Tag Archives: breast reconstruction

Fifth expansion

WARNING: NSFW / graphic content below.

In other news: I had my fifth expansion. 50ccs have been added to each expander, for a total of 400ccs/side. We’re getting there.

184ccs vs. 400ccs

184ccs (pre-op) vs. 400ccs

I am very happy with how these things are looking so far. Compared to how expanders usually look on women, mine have a pretty natural shape. A bit lop-sided, with righty higher up than lefty, because of how the internal pockets healed post-op. The right pocket closed up a little bit on the bottom, so the expander sits higher in my chest, but it’s not too bad. This will be fixed during the exchange surgery in September.

I have a few more decisions to make before September. Mainly: will I get silicone or saline implants, what shape will they be, and what am I going to do about my nipples. If you’ve been following me for a bit (or can tell from the photos), you know that I lost one of my nipples to necrosis. I need to figure out what I’m going to do about it. The options are:

  • Nothing
  • Reconstruct the lost nipple via skin graft or skate flap
  • Get a 3D tattoo
  • Remove the other nipple

I can’t decide what is best. On one hand, I went through all this trouble, so why give up now, but on the other, I just don’t think I’m going to like the aesthetic result if I do nothing or reconstruct/tattoo just one. What’s more awkward than two hard nipples? ONE! I like symmetry. I think I’m going to remove the other one and maybe reconstruct them both. Not 100% on that though. We shall see.

Here are the pics. Big difference between what 100ccs looked like after my mastectomy in January and the 400ccs I have today.

2013_5_24 fills

100 + 50 +75 +75 + 50 + 50 = 400ccs

Post-op resistance training

Level 3 exercises are here!

I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous posts, that I began doing simple range of motion exercises while still in the hospital bed on the day of the prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. I was following Casey Eischen’s program. Casey is a fitness expert and nutrition coach that is certified in training women who are recovering from breast cancer and related treatment or surgery.

If you have not yet seen Casey’s first video or want to learn more about her, see: Post-op exercises or Foobie Fitness.

Here is the next video in the series with level 3 exercises. It is for those that are at least six weeks out from their mastectomy and includes more stretches plus a great resistance training routine.

As with starting any diet or exercise program, always consult with your doctor.

Fourth expansion

WARNING: NSFW / graphic content below.

Another fill behind me. We took it back down a notch from 75 and added 50ccs to each expander, for a total of 350ccs/side. I’m not sure that you can see much of the difference in the photo, whic is at the bottom of this post.

I must say that I feel better after this fill than I did after the previous three. Typically I wake up on Saturday and it takes me a while to get going. This morning I didn’t feel much pain at all – no ibuprofen needed. I went food shopping and cleaned the whole house. I hope I don’t regret this tomorrow! Fingers crossed that this continues for the next four fills.

To celebrate my over-the-hump expansion (four down, four to go), I present to you: t-rex. In a previous post (see: Shower time) I joked that I had t-rex arms because of my limited range of motion right after the mastectomy. I could barely scratch my head (or butt) for a few days. I got this shirt shortly after. Enjoy!

Ask me about my t-rex

2013_5_10 fills

100 + 50 +75 +75 + 50 = 350ccs

They’re back – second expansion

WARNING: NSFW / graphic content below.

Another expansion done! We added 75ccs to each expander, for a total of 225ccs/side (pic below). I am now just a tad over my size before the prophylactic bilateral mastectomy in January.

I decided to speed things up a little bit – rather than doing 50ccs per expansion, we bumped it up to 75ccs. So far, so good, but it has only been a few hours. The worse of the pain the first time hit me when I woke up on the day after the fill. I felt like I was back in the recliner the first week post-op. I popped an ibuprofen, did some stretching, and moved on with my day. The pressure eased as days passed and I was back to “normal” within a week. Well, here we go again. I imagine it will get worse with each fill, but we shall see.

