I visited my plastic surgeon again to get a few more questions answered. Among them: what are we going to do with these nipples? I’m still waffling over keeping them and doing nipple reconstruction later. The reasons this is so difficult for me are many.
If they stay:
Will they die? Will they be in the right spot on my reconstructed breasts? What will the proportion be to my new breast size? Will I have any feeling left? Will I have permanent headlights? Basically, keeping the nipples intact leaves a few things up to chance. If the surgeon does a spectacular job and doesn’t snip any nerves or vessels that are essential to survival, we’re good; if something goes wrong, more surgeries will be needed.
If they go:
How much bigger will the scars be? Will I miss them? Will my husband be put off? How long until I can get some nipples back on these babies? Will the breast shape lose some projection and look a bit flat? Will I get 3D tattoos or something more creative? This seems like the less complicated route and nipple reconstruction is an option.
So what’s the verdict?
I don’t know. I’m still undecided. (See Let’s give them a chance for the update)
The plastic surgeon and I discussed these concerns and options. He did note that for each woman that undergoes a mastectomy as a preventative measure, about 30 are doing it after a cancer diagnosis. Saving the nipples is not a very safe choice once there are cancer cells in the body, therefore some surgeons don’t have much experience with nipple-sparing mastectomies. Out of the patients my plastic surgeon has worked with, there have been zero nipples lost. However, he is not the one that will be wielding the scalpel when the incisions are made. That lies in the hands of the other surgeon. When I recently met with him (see Speed Bump), he didn’t seem too keen on the nipple-sparing route. I am withholding making the call until I meet with him again and discuss this in more detail.
Other questions from this visit with plastic surgeon:
- Do we really need to snip the pec nerves? NOT doing it isn’t really an option. It is done to create the pocket, but also for optimal projection. If the pec major remains completely intact (not sure this is even possible), this can cause “jumping boob” when you shake hands, reach for things, or even have a conversation, if you talk with your hands.
- Will I have to wear a bra (ever)? No. I just want to take a second here and say “woo hoo!!!“ There will be an ace bandage wrapped around the chest for at least a couple of days post-surgery, but long-term a bra is not needed. Side note: As women age, they typically gain weight and the different types of tissue that make up the breast lose elasticity, so everything starts drifting south due to gravity. All of that tissue is removed during the mastectomy. Also, a piece of AlloDerm is implanted under the skin and acts as a sling for the breast implant (check out this 2 min video on YouTube – NSFW). Want a laugh? Check out this lady whose boobs sagged so low she just tucks them into her pants!
- Should I use BioOil before and after surgery to soften tissue and minimize scars? Maderma and other products that help reduce scars are a waste of money. The most effective way to do this is to stimulate the tissue by applying pressure to it. One hour each day, take some “me” time and massage the scar tissue on the breasts.
- Will you be performing the entirety of the reconstruction? Meaning: will any medical students/residents be practicing on me? Residents may be present to watch the surgery, but they do not participate. A surgical assistant will the stitching after everything is done.
- When do you submit for insurance pre-authorization and does the general or the plastic surgeon complete the disability paperwork? The breast surgeon does his pre-authorization first, then the plastic surgeon submits the paperwork. Disability paperwork is completed by the plastic surgeon about three weeks out. By the way, the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998 (WHCRA) requires insurance companies covering the mastectomy to provide coverage for all stages of reconstruction of the breasts and treatment of physical complications of the mastectomy (doesn’t matter if prophylactic). Note: this is IF the insurance company covers the mastectomy.
Source: Steligo, Kathy. Breast Reconstruction Guidebook: Issues and Answers from Research to Recovery. Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012. Print, third edition.