstruction surgeon recommended by my breast surgeon. My vision of the reconstruction was a one-step procedure. They would remove my remaining breast and then place in the implants and I’m good to go. I really am naïve sometimes.
I’ve literally just completed chemo two weeks prior to my appointment. I have not given any thought to reconstruction. I’ve done no research. And if you really want to know at this point, I’m tired of being poked and prodded, so thinking about major surgery is not on my radar.
Bob comes with me to my appointment. Once in my room, I do the usual strip down and put on that paper robe. Open in the front of course. The nurse come in first and we go through my history. When we’re done, she explains the procedure to me. You know that one step procedure that I was envisioning? Well I can kiss that goodbye!
The reconstruction process will take over several months. During the initial surgery, my breast surgeon will remove my right breast. When that is completed Dr. Meininger, the breast reconstruction surgeon, takes over. He will open up my left side. He will then place tissue expanders where my breasts will be. To stretch my skin, I will need to go to his office every 3 to 4 weeks to have liquid injected into my breasts. (that does not sound fun at all!) I will continue to have injections until my breast get to the right size. Once that is accomplished, I will have another surgery to remove the tissue expanders and gummy implants will be inserted. And during all of this, I will be trying to heal.
Say what? Seriously? I have a mastectomy, just finished chemotherapy, and am waiting to have radiation to treat my cancer. When all is said and done, the process will take about a year. The process to fix my body and make me feel somewhat normal will be another long arduous journey. I calculate in my head. It will be at least 2 ½ years until I’m done with breast cancer and its aftermath.
I ask her about the pain. She tells me I won’t feel the injection because I won’t have any feeling in my breasts. Ever? I ask her. Yes, she says. While I’m processing that news. I ask her if I will feel pain after the injections, while my skin is stretching. She tells me I’ll feel uncomfortable for the first week. It can feel like you have a tight bra on. She says taking Tylenol will help. I will continue to have injections until we get to the correct size. She said the injections are every 3 to 4 weeks. Once my new breasts are in and healed, the next step is having an areola tattooed on to each breast. After that process is complete, the final step is having a nipple surgically attached. Ouch, ouch, and ouch! Could it get any worse? Seriously!
My enthusiasm for a new set of tatas is waning quickly. She leaves and we wait for the doctor. I look at Bob and all I can say is “Wow!” I really had no idea. I really do need to be better prepared for these things. Enough with my head in the sand business. Then again it was nice living in the one procedure world.
Dr. Meininger comes in and we start with the inevitable exam. It’s amazing to me that I am literally meeting someone for the first time and they are going to touch my chest. I swear there is no dignity with this disease. I displace myself, once again, and grin and bear it. I’m still a little tender. He says my skin is healing nicely. Dr. Ruark has done a great job. Yay for that! He tells me to not let Dr. Chen burn me during radiation. He wants to see me after radiation to see how my skin has healed. He tells me I will need to wait 6 to 9 months after radiation to have the surgery for my skin to completely heal.
We talk more about the procedure. I get my second shock of the day. My husband starts asking technical questions about the procedure. Questions that show he’s done his research. Mr., “give me the cliff notes man”, has been secretly watching videos and researching the internet. Figures, it’s the breast reconstruction that he’s the most interested in!
We leave and will call to set up an appointment when I’ve completed radiation. I’m overwhelmed. I’m tired. I need a break. I tell my husband I’m not even thinking about reconstruction until the fall of 2018. When I finish radiation, I need time to heal and not think about cancer.
It’s the fall of 2018 and I have begun thinking about my next steps. I’ve spoken with survivors. It’s been half and half regarding reconstruction. The ones that didn’t have reconstruction, just had their other breast removed and wear prosthetics when they go out. A few just opted to leave things as they are. All I spoke with are married and all said their husbands loved their bodies as they were. The others that went through the reconstruction process have said that it was a long process and at times it was painful. They were glad they did it. This showed me once again that each person handles cancer in the best way for them. Each weighed their options and selected what worked best for them.
I was speaking with a friend who is proactively having a double mastectomy due to having the BRCA gene. She is having her reconstructive surgery done in one operation. Now that was news I liked hearing. I need to research this more. I’ve decided I want a few more consultations before I make my decision. I’m not sure what will work best for me. I know I don’t look forward to surgery again, but I do know I really don't want my other breast. I know there will be pain, but I know it will pass. I know it's a long process but one that is doable. I know that my husband loves me regardless if I have breasts or not. It’s a win/win no matter what choice I make.
To boob or not boob that is the question. A question, I’m going to thoroughly research before I make the decision that is right for me. For right now, I’m relishing not having to do anything with “cancer”. I’m just doing day to day things and embracing life as it comes. Cancer free.