Breast Reconstruction, Medical Updates, Side Effects of Cancer Treatment, Surgery, Uncategorized, yoga therapy and breast cancer

Life with Tissue Expander Boobs

After my double mastectomy last April, I remember reading an online article about how women are now forced to live with prosthetic body parts because of breast cancer. I thought to myself, “Wow, that sounds horrible. I guess I’m really lucky that I didn’t need to go through that too.” I even felt a little shame about it, “I got off pretty easy.” I had an image of these women in my mind: they are suffering, cancer victims.

Flash forward 3 months…I had just finished radiation and was planning a month-long celebration vacation. This was the first time I was flying post-surgery so I asked my plastic surgeon if there was anything I needed to know about traveling with tissue expander boobs ~ ummmm….do they set off the security alarms? Can they blow up at a certain altitude?

He said there’s nothing to worry about and his office could give me a letter explaining that I’m in breast cancer treatment. As I read through the letter in the waiting room of his office, my heart skipped a beat:

“Bethany is undergoing breast reconstruction and currently has prosthetic devices in her chest.”

Wait a minute. Say what? Prosthetic devices?

Pointing to my tattas, I asked the assistant at the front desk, “Are these prosthetic devices?”

“Yes,” she responded.

I burst out laughing. There I was imagining these poor victimized women with their prosthetic body parts and guess what? I’m one of them!

But yet, I’m not a victim ~ it’s not so bad having temporary anti-gravity boobies (which by the way, don’t blow up on airplanes). Are they weird as hell? Yes. And with clothes on, they look like boobs with an extra perk.

So…What are Tissue Expanders?

Tissue expanders are temporary implants that replace women’s breast tissue after a double mastectomy is performed (often, and in my case – it’s done in the same surgery). The outer layer is much harder than a regular implant and there is a small round area at the top of the expander for filling. They serve 4 main purposes:

  1. It emotionally supports a woman as she gets to wake up from surgery with some sort of breasts.
  2. They stretch the skin to prepare it for the final implants/breast reconstruction surgery.
  3. They hold the skin in place as it goes through radiation, which can shrink/tighten the skin.
  4. So the woman can be overly excited to receive her final implants because gosh darn…they’re gonna be better than these!

I also think tissue expanders could use a new name. Please choose from the following:

Boobs of Steel

Fembot Tattas

Basketball Boobies

Bionic Super Hero Breasts

Boobie Fill Tuesdays ~ the Expanding Process

From A to D ~ watch my boobs (and hair) grow!

Starting one week after surgery, I visited the plastic surgeon for weekly boob fills on Tuesdays. This is another way of saying that I got to see my boobs GROW a half or full size every week!!! He places a syringe full of saline in the top of the expander (the silver part). I don’t feel any pain ~ just a little pressure ~ and then sure enough ~ bigger boobs! Yes, I did take a video (how was I his 1st patient to do that???) and no, I’m not sharing it here.

I really enjoyed experimenting with different boob sizes. The expanding process happens until you reach your desired size, which for me is a small C. Anything larger than that would look a little too porn star on my small frame. He then blows up the “used to have cancer” side to be a size larger because it will be going through radiation which shrinks the skin.

So I spent the summer of 2016 with a leftie super boob!

The Hardest Part for Me…

I had heard from most women that tissue expanders weren’t painful ~ they were weird and uncomfortable at times ~ but not painful. So I was surprised to experience some pretty intense holy shit pain during the expanding process. Like I mentioned before, the fills were not painful. It was the time between fills. Because my tissue expanders are placed underneath my pec muscles, my pecs received an intense stretch when I got a boob fill. This then put extra pressure on my rib cage and surrounding shoulder girdle muscles. During this time, I also had a rare complication called “cording” which made it difficult to fully move and stretch my left arm. The fact that I’m a tiny person may have made it more difficult too. What supported me the most is physical therapy, yoga stretching, breathing, and yes – pain medication. Once again, I was confronted with my thoughts about medicine and you know what? It helped me immensely.

Life with Tissue Expanders

After the filling process was complete, the pain disappeared. The expanders did a great job of holding the skin in place during radiation. Now I am in “the waiting game” for my final surgery which is scheduled for May 4th. My plastic surgeon tends to wait longer than usual for the final reconstruction ~ 8-12 months after radiation. Since the skin can shrink during and even months after radiation, the longer time frame gives my skin plenty of time to fully heal, which will lead to a better aesthetic outcome and a less likely chance of complications, such as rippling and capsular contracture. I figure that I’ll have these boobs the rest of my life, so what’s a few extra months?

During the waiting game, I am still living a full life. I don’t really notice them much until I look in the mirror for my nightly ritual of massaging oils & lotions onto the skin to help the healing process.

Do I regret choosing this surgery?

