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Breast cancer survivors sharing mastectomy/lumpectomy/reconstruction photos and decision making reasoning with the world in order to help guide others through the breast cancer process-
one survivor to another.


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SamuariMom,Age 39:
Florida
Double mastectomy from DCIS in the right breast. Decided to remove both to head it off at the pass.


Week One: Double Mastectomy with drains on both sides.
Expanders in place with drains on both sides. Everything hurts. I worry the tubes will fall out of my sides but they never do. My drains remain for 6 weeks which is a lot longer than normal. The fluid in the bulb is simply body fluid, a little blood and random bits of tissue. Gross but cool to see my insides. Try to see the positive, right?


Month One
Drains are sutured in and curl way up inside the chest cavity. Didn't realize this much skin would be hanging. Once the drains are out I'll begin the process of filling the expanders with saline solution to expand the pectoral muscle and get it ready for implants.

Expanders
Expanders are starting to settle inside the empty chest pocket and fill some space. Still feeling very sore. Don't let anything even graze my upper body. Still can't lift my arms over my head or above my waist. Finding ways to get up from the couch without using my arms or abs. 

Expanders in for 5 months
Drains have been out for several weeks at this point. I go to the plastic surgeon every 2 weeks for a "fill." There are two magnetic ports in the expander underneath the skin where the nurse hangs a magnet over your skin to find the port and inserts a "Home Depot" size needle into the port and fills it with saline. Believe it or not, this really doesn't hurt. (And this is coming from a HUGE needle phobic!) It is strange to see your chest rise right before your eyes as the saline goes in. I experience pain about an hour after each fill. I would have a sharp spasm in the chest muscle that lasted for about ten minutes and then that was it. 800 mg prescription ibuprofen helped a ton. It was difficult to sleep with the expanders especially if you are a stomach or side sleeper. I slept on the couch until they came out. They felt like tortoise shells inside me. I chose to keep them in a little longer to make sure my costchondritis (torn tendon in the pectoral area unable to be repaired that spasms randomly--this condition is unrelated to the breast cancer and was pre-existing.) was prepared for the "permanent" silicone implants.


Silicone Implants
This is 3 months after I had the expanders removed and 750cc silicone implants put in. Because I am not a petite person, at first I felt they were too small. I had made up my mind to swap them out for saline. After about two months the silicone started to settle in and look much rounder and have a natural hang. I changed my mind and kept the silicone. I was too worried that the saline would be hard. The feedback I'd gotten was mostly negative on the saline implants.

Next stop...nipples!

Outpatient Nipple Reconstruction
Silicone implants were put in on 3/12/10 and I received outpatient nipple reconstruction at my plastic surgeon's office on 6/19/10. I had the choice of going under at the hospital or remaining awake as an outpatient. For me, this was an excellent option. I was literally out in an hour and a half and went shopping afterwards!!

A simple shot of lidocaine on the top. Doc did one side at a time.

I'll be honest, at first I just kept my eyes closed, listened to the music and chatted up the surgeon as he got busy.

I felt absolutely nothing except pressure-and not bad pressure.

The shot of lidocaine burned but went away pretty quickly.

I was so comfortable that I ended up watching my surgeon perform the procedure.

No skin grafting.  A simple cut on top, pull the skin together in a point and then sew, sew, sew.

It looked like he was sewing with a fish hook.

The next photos will walk you through each step.

Mark Me Up...

Before we began my surgeon meticulously measured and drew the exact location for the incisions. Even in just purple marker I was starting to visualize where this was going and I was getting really excited!

           
 Left Nipple                    Right Nipple

Well, here they are! I'm feeling like these look fantastic! I refer to them as my tiny tater tots. Doc says they will significantly shrink over time to a much more realistic size as the skin begins to heal and settle into the space. I'm still feeling no pain after the procedure and still chatting up the doctor and my mood is really starting to lift. Now Doc has to protect they little guys for the next 6-8 weeks.

           
  Taped Down                   3-D Cover

They tape it down and then put the equivalent of a styrofoam Monopoly hotel over the tip. Doc says they don't want any pressure on the tip. I worry a bit about sleeping since I'd finally got used to sleeping on my stomach and side again. I'm sure it'll be fine. I was a little shocked when I checked the gauze that was taped over it to see blood. I simply changed it out and checked it every day. The gauze had a little new blood on it day two but a lot less than the day of the surgery. I was given antibiotics (Cephalexin 500 mg/4 x day for 2 days plus Advil). Can't shower for 48 hours so my hair should look fabulous for work on Monday. Frankly though, where there's a will there's a way. I'll stick my head under the faucet in the tub and do a sponge bath. 

So far the only negative I can find in this procedure is the Monopoly hotels under my clothing. There is just no getting around it. It definitely looks like I have something strange going on under my shirt.

I dare someone to ask! ;)

Week 1: Post Nipple Procedure: Bruising Is Normal


Week 2: Post Nipple Procedure Stitches Come Out
   
Homemade Nipple Covers      Week 2 View                       Right Side-Looking Good         Left Side- Healing more slowly

The right side seems to be healing faster than the left for some reason. Per Doc that happens--no big deal. Didn't expect the stitches to come out at this appointment. Just thought it was another follow up. So that was a nice surprise. They left a few stitches in the left to keep things together since the scab was still covering some of the stitches. (ew.) I'll still need to wear the protective covers for another month. The original Monopoly hotels I'd been given fell apart immediately after I tried to wash them with soap and water as directed. I tried to recreate it with a new kitchen sponge I'd boiled, cut and put a hole in the middle. Seemed genius at the time but really using gauze was better. (I also had a reaction to regular surgical tape and paper tape did the trick.) I just folded up a large piece of gauze until it was about an inch thick and then cut a diamond shaped hole in it to simulate the 360 degree protection around the nipple. It just felt cleaner to me. So now I'm strictly gauze every day and no more neosporin. If things keep healing I'm told I'll start the tattooing in September. So this process so far should take a few months.