Breast Reconstruction Guidebook Figure 7.1For a recap of why/how the expansion process works, see They’re growing or check out the video below, which was shared by fellow PBM-er Trisha on her blog I’m getting my boobs chopped off. By the way, if you haven’t noticed, I list a number of blogs on the right side of the page under Relevant Sites & Blogs. Check them out! Most of those ladies has also undergone a mastectomy; some proactively and some after a breast cancer diagnosis.

fills-2013_4_12

100 + 50 + 75 = 225ccs

Source of Figure 7.1: Steligo, Kathy. Breast Reconstruction Guidebook: Issues and Answers from Research to Recovery. Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012. Print, third edition.

They’re growing – first expansion

WARNING: NSFW / graphic content below.

Goodbye ugly scab, hello first fill!

The scab that has been living on my left boob has finally fallen off! Can I get a “woo hoo”? It has been two full months since my prophylactic mastectomy on January 22 and the start of my adventure with resulting skin/nipple necrosis. Today I had my first fill. 50ccs of saline were injected into each tissue expander, bringing the total to 150ccs/side.

Tissue expanderWhat are tissue expanders, you ask? The type of breast reconstruction I chose is two-staged: tissue expanders first, followed by silicone breast implants. The tissue expanders, which were implanted underneath my pectoralis major muscle during the mastectomy, get filled with saline on a regular basis to stretch said muscle and the skin that covers it, until the desired volume is reached. They are like “pre-implants.” Similar shape, but more rigid, unnatural, and uncomfortable. They have a round magnetic port in the top half, which allows for insertion of a needle, without compromising the expander.

Breast Reconstruction Guidebook Figure 7.1

The process of filling the tissue expanders is pretty quick and uneventful. First the nurse uses a little plastic contraption with a metal pin at the end to find the magnetic port in the tissue expander. Once the center of the port is identified, the nurse sanitizes the area and injects the needle attached to a syringe holding the saline. She then slowly pushes the plunger until all 50ccs of fluid have been injected into the expander. This takes less than one minute. After completing the fill, she places a little round band-aid over the injection site. Same story on the other side.

This procedure is overall painless (based on just the first fill). The only sensation was a brief sting as the needle was inserted into the port through the skin.Three hours later, I feel a little bit of that now-familiar pressure on the muscle and skin stretched over the expanders. As soon as I got home, I popped an ibuprofen, did some stretches, and smeared my chest with Palmer’s cocoa butter oil.

As I look down at my chest, I can see that my foobs are bigger. It is a small difference, but it’s there. It will be interesting to watch these things grow. I can already tell that it won’t be pretty. The expanders didn’t settle exactly the same way: one sits higher and the other one is a bit twisted. The asymmetry seems to be normal based on my plastic surgeon’s feedback and the photos other women have shared. Enjoy the visual!

Fills 2013_3_29

100 + 50 = 150ccs

The fills will continue every two weeks at 50ccs/side. At this point, I have not yet decided how big I want to go (one of my friends joked: “go big or go home!”). However, I did find out that my breast surgeon removed 184 grams of breast tissue/side, which translates to roughly 184ccs, so one more fill and I will be back to pre-op size. Next appointment: April 12.

Source of Figure 7.1: Steligo, Kathy. Breast Reconstruction Guidebook: Issues and Answers from Research to Recovery. Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012. Print, third edition.

One month later

It has been one month since my prophylactic nipple-sparing bilateral mastectomy. How am I doing? Here’s an update:

  • Mario kartI am now driving and no longer need a chauffeur.
  • Sneezing still hurts.
  • Got clearance to resume aerobic exercise, but no running or jumping.
  • Planning on going back to work in less than two weeks. Eek!
  • I am not a fan of these expanders. They are hard as rocks.
  • Still no expansions/fills. We are waiting for the necrotic area to heal. The large scab is slowly lifting at the edges. I trim it so it doesn’t get caught on clothes.
  • Had the 14th and last hyperbaric treatment today. Not sure how much of the healing can be attributed to the treatments, though. The wound has definitely gotten better, not worse, so it didn’t hurt. My breast surgeon believes that it saved Dusky!
  • Some bruising has developed on my right side, right over the fill port, so I stopped massaging the skin and expanders. Still using the cocoa butter oil with vitamin E.
  • Making progress in getting back full range of motion. I am happy to report a small victory – I can now bring my arms all the way to the floor during the floor/towel exercise at 13:10 in this post-op exercise video. Big accomplishment!Coins
  • Haven’t gotten any bills yet, but I know they’ll be pouring in soon.

