Saturday, 21 November 2015

New rack

I am so grateful to the women who, over the last year, shared photos with me of the  surgeries they had to have because of breast cancer so I've decided to share my own here. I hope it's useful to someone....

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 about 10 days after the surgery in January when I had the big dressings removed for the first time. The wounds at the side are from the 3 drains. The dressing under my arm is from the lymph node removal. My skin is crinkly and yellow because of the dressings and iodine.

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"


  1. Hi,
    That is an amazing result! And such a difference from the expanders - that protruding corner looks painful?! I'm sure the nipple recon will be as big a success :)

    1. Thank you! Luckily it wasn't painful. Just ugly...!

  2. Thanks for posting this. I had my mastectomy (skin sparing on my right side) over a year ago. I'm scheduled for my flap reconstruction in January. Like you, I went back and forth about whether or not to reconstruct at all. There are no good choices, in my opinion. It all sucks. But I think I've made my choice. I'll share how it goes.

    1. Hi Carrie, lots of luck for your reconstruction surgery - I hope it goes well with a speedy recovery and an end result you are happy with. I'd prefer to have my old body but... Under the circumstances I'm actually very happy.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this. I'm 3 weeks post surgery and have got an expander implant, now that the swelling has died down I can now notice the pesky corners, and zero expanding has been done yet :-/ hopefully I'll end up with as good a result as you in the long term!

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this. I'm 3 weeks post surgery and have got an expander implant, now that the swelling has died down I can now notice the pesky corners, and zero expanding has been done yet :-/ hopefully I'll end up with as good a result as you in the long term!

    1. Hi Becky
      Yes! What you've got now will be nothing like the end result so don't worry at all! Xx

  5. Hi Sarah
    Just discovered your blog and read a few posts so far - all are brill and so helpful, thank you.
    I'm 31, so far had 3 chemos got 3 to go and then it's double mastectomy with delayed recon (God it's crap isn't it).
    Just wondered which surgeon did your recon and at what hospital, looks fab.

    1. Hi Louise
      Thank you for your comment - and lots of luck for the rest of your treatment. It's crap but just keep plodding on - you'll get there. Chemo is the worst by miles and you're half way through that already :)
      My surgeon is Mr Krupa, Glenfield Hospital, Leicester. And he is the very best :)
      Sarah x