To be honest, I have had moments where I have questioned my surgery decision. There has been a natural grieving process for my breasts ~ they have permanently changed (and they were pretty fabulous before!). I’ve had to be gentle with myself through many tears. Sometimes I feel insecure and not “natural” or as “feminine” as I used to be ~ more on this in a separate blog post. My mind has told me “A lumpectomy would have been easier. I made the wrong decision. I won’t like my final breasts.” Yet, is that true for me?

Actually, it’s not true. A lumpectomy + radiation would have made my left breast much smaller, so I would have needed to do breast augmentation on the right side to match (this involves more scarring as my right nipple would be removed and moved up). I am also reminded that my natural breast tissue was incredibly dense and lumpy ~ it was difficult to decipher the cancer lumps vs. natural lumps. I don’t know if I’d ever have cancer again, but I was guaranteed to have lumps again which means I’d need to go through a lifetime of “find the lump/mammo/ultrasound/biopsy/wait for results.” There are many ways to spend my time and if I have the option, less time in a doctors office works for me.

So…Do I regret it?

NO. I’m happy and grateful for this path. It’s the right choice for me. Without the stress, I’m free to be completely entertained by my boobs of steel. I show them off quite frequently. In fact, I recently spent a day at the Ten Thousand Waves Spa in Santa Fe and soaked nude in the women’s natural spring hot tub. I felt free, confident, and at peace. The other 2 women in the tub left 2 minutes after I arrived, but hey ~ no need to build a stressful story around that. I had the place to myself for 2 hours!

When a woman asks me, “what do they feel like?” I usually immediately grab her hand and place it on my breast or I’ll offer to show her what they look like in the bathroom.

When someone hugs me, they often ask, “oh – am I hurting you?” Dude – I’m the one with the hard-ass, indestructible bowling ball boobs that dig into your chest when we hug…”Am I hurting you?”

PS ~ they can NOT be used as massage tools. I tried with my husband and he wasn’t into it. However, they CAN be used to hold a plate of food while watching Netflix.

They keep me in my yoga practice. Daily stretching, movement, & some strengthening is choice-less for me.

I am also free to LOVE the anti-gravity bonus…you see, I didn’t realize just how much my natural boobs yanked on my shoulders & neck until I had weightless breasts. There are tiny, strappy, tank tops and bras that I can now wear and I LOVE it! Most of the time, I don’t even need a bra (except to cover my nipples in some shirts).

They don’t move. At all. So rebounding on my trampoline doesn’t hurt anymore. I don’t need to wear 2 sports bras while running (ok, I actually don’t run…but if I did, major support was needed!). So I created this facebook video to showcase this talent…

 

Final Surgery ~ May 4th!

I am beyond stoked for my final surgery, which is coming up in less than ONE month! Time has actually flown by and I am so okay with that. I have had fun designing my final breasts with my husband ~ we googled boob images online and showed my plastic surgeon. PS – googling boobs can bring up some pretty disturbing images…

The final ones will be much softer, closer together, and more natural looking. I will actually be able to have cleavage again! I’ve longed for the day I can look down and see a butt crack on my chest again. I plan to wear a lot of slutty clothes after May ~ tube tops, backless shirts, bikinis…bring it!

I choose to focus on the bright side of this process, the cancer bonuses and what I’m learning about myself. How I’m becoming more loving, accepting, and patient with my body and mind. How I can find humor in anything. This isn’t painting an airy fairy image over everything ~ it’s actually reality. And when I’m feeling down, The Work of Byron Katie brings me back. It’s a kind universe.

Do you heart this blog? Well it has transformed into a book baby…join my mailing list to get the scoop about its upcoming birth into the world! #mygurucancer

Related Posts

Mental Medicine ~ The Work of Byron Katie

The Future of My Boobs (FOMB)

Gratitude, Elephants, & Going Potty ~ My Experience of Breast Surgery

When Complications become Blessings

How I Found Peace during “The Waiting Game”

 

 

14 thoughts on “Life with Tissue Expander Boobs”

  1. I have to admit that I’m a little jealous. My boobs don’t look the same anymore. They are looking down. I would love to have them perky and smaller so I could wear small summer tops again. You amaze me, you are the most positive person and even when you get down you know how to help yourself. If you haven’t taught other people a lot during your treatment, it’s their fault not yours. I’ve learned a ton. Best of luck in May for the perfect Boobies and may you just love them as I Love you.

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    1. Hi Vicki! Yes, chemo completely deflated my boobs so I got a glimpse of my future! And I know they won’t be perfectly symmetrical and with radiation, one side will likely always be higher. But wearing a bra will be optional and that’s exciting! Always trying to find the perks 😉

      Thank you for your continued support!

