Part of the Process

*This post discusses the finer points of breast reconstruction. May be TMI for some readers*

My journey thus far has been comprised of new experiences, firsts, and unknowns. As of yesterday, I feel like we are finally starting down the other side of the hill, with the finish line in sight. The road is far from over, and I’m exhausted, but the finish line is coming into view.

I had the final fill in my tissue expanders yesterday. What does that mean? When I had my mastectomy, I had the choice to have my breasts removed with reconstruction or without. I am not even 50 years old, and I’m married, so being flat chested for the remainder of my life wasn’t a consideration. There were a number of options for how to do reconstruction, and that decision was a little tougher. Rather than explain all of those, I refer you to Google.

The option Larry and I chose is tissue expanders. There have been many days since when I have wondered if I would make the same choice again, knowing all that it entails. I won’t be able to answer that for quite awhile yet.

The short story is that when I had the mastectomy, after the general surgeon removed my breasts, the plastic surgeon took over and started reconstruction by putting in partially inflated tissue expanders. He split the chest muscle layers and placed the expanders in between them. This added considerable pain and healing time to the surgery.

About a month later, I went in for my first fill. The plastic surgeon used a magnet to find the port in each expander, and using a needle added 100-125 cc of saline to each side. Doing this every two weeks or so has allowed the muscle tissue to stretch and make room for the breast implants.

It was up to me to decide how many fills I wanted to have, based on what size I want to be in the end. Suffice to say that we have reached that point, so yesterday the doctor did a final fill. Filling is a simple process, but the needle goes through a lot of tissue and is painful. Each fill is followed by a couple days of muscle tenderness. That part isn’t terrible. It feels as if just my chest muscles spent way too much time at the gym.

The expanders are made of a thick plastic material and are designed to be overinflated. What this means day-to-day is that basically my breasts feel almost as hard as softballs. You might imagine how comfortable that is. Sleeping comfortably is a challenge, as are some arm movements. What God created to be flexible is, for the time being, pretty much stationary. It certainly makes life interesting. And often painful.

Once chemo is complete and my blood counts are up, I will have an outpatient surgery in which the expanders will be removed (Praise God!) and the permanent implants placed. Recovery will be far easier and quicker than the mastectomy, and I will have soft and natural feeling breasts again. It will be a new normal–they won’t be the same as my old breasts, but in some ways, that’s okay!

I feel like I have finally reached at least one point of completion. No more fills. Surgery will be scheduled for 7-8 weeks from now. I look forward to that, not only for my physical comfort, but for the milestone of another phase of cancer treatment finished.

After my fill, I went for chemo treatment 7 of 12. While we sat in the infusion room, we overheard the nurses gathered around another room, cheering and ringing bells, celebrating that someone had finished their last chemo. It instantly brought me to tears, and does even now. How I long for that day.

But for now, for today, I’m not there. I’m still running (well, maybe plodding), traveling this road. It’s still hard and I’m still tired and sick. But there’s hope. I see the end, and before I know it, this will all be a memory.

And I am confident of this, that he who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 ESV