My breast surgeon breezes out of the consult room and calls another patient in. Through all the heads in the waiting room she finds me and waves, and there is even a smile. She is obviously glad to see me again. You can call me delusional but I speak the truth. This is my second visit to her in the last 2 weeks after my second mastectomy and immediate recon with tissue expander. It’s breast inspection day and there will even be a saline fill from my bearded plastic surgeon after our consult.
In the 8 seconds she appears outside the consult door with patient file in hand, I drink in as many details as I can. Her hair is lightly tussled. She is dressed in a black tailored jacket with a very short cream frill layered skirt with black sash trim. There are those impressively elegant legs that are finished off with canary yellow stilettos with silver toe plate detail. Spring is here. Gone are the black tights and designer boots of winter. Simultaneously, the track below begins to play in my head like we are in a movie scene. Press play, go on, do it now. Okay, you can pause that at any time.
After a short wait I am called. As I walk through the door I nervously blurt out how fabulous she looks. I am greeted and inspected with the usual efficiency. The operated breast looks good just 16 days post surgery. She snips a stitch that hasn’t broken down. She has taken the cancer, 22 lymph nodes and 2 breasts. Her job is mostly done with the exception of a visit in 6 months and then annual reviews for the next 5 years. Simple.
Next my bearded plastic surgeon enters the room wearing a hospital fundraising, cancer charity, cycling jersey over his usual business attire. As he steps towards me his mobile phone rings with the opening chords of a “bad to the bone” ringtone. Mr Cool and I break out in laughter. He inspects his handy work looking at both tissue expanders that have been inserted six months apart. They are considerably different in size but he isn’t worried.
The exchange surgery next year may include using 2 different sized silicone implants to get visual symmetry. He is happy that the nipple looks like it will survive, making the same comment as the breast surgeon minutes prior. I hadn’t even given that a thought this time. As it blackened from the trauma of the mastectomy and was at risk of infection I just assumed it would be safe like the last time. Then he asks me if I would like a fill inserted into the new tissue expander which is noticeably smaller than the one done back in February. I nervously giggle and nod for I am about to get ‘a bigger one’.
He leaves the room and returns with a 1 litre bag of saline and an enormous syringe and needle. He asks me to lay down on the hospital bed bare chested. He uses the magnetic port finder to locate the port, marks a spot with purple texta on my chest which is still tender from last fortnight’s mastectomy and recon surgery. He then inserts the enormous needle on saline into my breast, piercing through the skin into the port. I don’t feel a thing and he proceeds to fill the expander. First 20, 40 and then 60mls and I begin to feel tightening and constriction in the pectoral muscle across my chest and just under my armpit. I wonder if I can breathe. So I take some breaths to test the vice grip that is tightening around my rib cage.
He says “Make sure you tell me when you are uncomfortable. I don’t want you to be a hero.” I nod conservatively. The sensation of filling fools me into thinking it is possible my chin might just hit my breast when I nod. Lying on the hospital bed I’m not sure what I can tolerate so I laugh. He keeps filling to 80 mls, and I exhale and say… “Yes, yes I think that is enough for now!”
As the pressure mounts it’s like a tightening in the pectoral muscle accompanied with knife pain extending round under my armpit into my back. Very, very painful. He backs off and takes out 10mls and there is instant relief. The volume of two teaspoons. Together we then decide to take out another 10mls which is more tolerable. When he withdraws the needle it feels like I am a rubber mannequin. The body isn’t mine. The needle catches and as it withdraws the expander holds onto the needle tightly, vibrating and pulling.
He has inserted just 60mls in total, the equivalent of 2 shot glasses or 3 tablespoons, depending on if you are a bartender or a baker. I think of those women who have fill after fill of half a litre in each expander and greater. And those women who go through this process for cosmetic reasons. Cancer brought me to this point so I feel a little differently. I am left with 144mls in my first expander from February and today I lay with 280mls in my right expander. Interestingly, the February breast is much bigger. He assures me the mathematics is not important. The final exchange will work out the symmetry.
