On Thursday, I checked into the hospital for a nipple-sparing double mastectomy. Most people don’t willingly sign up for amputation. I did and it felt strange. On a conscience level, I didn’t feel much fear. I mostly felt ready. Ready to be done with this. Ready to move on. I was ready for this game of tug of war I’ve been playing to be over, ready to put down this planet I’ve been carrying. Let’s be honest though, chopping off one’s breasts, especially breasts I loved, was a mortifying closure to an already traumatic cancer treatment.
Before nipple and skin-sparing techniques, mastectomy was pretty much a full removal of the entire breast leaving the signature – – scar across the chest. Reconstruction was done over months or even years and involved a series of serious surgeries and permanent, visible scarring. Women learned to wear those scars with pride because it meant they survived that which tried to kill them. But, I’ve stopped at nothing to retain my previous sense of physical self so scars weren’t something I was interested in celebrating.
Because of the small size (1cm x 1.5cm) and location of my tumor (no cancer anywhere near my nipple) I was a candidate for surgery that would leave the exterior of my breast as a pocket for implant reconstruction. This type of surgery was a major deciding factor in choosing mastectomy over a more simple lumpectomy with radiation.
Nipple-sparing mastectomy procedure has plenty of risks though, so my doctors made no promises. I went under anesthesia knowing I could wake up with nothing but sutures. My surgery went perfectly! I have very minimal bruising and swelling, low pain, nearly full range of motion, and (most surprisingly) a pretty sexy, albeit temporary, set of new jugs.
My surgery lasted a little over 4 hours and included both my breast surgeon and plastic surgeon working together, even simultaneously. I was marked with permanent marker the day before by my plastic surgeon (PS) so my breast surgeon would know where the incisions should be made. Once my breast surgeon was finished with one breast, my PS began building the scaffolding made of Alloderm, a human tissue substitute that eventually becomes part of my own tissue, which will help hold up my new implant under my skin.
Then, a tissue expander was secured in place above the pectoral muscle and filled with 200cc of air. The air will be replaced with saline in about 2 weeks. Air is better at first because it allows the skin and Alloderm to heal without the weight of liquid. Occasionally I will have the tissue expander “topped off” with more saline until the desired size is achieved. Then, after that size has been allowed to stretch my healing skin safely, a final silicon implant will be swapped with the expander. The time between now and my final implant I hope will be around 3-4 months, though it could be longer depending on how well I heal.
I stayed overnight in the hospital. My boyfriend stayed with me and we wandered the hallways all night like it was a high school lock-in, except we didn’t have to hide to make out. It was nearly fun!
All of this sounds sort of complicated but from my standpoint, I made out like a bandit. I rid my body of cancer, kept what I know as my breasts, avoided any visible scarring, and will have nice, gravity AND cancer resistant boobs for the rest of my life. For me, it was the right choice.
My new “foobs” feel really weird but they look darn pretty, considering. I have 11cm scars in the folds under my breasts which are healing nicely. The expanders are super hard to the touch but they are good for a laugh and look excellent under clothes. I got a couple wireless, soft bras to accommodate them. It gives new meaning to the term “over the shoulder boulder holder.” While hard, they are round, feminine, and beautiful in my eyes.
I also have two drains that prevent fluid build up in my new boobs while they heal. The drains will be removed on Monday. Drains are super lame. They dangle around me and have to be emptied a few times a day. Gross! Luckily, my mom is here to help though I’ve also learned how to empty them myself. They are probably the worst part.
Monday morning my surgeon called to tell me that the tumor was completely removed during surgery. Technically, I no longer have breast cancer. That one sentence made chemo, cold caps, surgery, and hard, weird boobs for a while completely, utterly worth it. We did it! Cancer has been officially fucked off.
Feel free to ask questions about my mastectomy surgery. I have lots of details I don’t mind sharing if you’re about to have the same surgery or if you’re just making decisions on your treatment. I hardly ever read anything about surgeries that didn’t involve limitless negative complications so happy to share my smooth-sailing experience.
I love you!
Your spirit is phenomenal Rachel. I’m glad your boyfriend has supported you through this…I hope he appreciates the fact that he has an amazing woman in his life and thanks the universe for that each and every day. I send you great good wishes for your no doubt sparkling future from Ireland and loom forward to having you visit sometime.
All the best. Rachel,
You are a brave girl, great attitude, family support, & a loving boyfriend who stands beside you all the way. God Bless!l