Tag Archives: Tissue expansion

Tissue expansion

And we’re off! We have begun round three of tissue expansions. I initially got 100ccs during the expander placement surgery to which we just added 50ccs for a total of 150ccs. We are going all the way up to 550ccs, so this is going to take a while. Started off slow with only 50ccs to see how I would tolerate it this time around. So far, so good. I’ll be asking for more next time.

What is tissue expansion?

Reconstructing the breasts after a mastectomy can be achieved in a few different ways, including using tissue from other areas of the body or breast implants. In some scenarios chest skin and muscle are first expanded (stretched) before the breasts are reconstructed. A post from a couple of years ago further explains how this works:

Tissue expanderTissue expanders, which are like “pre-implants” (pictured on left), are inserted underneath the pectoralis major muscle. They are similar in shape and size, but are more rigid, unnatural, and uncomfortable. A round magnetic port in the top half allows for insertion of a needle, without compromising the expander. The tissue expanders are slowly filled with saline to stretch said muscle and the skin that covers them, until the desired volume is reached.

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 fluid has 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. The end. This procedure itself is painless.

The hours or days after a fill, however, can be uncomfortable and this will vary from one fill to the next and from one woman to another. Some women have no pain at all, some experience a gradual increase in pressure and pain, and some are surprised going from one completely painless fill to another one that knocks them off their feet. During round one I was fine until about fill 6, which was not fun. Days after 7 were so uncomfortable, that I split fill 8 in two. Some women take muscle relaxers or pain meds before their appointments.

Here are a couple of great videos explaining the process:

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.

Advertisements

Just some “fluffing”

WARNING: NSFW / graphic content below.

Well, it has been a month since I posted my last status update, because there really isn’t anything terribly exciting going on. I do have a photo for you to show you some “fluffing” I’ve noticed in my right implant, though.

I saw Dr. M for another follow up visit a couple of days ago and we agreed that the infection is no more. I have been redness-free for over a month, so I seem to be in the clear. My next appointment with him is at the end of March, which will be my pre-op visit, with the surgery to follow on April 10, 2014. TESSADuring that procedure my PS will attempt to replace the implant via a small incision in my armpit, using the TESSA technique (right). If he observes that too much scar tissue has accumulated in that space, he will have to place a tissue expander instead. We won’t know until he gets in there. It’s a log way away, but it’s not too early to start crossing fingers and banking those positive thoughts. Get on it! 🙂

As of today, it has been over three months since my exchange surgery and two months since the infection claimed my left implant (see: Houston we have a problem). The implant on my right does seem to be “fluffling,” meaning there has been a slight change in the perceived shape and size of the implant. What is actually happening is my body is changing around the implant forcing it into a different configuration, thus making it seem like the implant itself is actually changing. It is a gradual redistribution of the volume from top to bottom of the implant. The completion of this process may take from three months to a year. Here is the difference in just one month:  left = November 13; right = December 13.

Fluffing

We’re getting there – third expansion

WARNING: NSFW / graphic content below.

Fill number three is done.  We added 75ccs to each expander, for a total of 300ccs/side (pic below). It is about the same on the pain scale as it was last time – nothing initially, but feeling pressure the next morning. I continue to slather these things with cocoa butter oil with vitamin E to keep the skin soft and prevent stretch marks. So far so good. If you missed the scoop on the first two fills, see: They’re growing and They’re back.

Since I still haven’t decided just how big I want to go, while I was in for the fill I checked in with my plastic surgeon to get his feedback (I trust that he has an eye for these things). Another 150ccs or so will be just right based on my body size and shape. Ultimately, it is up to me how many ccs will be the sweet spot, but I do agree that we’re not there yet. So we are going to continue the fills until I’m happy. What then?

Once the desired size is reached, there are two more 50cc fills done. As you see in my photos, the tissue expanders are kind of boxy and sit high up on the chest wall. The additional expansions are done to overstretch the skin and muscle, so that when the final implant is placed it has a more natural shape. When the expansions are done, we wait four to six weeks before we move on to the next step.

Exchange surgery

When we’re done will all of the fills, including the overfilling step, an exchange surgery is performed. This is an outpatient procedure during which the plastic surgeon exchanges the tissue expanders for saline or silicone implants.

I asked how far out they are booking surgeries for Dr. M and quickly realized that I need to get something on the books STAT. The first available date is September 3rd. That is over four months away!!! My (sarcastic) thanks to Dusky, my rebel left nipple. Had I not experienced necrosis (see Tissue necrosis), we would’ve started the expansion process about two months sooner. What can I do about it? Be grateful that necrosis was as bad as it got.

Current plan: three more 50cc expansions + two 50cc expansions to overfill = 550ccs. Here’s to a Dolly Parton-esque summer! Not sure if this is good or bad. Thoughts? I’ll be celebrating my last expansion with July 4th fireworks. On this day last year, I was struggling to enjoy myself while hanging out with friends at the beach. I didn’t get the call that was supposed to come on July 3rd – the results of my biopsies. I spent July 4th entertaining thoughts of tumors, cysts, breast cancer, chemo, and worse, rather than enjoying fireworks and my friends. It was a really bad day. What a difference a year makes.

Anyway, watch my boobs grow!

Fills 2013_4_27

100 + 50 +75 +75 = 300ccs

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.