Ah, tissue expanders. They mean well, but they sure are a pain in the butt, er, chest.
Here’s the story: tissue expanders, or TEs, are these round bag-like things that are placed in a woman’s chest to make room for eventual breast reconstruction. They can be slowly filled with saline until the desired breast size is reached. In my case, no fluid was added at the time of my mastectomy surgery because there was just no room. The surgeon had to take a lot of skin, so there was barely enough space for the TEs. That was okay though, because the original plan was that I would have surgery, recover, start filling the expanders, and go through reconstruction. Unfortunately, I had high grade, multifocal tumors and a positive margin, so chemotherapy and radiation had to be called in.
I got three fills before I had to stop for radiation. I was going from concave-ish to some sort of shape, so he only used about 50ccs each time. On my third fill, I touched my ballooning breast area and asked Dr. K if there was any chance that they would pop like a water balloon. He quickly said no, but then offered this gem: “I guess they would pop if you stuck a fork in your boob. So don’t do that.” Naturally, I am heeding this advice. (And seriously, if I start stabbing myself with flatware, then I’ve got bigger problems than nicely shaped breasts.)
The deal with radiation is that your skin goes through some changes that aren’t cool for people who are mid-recon like me. So once you have radiation, you have to wait four to six months (and maybe longer) for the skin to return to some sort of natural state. If the skin doesn’t play nice then you have to get surgery that involves a flap of skin from your back. Yuck.
The terrible scarring that took my breath away after surgery is fading. I don’t even notice it anymore. The thing that consumes me right now is odd shape and crazy asymmetry I’ve got going on. My left side, the CANCER side, is still healing from radiation. The skin got really tight and hard, and it looks and feels like I should be really careful when in the vicinity of forks. The right side, though, is really weird. It is hanging about two inches lower than my left and the skin has stretched a little. The tissue expander underneath is so smooshy that I actually have corners sticking out of my skin. It’s completely bizarre. Even though I have some shape due to the fills and don’t really need to wear a bra (no coldness meters), I still wear a bra so I have some consistency shape wise!
Here’s a self portrait I made to illustrate the current state of affairs on my chest:
In a few months, I’ll go visit Dr. K and see how he thinks everything is going. In the meantime, I’ll continue to rub vitamin E cream into the rock protruding out of my person. I’ll also continue to update my blog in an effort to get these feelings off my chest. (Hah! CHEST! See what I did there?)