**Note there are pictures below that show my Franken-Boobs uncovered so please just be aware that I put these on here to help other women who are going through this feel a little better about their own journey and to help loved ones that may not see the full view of what this part of a women’s journey looks like. No nipples just skin so don’t freak out. Also, please keep all comments respectful as these are not easy images to share.**
Most of the people I know who’ve had breast cancer are older and have either opted for no reconstruction after their mastectomy or have had lumpectomies. That meant I really had no grounds in which to gauge what having tissue expanders would be like. Let me just start with the nice things because honestly there really isn’t many nice things to say…Tissue expanders have a purpose, and that purpose is to help reserve the space for a more permanent reconstruction technique such as implants or flap reconstruction while a person undergoes further recovery or treatments such as radiation. Therefore, they have a purpose and are used for good reason. Also due to the extremely firm nature of them you have no reason to wear a bra, which is glorious.
That is ALL! They are horrible!
No really, they are HORRIBLE. I rarely have anything nice to say about them. I consistently think about the day I will get them out and how I plan on taking them to the woods and using them as target practice. They are uncomfortable, they are hard, they have weird metal ports to allow the plastic surgeons to fill and un-fill them, oh and they look NOTHING like boobs. Now did the plastic surgeon explain to me that they would be less than lovely? Yes, but did he say I would want to tear them out of me on a regular basis? Nope. He also made me seem like a big puss when I was going through the fill process because, in his opinion, since they are above my muscle there really should be little pain during the fill process (no I didn’t cuss him out like I wanted too I just stopped complaining to him and saved it for my hubby).
Since I had radiation after my mastectomy I had to have my poor left, innocent bystander, Franken-Boob deflated to half the size of my right fully inflated Franken-Boob. This left me with a very awkward looking rack…it was actually frightening to look at without clothes on and I cried for 2 hours when I got home after they finished un-filling it. So let’s pause for a minute and talk about feeling “pretty” after a mastectomy…you don’t. Usually you have no hair, you look like garbage from chemo, you have no nipples and square rock hard foobs with huge incisions running horizontally across them…it’s not pretty. Mentally you are just trashed. Defeated, tired, in pain…it’s not a fun moment in time, but it is only a moment in time, which, is what I tell myself when I get especially down about the whole Franken-Boob situation.
The fill process of the tissue expanders, as I mentioned above, wasn’t a cake walk. It was tight and while my actual Franken-Boobs are devoid of nerves, therefore they feel zero pain, my chest muscles took a beating and the spots where my drains were located are still painful to this day. My range of motion is limited mostly on my right side due to the position of the expander inhibiting my chest muscle from fully flexing and my lack of lymph nodes. It’s basically a total mess. I would be even more of a mess if it weren’t for my two amazing angel practitioners, Dr. Kacy Borba of All Naturopathic Clinic in Beaverton, Oregon and Dr. Victoria Bryson of West Linn Therapeutic Associates in West Linn, Oregon.
Dr. Kacy Borba is my acupuncturist and I’ve spoken about how much I leaned on her, and her colleague Dr. Mai Nguyen-Pham, during my chemo treatments. Well let’s just say she became even more of a saving grace during my recovery and the months (almost year) after my surgery. Between the therapy sessions where I (almost) cry, complain, get upset and make jokes about this process to the actual acupuncture and cupping therapy she has definitely been my go to practitioner and I consider her a dear friend.
Dr. Victoria Bryson and I actually go back prior to cancer when she helped this clumsy gal recover from a fall off my front steps in 2015. She is an amazing, spunky physical therapist and I instantly thought of her when I knew I’d need a bit more than just acupuncture and cupping to get me put back together. She has more compassion and knowledge of the body then I’ve ever seen in a physical therapist and uses both of those to tailor a program that has helped me get my range of motion back. Between the ASTEM, cupping, massage and stretches I leave her clinic knowing I’ve received the best care for my body. Between her and Dr. Borba I not only have amazing friends that I know I can vent too but knowledgeable practitioners who honestly care about a holistic approach to helping me put myself back together.
**I wasn’t paid by either of them to say all of these nice things they are truly amazing, I even have my hubby seeing them!**
Life with breast tissue expanders is a constant struggle. Did you know that if you have tissue expanders they recommend that you take antibiotics prior to going to the dentist? Who has time to remember things like that? Hugging? Yeah only if you want to either awkwardly side hug or explain to the person why you have rocks in your chest. Also did you know that tissue expanders are put into a pocket of acellular dermal matrix, in non-med talk that is a soft tissue substitute that is derived from donated human skin tissue? GROSS…also sometimes (however I’ve read that this is actually very rare these days) this breaks down and causes a fun little thing called Red Breast Syndrome, which I got in March after a nice week long trip with my family and thought for sure my poor left Franken-Boob was going to explode (I think it got jealous of all the attention the right one was getting).
All in all will I be sad to see them go, when I finally schedule my DIEP Flap Reconstruction? No, definitely not. Have they served a purpose on my journey? Yes and for that I am at least grateful for their year long stint in my chest…#byebyeexpanders!