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  2. What a delightful post. It reaches me as authentic and light-hearted. What an image in my mind of you and T custom designing boobs!

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  3. Bethany YOU ARE AN AMAZING WOMAN!! I went to High School with your Hubby and have followed your story from the beginning and just had to tell you how inspirational, loving, strong and giving you are! Your story is so raw and I just thank you for letting us in!

    With Love, Melanie Gibson (Pipkins)

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  4. Hi, also had preventative surgery, double mastectomy with reconstruction. I experiencing the same thing you had with the tissue expanders. They are solid as a rock. Also I don’t have cleavage, my boobs aren’t close together, I had really big cleavage before, big chested lady here, well I used to have lol, not any more. Have my next appointment next month. So I can’t ask him now haha, so from what I read it’s normal having hard tits and standing far apart from each other, so I am not able wearing deep cut dresses yet. Guess I need patience, it’s only been 2 months post op. I enjoy reading your blog, very recognizable. Started blogging too, I find help in reading yours! I am already happy with my decision! Now to accept my new boobs, they are cute and perky though
    Kind regards
    Sandra

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    1. Hey girly! Thx so much for reaching out! Do you have expanders now or the final ladies? I definitely dealt with the Grand Canyon gap between them too (totally normal) and I found that wearing tube top bras were super helpful. So I have my final boobies now and they are definitely softer and closer together! Not the same cleavage I use to have but nobody would have a clue they aren’t real. They were pretty lopsided at first (due to radiation) and over time they settled, dropped, and evened out more – I did a lot of pec stretching and daily massage. Still rocking that anti-gravity perk! Accepting land of new boobs was a process – it can take time, patience, and many tears, so please be lovey on yourself. I am very happy with my decision too!

      What’s your blog? Would love to read it. Writing has helped me SO MUCH in this process and I’m currently transforming this blog into a book!

      xoxo

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  5. Thanks for your post. I’m wondering how soon you were able to do yoga, and to what degree. I know it will be a few weeks before I’m cleared to do anything like that since I just had my surgery 10 days ago, but I’m having a hard time comprehending positions like plank, Cobra, or even downward-facing dog or forward folds with these brick like tissue expanders. Any specific details you can provide on the type of yoga stretches/poses you were able to do and when would be greatly appreciated. In case you can’t tell, I’m anxious to get back to it but want to be safe.

    Thanks!

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    1. Hi Sue! Congrats on being 10 days out! Yes, it will take time but you will be able to do all of your fun yoga poses again…eventually 🙂 Doctors told me to wait 6-8 weeks before trying anything strenuous and in the meantime, I took walks and stretched the lower half of my body. When you get the thumbs up to start gentle arm stretching/exercise (around 2 weeks I think?), doorways will be your new best friend. Face towards one and keeping your arms straight, extend them to the sides and gently lean forward to stretch your pec muscles/brick boobs. Over time, you’ll graduate to moving your arms higher and higher until they are over your head. I loved stretching in the shower too, the steam kept things looser. One arm at a time, you can crawl your fingers up the wall and lean towards the wall. I did this both facing the wall and facing my side to the wall. Lots of massage with light oils (like coconut oil) helped to stretch the skin and loosen those bowling balls (a little bit). Start on the outer breast and make small circles moving towards the nipple (if you still have them!). It helps with circulation too.

      I ended up with a rare complication called “cording” which led me to physical therapy…which turned out to be AWESOME! If it’s covered by your insurance, I highly recommend it as she pushed me harder than what I thought was possible. I talk about it in this blog post: https://bethanywebb.com/2016/07/20/when-complications-become-blessings/

      I had my implant exchange surgery 1.5 years ago and new boobs are SO much softer, more natural-looking, and are good at yoga. I can sleep on my stomach again too. It’s nice to know those bricks won’t last forever! Let me know if you have any other Q’s! Sending lots of love xoxoxo

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      1. Thanks so much! It’s wonderful to have some advice to navigate this new territory.

        Also read your other post and hope I don’t develop any complications. My surgery was preventative due to having the BRCA1 mutation. The surgery lowered my lifetime breast cancer risk from 80% to 5%.

        P.S. I enjoy your references to Byron Katie. Read one of her books years ago and loved it.

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  6. 80% to 5% – incredible! Sounds like you made the right decision. And my complication was super uncommon and keep in mind I had already gone through 6 months of chemo prior to that…so your chances of having a complication are slim. Oh my, Byron Katie’s work completely transformed my life, especially during treatment. I’ve actually turned this blog into a book and my inner inquiry work is woven throughout. So important to keep these sweet minds in check! Feel free to reach out to me anytime with questions or if you just need someone to talk to: bethany@bethanywebb.com. Wishing you happy healing, softer boobies, and a lifetime of anti-gravity perks! xoxo

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