After the procedure, I need help getting up off the bed and look at my chest in the mirror. The breasts now look quite even. Mr Cool helps me with dressing as my arm and chest are not sure how or if they should be moved. We very slowly walk out of the hospital as I experiment with new strategies for breathing. We dawdle to one of our favourite city lunch spots. On the way Mr Cool and I debate about who my plastic surgeon was speaking to when he answered his bad to the bone ringing mobile. I envisaged him talking to his daughter about his grandchild going to sleep. Mr Cool felt it was a patient going to sleep in surgery. It doesn’t matter who is right. We are hungry and I don’t know if I can even lift or move in particular ways or even eat with the sensation of just 60mls. I wonder how on earth I will make the 150km journey of bumpy roads home? For now, the breathing, is okay though. And I intend to return post radiotherapy for another very small fill in late October.
There has been 2 and a half weeks of post surgical pain and recovery. There has been a very conscious attempt not to get addicted to serious pain analgesics. There has been careful management of an Exudrain surgical drain which I am now free from. There have been daily nurse visits to my home, and persistent post chemo and surgical drug induced digestive woes. I have been fortunate enough to have had some wonderful visitors in my home including my mother and sister in law. They are now gone and life is moving forward.
Very soon I will post the retrospective blogs I wrote in the last three weeks. While high on Endone and OxyContin and suffering the after effects of five months of chemo, surgery and the dizziness of low haemoglobin, I lost my blog voice and could not concentrate for any length of time. But I am back with a clear mind. So stay tuned.
I loved reading this optimistic, chest exploding commentary. Wow your surgery gang are hot, what’s old yellow shoes doing on her knees? I have to tell you that this journey of yours has brought to me the fragility and preciousness of life and the way you write about your journey and experience is worthy of an Oscar or whatever writers’ awards are called. Lisa, one day I’ll find ya xxxxxxxxx
I still think our Grandparents might have shagged sometime between 1940 and 1960, and somewhere out there is someone who shares our genes, thus eternally linking us biologically.
Bloody legend girlie!!! And you have great style choices in glasses, jackets and hair styles xxxxxx
Glad your surgery went well (love your surgeons yellow shoes!). Your blog is inspirational, and I thank you for your brutal honesty and wickedly good humour. Next week, I visit my breast surgeon for the very first time. Likely Fibroadenoma, but a little frightening at 37 all the same (What’s with that age?) – and considering my mum was diagnosed at 36. We will have to see if her shoes are as magnificent as your surgeons!
I’m happy that you are doing so well after surgery. Still showing that moxie we appreciate so much. The photo of the doctor is too funny after reading her description. Has she seen your blog? Very funny.
Glad you are feeling a bit more with it… Look forward to your posts.
Woah, those shoes are excellent but how can she wear them all day long? Way to get through the saline injection. I’ve never had the amounts put into perspective before – table spoons, shot glasses . . . it is amazing how such amounts can make such huge impacts on the body! ~Catherine
Wonderful to hear from you! Check out those shoes! I thought you were going to say that the song in your head was “Take my breasts away”. I’m pleased to hear you’re slowly coming through the other side.
It’s really interesting to hear your thoughts and description of the reconstruction. In the next few weeks, as I approach end of chemo, I have to decide on radiotherapy vs. mastectomy. Radiotherapy is complicated due to background of LCIS and previous history of osteosarcoma… risk of problems later down the track. I think it will end up being mastectomy, but then have to consider bilateral, and the type of reconstruction. All HUGE decisions, which I know you and many on this site have had to face. All the bits of info from those who have been through it are extremely helpful, as opposed to just reading it from a book / internet or hearing it from health professionals. So thanks.
I look forward to reading more of your posts in the not-too-distant future. You are fabulous. Best wishes with the ongoing recovery from surgery.
So nice to hear from you, Lisey. I have been thinking about you. I’m sorry that you’ve had so much pain! But I am glad that your brain is returning to you. xoxox-Elizabeth