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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:
- It emotionally supports a woman as she gets to wake up from surgery with some sort of breasts.
- They stretch the skin to prepare it for the final implants/breast reconstruction surgery.
- They hold the skin in place as it goes through radiation, which can shrink/tighten the skin.
- 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
Bionic Super Hero Breasts
Boobie Fill Tuesdays ~ the Expanding Process
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.
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Related blog posts…
Mental Medicine ~ The Work of Byron Katie
Gratitude, Elephants, & Going Potty ~ My Experience of Breast Surgery
When Complications become Blessings
How I Found Peace during “The Waiting Game”