It’s been just over two weeks since my reconstruction surgery was done after my mastectomy. I was looking forward to getting this one behind me. It’s been a lot more difficult and painful than I thought it would be, and they only gave me two weeks of medical leave this time. I’ve struggled more with this surgery than I thought I would have.
I thought I was ready. I was tired of being lopsided in my chest and having to fight with a sports bra to even things out. I would joke that I had a basketball on one side and a flip flop on the other. Nursing babies and age had moved into my chest over the years. The expander felt hard and obnoxious under my skin. A couple of times, my ten year old son would come running up to me and bounce off that side of my chest accidentally. We would laugh because it felt like he ran into a basketball the way it threw him backward.
My plastic surgeon assured me he would make them match, and I’d end up with an apple and an orange when all was said and done. I’d seen pictures of his work and what he could do, but it’s hard looking at where you are and trying to visualize where you’ll be when it’s over. I trusted that he would do a great job.
I decided to go smaller this time around with my breast size. After filling and wearing different clothing, I thought a size or two smaller might feel a lot better on my back. My frame is small, so I thought it’d be a good fit. I never really discussed it with my surgeon, but we both came to a size we agreed upon during the expansion fillings. I wasn’t sure I’d be happy with it after the last filling. I kept thinking I should probably fill it one more time, but I hated how pronounced they were and the thought of going any bigger made me frown. So, I decided to stay with where we landed.
Surgery was only three and a half hours this time and I didn’t have to spend the night in the hospital. I was thankful.
I don’t do well on pain medicine, and no matter what they prescribe, I end up throwing up. I spent two days hugging the toilet. I finally decided that I’d rather be in pain than throwing up, so I stopped the pain meds and shortly after, quit heaving.
It’s interesting that the side that I had the implant done on didn’t hurt much at all. I had a drain in again, and it was the only thing bothering me on that side. The reduction side was in an enormous amount of pain. I was so bruised that I looked like I had been in a car accident and felt like it too. The cuts were a lot longer than I expected. I was also shocked at how much smaller my breasts are than before surgery. I remember looking at them the first time and saying, “Where’d my boobs go?” It’s taken me some time to adjust to the look of them. You don’t realize how attached you are to your homegrown breasts, whether you like how they look or not, they’re yours. I’ve lived with mine for a really long time and I would have never had breast surgery if not for breast cancer. Emotionally, this surgery was much more difficult for me to handle.
I got very depressed those first few days, more so than I was even right after the mastectomy. I was already sick from pain meds and then I just didn’t want to eat. I’d look at my black and blue scarred chest and think how terrible I look. I wondered how I would be happy with my appearance again. I know I’m over fifty and that I shouldn’t care so much about how I look. As a woman, I can attest to the fact that even at my age, I still want to feel pretty. I don’t think that ever changes, even at seventy. If I live long enough, I’ll let you know if I still feel that way or not.
I moped around for days. In fact, I was so saddened at one point, that I didn’t want to get out of bed or do anything. I just wanted to fade away. I know that’s not typical for me and I believe in retrospect that it was a combination of things, coming off anesthesia, pain meds and the shock of my new body. I did some reading and found out that there is documented evidence of increased depression for most plastic surgeries. I wasn’t aware of this prior to surgery and wasn’t prepared mentally for how I was feeling.
It was ten days before my drain was removed this time, and it was most annoying. I was ready to be done with it when the day finally came. Once it was out, I could put on real clothing and get rid of the tube top they put you in after surgery. I was sick of it. I had to wear it every day and sleep in it too. You can imagine how excited I was to be rid of the drain and the top. I think I’m going to burn them in celebration.
When I started trying on clothes, I began to make friends with my new breasts. I’d gone down two sizes in my chest. Everything I tried on looked nice on me and they do fit my small frame well. My husband was very encouraging and kept telling me that he thought I’d be really happy with them once I could get active again. The old ones made it difficult to work out or run because of the weight and sag of them, even in good sports bras. I think he’s right. I might even take up some jogging, but if you know me, running isn’t really my cup of tea. I’ll let you know if that changes over time.
I think the real encouragement for me came during my second week home when I decided to put on a bathing suit and sit in the sun. My old tops didn’t fit anymore, so I snuck into my daughter’s room and grabbed a couple of her many bathing suit tops just to see if they might fit. She’s eighteen and has an array of options. I sucked in my breath, put on one of the cute triangle, string tops she has several of and looked in the mirror. Wow! They fit! In fact, they fit perfectly. My breasts are perky and firm, I don’t have to tie up the top tightly to support them. There’s some cleavage and some nice fullness to them. You can still see a lot of bruising and my stitches are still visible now but yes, I think I am going to like them after all. I haven’t worn anything like this since I was about twenty. I never dreamed I’d be able to wear bathing suits like this again. Whether I should or not, I’ll decide later but in my own backyard with no one around, yes, I’m going to catch a few rays.
My reduction side still hurts a good bit. I can’t wear a bra of any kind for any length of time yet. The stitches under my breast get rubbed by the elastic and cause a great deal of pain. I’m sure it will get better over time, but after two days back at work, all I want to do in the evening is sit around without a top to give my chest a chance to heal.
On another note, my implant on the mastectomy side the surgeon went with was the new ‘gummy bear’ style of silicon. They say it looks and feels more like the real thing. I agree that it does. It’s not obnoxious like the expander was at all. It has a nice shape and feel to it. My surgeon says that in a few weeks, it will settle a bit and give me more of a natural appearance. Currently, it’s still sitting a little higher than where it will come to rest. He said I’d have an apple and an orange when it’s completed. I’d say it’s less different between the two than that analogy. They feel a lot more similar than I would have imagined.
I think in the end, I’ll be really happy with them. I just think it’s going to take some time to make friends with my body again. I’m not really sure why, but it’s like losing old friends and having to make new ones. It may not be the same, but it might end up being better.