The first time I met my surgeon, I told him I just wanted a bilateral mastectomy, no reconstruction, just get rid of literally everything and leave it. I didn't care. I had cancer and I just wanted everything gone. As far as I was concerned, even if I lived, it would never be ok. I'd never be normal again anyway, why try and pretend? I'd also been looking at photos from the Under The Red Dress Project. Look at this woman. She looks happy, and she is beautiful. I thought maybe if I live, one day I could just look and feel something like that.
My surgeon encouraged me to think about it some more, speak to other women who had had reconstruction, and read all the information they were sending me away with. When he left the room the Breast Care Nurses jumped in. They strongly encouraged me to go for reconstruction. They said I was really lucky to have him as my surgeon because he was the absolute best, and would do an incredible job. I said no, I just wanted rid of everything. They told me to think about it some more.
A week later my cancer treatment plan was changed, and I was to be having chemo first instead of surgery. This gave me several more months before I needed to make a decision about surgery and by the time December came I'd changed my mind. My understanding was I could go for mastectomies with immediate reconstruction, and if it looked awful I could then make the choice to get rid anyway. I figured I'd see how it would turn out, but in all honesty I never had high expectations of it being ok.
Since then I have had three surgeries.
On my left side, in January I had a skin sparing mastectomy with immediate reconstruction using latissimus dorsi muscle flap and a temporary expander implant. My nipple was removed (the cancer was right there) and the reconstruction included a circular skin graft (using skin taken from my back). The expander implant got expanded a couple of times and the corner of it protruded. It looked ridiculous. My surgeon assured me that the permanent implant that would replace it would not be like that.
On my right side, in July I had a skin sparing mastectomy with immediate reconstruction using temporary expander implant. My nipple was removed but the areola skin was left. I had one straight line scar from the middle to the side. This implant also got expanded a couple of times, but it was still lumpy and bumpy and to me, looked and felt deformed.
Here's some photos from these first two surgeries. I know they're awful but stick with it - things get better.
This was 2 days after the surgery in January. You can see two of the drains I had coming out of the side.
This was a month or so after the surgery in January. You can see the skin graft scar which was pretty dark at the time, and the shape of the temporary expander implant through my skin. The inside corner poked right out. It just got worse when it was expanded again.
This was about a week after my second surgery in July. The expander implant on the right side was only very partially expanded at this point. It was horrible! You can also see again the corner of the implant on the left hand side poking through.
A couple of weeks after the surgery in July. Flat and horrible and I still have a drain and my skin is falling apart.
More drain wounds
The wounds heal, the scars fade, but frankly the expander implants looked shit! I wasn't looking forward to more surgery - but I couldn't wait to be rid of them. That surgery was Wednesday - 3 days ago.
Pre surgery mark up.
The expander implants were replaced with permanent implants. Surgery was I think 3 hours. No drains! I came home the next day, covered in microfoam dressings to hold everything in place. Even with all that microfoam I started getting my hopes up...
1 day post implant exchange surgery.
And the next day the microfoam was removed. I still have a couple of dressings but when they were replaced yesterday I saw underneath them just a few steri strips covering the stitches. They are where the existing scars were so no new scars.
3 days post implant exchange surgery.
The difference exchanging those implants has made is incredible. I wanted to share it for anyone who has those horrible expander implants at the moment. I just wanted to say don't feel down about them! The surgery to exchange is easy, and the permanent implants look and feel amazing. (Well, I thought so anyway!)
I'm not quite done yet. There's the matter of nipple reconstruction/tattooing. I wasn't originally going to bother with that either but I trust my surgeon and his judgement 100% now and I am happy to let him do anything he wants haha!
And when I feel shit about my scars I just try and remember this:
"Never be ashamed of a scar.
It simply means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you"