THUNDER BAY – Healthcare – Last week I flew to Winnipeg for stage two of three stages of the reconstruction process. Tissue expanders inserted at the time of mastectomy was Stage 1. This surgery, wherein the surgeon swaps out expanders for previously chosen implants, promised to be a simple in—and-out procedure. Surgery was planned for Thursday during the day, and my mother and I were optimistic enough to make tentative plans for a nice dinner out on Saturday. We enjoyed a borderline raucous night out on Wednesday evening in Winnipeg, which, by the way, did a lovely job of living up to its nickname of ‘Winterpeg’.
We laughed our way through the longer-than-anticipated wait in the waiting room we had to ourselves, and when the doctor said there may be some fat-grafting involved and drew circles on my thighs where I indicated from whence said fat would preferably come, we smiled at that as well, thinking it was a very slight possibility and not really worrying about the recovery from (gulp) liposuction as being something that would play a role in my next few days. I remember registering some surprise when the doctor told my mother that the surgery would last 1.5 – 2 hours, but I shunned any apprehension at that point and went in, borderline giddy at the thought of finally being rid of those tissue expanders I’ve been lugging around for 9 months. We’ve talked about this – I was happy to see them go.
When I woke up wearing a torso-to-knee super-tight-super-ugly umm…garment, as it was called, I realized quickly that they had indeed done the fat-grafting, and with that was going to come some complications on the healing front and simply from the perspective of getting back to things as quickly as possible, which was my full intent. I have rivers to snowshoe, paths to hike, endurance to build, and I really was planning on reconnecting with the downhill skier I once was so that I could finally join my kids on the slopes before the snow melts this year.
How long do I have to wear this thing?? Does it have to be THIS thing?? What are my options? Can I bathe? Exercise? These are all questions to which I should have researched the answers prior to my surgery. Nobody likes surprises. So, here’s the information I should have figured out beforehand.
Breast augmentation is different from breast reconstruction. In breast augmentation, implants are put in behind the patient’s existing breast tissue. In reconstruction, there is little or no breast tissue to begin with. The implant is put in under expanded skin and muscle (thank you, tissue expanders). There is, therefore, a chance that the outline of the implant will be visible under the skin. In this case, fat is grafted from another area of the body (often the stomach but in my case the thigh) and layered around the implant to give a much more natural effect (Yay!). The intimate details of how all of that happens escape me, but I’m sure Mr. Google would be happy to explain it to you. I have enough reality sitting here on my chest.
The aforementioned ‘garment’ must be worn…wait for it…for about a month after surgery, to encourage neat and tidy healing of the area from which fat was taken. As grateful as I am to have been gifted the lovely article of clothing they gave me, I very quickly switched it out for a totally unforgivingly tight pair of running shorts that reach my knee. I’m pretty sure it’ll do the trick, and I can play all sorts of mind games with myself about going to the gym every day when I wake up. Oh – which I won’t be doing, by the way, because exercise is forbidden until my follow up in late February. Ugh.
All of that whining aside, I am five days post-surgery and I can already say that whatever intrusive, bruise-inducing measures they took were worthwhile. Underneath the multi-coloured bruises and the bandages, I’m fairly certain I can see something I feel good about. And although they are not natural, they feel almost as though they are. Although I would never in a million years have chosen this route for myself, I feel lucky to have chosen the way I have. They may not be the breasts I was born with. Those ones got me through adolescence, allowed me to go much of my adult life oblivious to the concept of ‘needing a bra’ and they fed my children. And then, those ones tried to do me in. These breasts, my new, present-day breasts, are a result of specific, very painful, difficult choices I have made. I was okay joking about the tissue expanders because they were very temporary and well, kind of funny looking. These new additions to my body will not be dismissed as a ‘boob job’, ‘bubble boobs’ or any other cute, flippant nickname. These are my breasts now. And although I know they’re in for some fun, I also plan to take them very seriously. It’s been a long road.
To learn more about Tanya, follow her blog at http://tgouthro.wordpress.com
Tanya Gouthro recently completed treatment for breast cancer and is graciously sharing her cancer journey with us. Her column is featured regularly in these pages.