Next stop, tattoos!!! More to come! 

Left Nipple Redone
 

Left nipple had to be redone. This is not uncommon. This photo was taken the day of the procedure. The left nipple had  basically collapsed and looked like it melted back into my skin. Luckily Doc was able to redo it and we’ll see how this second go-round turns out. I was able to do this procedure in the plastic surgeon’s office as well without having to go under.  If it goes well Lefty will receive her tattoo on 10-9-10.

Tattoo on Right Nipple

9-11-10 has finally arrived and so has my first tattoo! Righty was the first at bat. This photo was taken the day of the procedure. A topical numbing cream was put in the nipple-to-be area. What I found bizarre was choosing my nipple color for some reason. The nurse brought in a photo of my original breasts the first day we met to match the color. I hadn’t seen those breasts since 9-9-09. I stared at the photo as I waited and mourned a bit but truly thought, “Wow, these new breasts look WAY better!” I’ve been told to keep it moist for the next few weeks to preserve the color with Neosporin and cover it with gauze. The skin will heal and peel over the next few weeks. It will heal and the lines will look softer. I will post the healed nipples in a few weeks. What I REALLY love is how the tattoo covered up the scar!

Tattoo Color Fades: Do-Over
 Old     New- Day of tattoo procedure

By January the tattoo had faded significantly. Enough so that Doc wanted to do a touch up. This time around we're not using Neosporin. I'm told Polysporin for four days and cover and keep moist with Vaseline for next four weeks. I'll keep you posted.

Lefty Falls Again: Third Times A Charm?
 Third Time Nipple Collapse    Third Time Reconstruct- Day of Surgery

Lefty fell-again. Same scenario as last time. Not sure if insurance will approve a fourth time if this doesn't work out. We shall see.

Lefty Finally Sticks Around: Third Time WAS a Charm
 Tattoo Healing Week 1    More bruising appears but eventually fades.

Righty and Lefty All Healed from Nipple Reconstruction and Tattoos
 Righty Healed: No complaints. Ironically this was the breast cancer side that behaved.

 Lefty Healed: Looks okay but for some reason I have developed a strange vein pattern that is very visible on the surface. Doc says nothing to worry about but it still bothers me.

The Final Product...

Anyone who thinks as I did that you would have magnificent boobs after breast reconstruction due to breast cancer is naive. I had convinced myself that this was my "gift with purchase" for going through it all. Reality is, they will never be perfect but to me, they are perfect because they are cancer-free. I'm not going to lie, I'm still thinking about getting them redone. But until I get back into better physical shape, I'm not going to waste the time and emotion on it.  Would I do it again? You bet! Just remember, if you are considering this route, do not envision  Jessica Simpson, Elle MacPherson or any other perfectly chested broad. Keep your expectations realistic and your eye on the ball. Family, friends, faith and health. You just can't add boobs to THAT list! 





  

Lily: Age 75
Minnesota

Why I Didn't Choose Reconstruction

Survivor Story of Lily, age 75
Minnesota
 

When I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ in my right breast, and decided upon a double mastectomy, I did not seriously consider reconstruction.

The first reason was my age. At age 75, whether I look good from the inside (silicone) or from the outside (prosthesis bra) is unimportant to me.  The second reason was the possibility of infection.  The third reason was my understanding that if there's a re-occurrence of the cancer, it's harder to detect when you have silicone.

Many other factors entered into my decision about not having reconstruction:

        Negative feedback from a silicone recipients, some my age, some younger. 
        (There were also good reports.)
        I felt that one surgery was enough. I've had too many surgeries in my lifetime, 
        and will need more.
        I didn't feel comfortable about having a foreign object in my body.
        I knew that I could change my mind and have reconstruction in the future.

When I was first diagnosed, I did not like the idea of having my boobs removed. In fact, when I went in for my biopsy, the nurse told me that I had the breasts of a thirty year old! And now my thirty-year-old breasts would be taken away! I considered radiation; I considered having only one breast removed.

All the while, my family was providing input and support to help me make the decisions.  A family history of cancer was certainly a major concern. Ultimately, I was sure that I wanted to have the double mastectomy. 
 

Many months later: finally, finally, a very happy day for me--I was fitted for the correct prosthesis and bra. My doctor's nurses had connected me with a certified fitter* who met me at the doctor's office. I now have a prosthesis bra for all occasions which feels like it is attached to my body. I feel like a person again.

*I highly recommend a caring, expert certified fitter, Marvelle Weispfennig, Marvelles Apparel Inc., Marvelles Apparel Inc, 25174-190th Street, Glenwood, MN 56334
Phone: 1-800-589-6626  Email: info@marvelles.com

Why I Love My Prosthesis!
Additional note from Lily, age 75
I live in Minnesota. In summers past, I'd sit out on my pergola, fight off the pesky mosquitoes and end up with bites on my boobs! This year, it's so nice to simply watch the mosquitoes on my breasts. I don't feel them!
 

GoldWinginIt, Age 46:
Florida

*Photos of double mastectomy from DCIS: silicone implant with nipple reconstruction
*Stories on the way!

         
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