Overall my recovery has been going great! The complications I’ve had are relatively minor and I am happy that it has not been worse.

Tissue necrosis

WARNING: NSFW / graphic content below.

What is necrosis?

One of the risks associated with a mastectomy, or any surgery, is tissue necrosis. This occurs when the blood supply is compromised and the cells aren’t receiving enough oxygen; the skin begins to die. As this happens, it turns black and hardens into a scab. Although the dead tissue can be removed (debridement), it cannot be brought back to life. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) can be used to treat surrounding tissue – more on this in another post: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Breast skin is fragile after mastectomy. If it’s exceptionally thin after the breast tissue is cut away or is handled too roughly, it may die. The same result may occur if the breast surgeon severs too many blood vessels that feed the skin or uses eletrocautery too aggressively and burns the inside of the skin, which may then blister and die.
– Steligo, Kathy. Breast Reconstruction Guidebook: Issues and Answers from Research to Recovery. Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012. Print, third edition.

My case

Nipple necrosis was one of my big worries when I was struggling to decide whether my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy was going to be nipple-sparing. I did a lot of research and talked to both of my surgeons about it. Check out my earlier posts on the topic: Nipples, pecs,bras, OH MY! and Let’s give them a chance.

Left nipple day of PBM

Left nipple day of PBM

I had the unfortunate chance to experience necrosis in the area of the left nipple and skin directly underneath it. The day of my surgery, we could already see that there may be a problem. The left nipple looked “dusky.” On day six, the sterile strips covering the bottom of the nip and the incision underneath it were removed and we discovered a bit of a mess there as well. In the next 24 hours, the area turned black. A little panicked, I reached out to my PS for his guidance. I was told to just sit tight, because there really isn’t anything that could be done. I washed the area with anti-bac soap and kept an eye on it.

Over the coming days, the small area of necrosis changed shape a bit, but did not get better. Check out the images below, which show the changes over a two-week period. The day I wrote this post, 18 days after PBM, some of the scabs on the nipple have fallen off, revealing bright pink skin underneath. The larger area of necrosis under the nipple is still covered with a tough, black scab. I have had four hyperbaric oxygen treatments in an effort to minimize the damage. More on that here: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

I am told that my nipple will be fine. Worst case scenario = scarring or discoloration in the area below the nipple as the scabs fall off. We shall see. I will post an update when that occurs.

Necrosis progress

2/22: Scab is slowly lifting up.

Necrosis one month

7/12: Scab is long gone and the pigment has returned.

2013_7_12 Pigment

Foobie Fitness

Fitness, nutrition, and your health

Speaking of exercise … post-mastectomy exercises are crucial to a full, healthy, and speedy recovery. I keep mentioning Casey Eischen’s program, because it really is a great one and has been working well for me. Every day I do exercises and every day I get further than the day before.

Casey EischenClick here if you’re interested in learning more or contacting Casey Eischen. This amazing lady 1. is a fitness expert and nutrition coach that is certified in training women who are recovering from breast cancer and related treatment or surgery, 2. she underwent a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy herself in November ’12, and 3. she took some time to provide invaluable feedback for this post. Also, be sure to visit (and like) Foobie Fitness, a FaceBook community page run by Casey Eischen.

NotePost-op workouts are one thing. Preparing your body before the procedure is another, and just as important. It is the #1 item on my preparing for surgery checklist: get in the best physical shape you can manage before the surgery. The healthier the body, the more tolerant it is to trauma, and the faster it recovers. I workout on a regular basis, however, I’m no fitness guru, so I would advise discussing exercise with your doctor and/or a certified trainer.

In addition to physical fitness, nutrition is extremely important to aid healing and keep a hand on inflammation. According to Casey, Inflammation is attributed to the improper functioning of the immune system. Check out this meal plan she designed for Simple/Clean Nutrition.

Something that should go without saying – smoking is a big NO-NO.

Details

Pectoralis major, serratus anterior

The breast reconstruction procedure utilizing expanders, and ultimately implants, wreaks havoc on the pectoralis major muscle. The nerves feeding the muscle are snipped when the pocket is created (note: this was the case with my PBM, but may not be the standard procedure for all plastic surgeons, so please talk to your doctor). This causes the muscle to atrophy and lose some of its functionality. The more developed the pec major, the more difficult (read: painful) the expansion process and following recovery will be. A few months before my prophylactic mastectomy, once I knew it was in my future, I began altering my routine. I stayed away from push ups and flys and instead focused on core and legs. After the procedure, because pec major is traumatized, core and legs must pick up the slack.

I’ve fallen and I can’t get up

Maya

Maya

My abs got me out of trouble on day three after the mastectomy. I was sitting on the floor petting a cat and decided it would be a good idea to lay down flat on the floor. That was fine and dandy until it was time to get up. No matter which way I tried to get up, I felt pain. Couldn’t roll over to my side, because I still had surgical drains coming out of me and I couldn’t use my arm to prop myself up if I ever got there. Bending at the waist was not working – my serratus was screaming. I finally wedged my feet under the couch and then used the leverage and my lower abs to bend at the waist.

It was scary as I was laying there helpless, but as soon as I managed to get up, I said to my self outloud: YOU F$@#ING IDIOT! It’s funny now, but wasn’t then. Moral of the story: don’t lie flat on your back three days after surgery, stupid.

Last details

  • Insurance pre-authorization: confirmed
  • Disability and FMLA forms: completed
  • Consent forms: signed
  • Pre-op instructions: received
  • Pain medications: prescribed

All that’s left to do now is to get through the items on my Preparing for surgery list, think positive, and avoid getting sick! It just got real. It’s the final countdown.

Went to see the plastic surgeon for the last pre-op appointment. We discussed a few last details:

  • QuestionsSome ladies are told not to shave, as it may increase chance of infection. Is shaving OK before the surgery? Yes, it’s fine.
  • Will I get a pain pump implanted or IV-type pain medication while at the hospital? The pain medication will be administered via IV, not a pump. Implanting the pump creates additional surgical/wound sites and isn’t necessary for this type of procedure.
  • How soon after surgery do I start follow ups? I will meet with the surgeons before leaving the hospital. If there are issues after leaving, may see the plastic surgeon every day, may not see him for a few days. Depends on how things go. Will keep in touch.
  • How soon will the first MRI need to be completed? The MRI is done two years after the implants are in, so nothing to worry about in the immediate future (especially since this will be a staged reconstruction, which means the final exchange of implants for expanders will not take place until about six months after mastectomy). These screenings will be monitored by the plastic surgeon. Breast cancer screenings will continue via clinical exams from the breast surgeon/OB-GYN/PCP.
  • Is physical therapy recommended? Not typically. Some women are back to normal fast, some take a few weeks. Try to do things without help from others (within reason). Brush your own hair the day you get back from the hospital. When you can shower, wash your hair yourself. Do some range of motion exercises. If not making progress, PT may be recommended to help with the recovery.

Added 1/19: Check out this awesome video from Casey EischenBS, CSCS, CPT, CES, Health/Fitness Expert and Nutrition Coach, providing levels 1 & 2 of a great exercise program for women who have undergone a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. More to come!

Exercises to Recovery from Phophylactic Mastectomy/Reconstruction

Nipples, pecs, bras, OH MY!

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.

QuestionsOther 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.

Breast Reconstruction Guidebook Table 18.1

Source: Steligo, Kathy. Breast Reconstruction Guidebook: Issues and Answers from Research to Recovery. Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012. Print, third edition.