Thursday, October 27, 2016

Post-Mastectomy Life {1st Boobiversary}

Today marks ONE YEAR since I had my tatas removed and 8 months since I got my new ones! Every now and then I read back through my mastectomy posts and honestly can't believe how intense my whirlwind journey was. First there was the decision. Then lots of appointments. A Ta-Ta to the TATAS party. The surgery. The relief from the surgical drain removal. The first tissue expander fill. Then more fills. The highly anticipated exchange surgery. And the recovery.   

I can't describe how thankful and relieved I am to have this is all behind me now. I couldn't be more excited to celebrate my first boobiversary! 

So what does life look like now?
Well, if you are a regular reader you have a pretty good idea, but for those of you who landed here for my "mastectomy tab" you probably want an update! One thing I really struggled with while prepping for this journey was finding blogs that posted updates beyond the surgery and recovery. I felt like I read every single post from these brave women and then they disappeared after their reconstruction surgery and I often wondered "Well, what happened afterwards? Did normal life resume? Were there any complications? Did you experience any other emotions? Do you like your new boobs?" So today I want to give a progress report on life 365 days later...

**Note, my experience comes exclusively from a prophylactic decision. I know many of you are facing a different journey with chemo, radiation and more so your experience may look different.

First, I am excited to inform you all that normal life has completely resumed! I don't even think about the mastectomy very much anymore and it already feels like it was forever ago. During the thickest part of the journey it seems like you'll never feel normal again but I promise each day gets better and the worst parts of the journey fade into a distant memory with each passing day.

Stomach sleeping: I absolutely prefer to sleep on my tummy at night and adjusting to this position after my surgeries took a very long time. With your new boobs you'll feel like there is a large foreign object between your chest and your bed. It is very awkward and uncomfortable for awhile (for me this was about 10 months). However, I found that laying a mini pillow under my chest helped me slowly transition back into tummy sleeping. 

I also received some really great advice for massages! When you need to lay on your tummy for a massage just roll up a towel and lay it under your chest to take the pressure off your breasts. Works like a charm.

Nipples: My doctor gave me the option to keep or remove my nipples. Keeping them increased my risk of cancer to less than 1% and after lots of thought I made the decision to keep them. Although it's not often, there have been several times since my surgery where I've been glad to have nipples to avoid the awkward stares or questions from strangers who don't know your story. For example, getting a custom spray tan, changing in the gym locker room, etc.

Loss of Sensation: Probably the most annoying part of the process, not being able to feel my breasts is very, very weird. The doctor told me I had a highly unlikely chance that any of my nerves would grow back and so far that remains true. He said I'll know for certain right around one year post-op. As of now, I have minimal feeling around the base of my breasts. For the most part it isn't a big deal but being at the pool all summer with little ones tugging on my bathing suit definitely kept me on strap patrol worrying about my suit slipping and not recognizing it. (And yes, this has definitely happened)! 

Bra Shopping: One amazing benefit I discovered post surgery was that most insurance companies are required to cover your bras after your mastectomy. Shockingly my insurance covers an unlimited amount of bras for life. So off to Nordstrom I went...with a one year old...which I don't recommend...
 
The New TaTas: First, I am extremely grateful for my new (forever cancer-free) girls. During my pre-op consultation with my doctor, Matt and I went with my surgeons recommendation -- Allergan Natrelle Inspira silicone implants aka "gummy bear implants!" Apparently the cohesive silicone on the inside of the implant is very similar to Gummy Bear candy. But we selected them for reasons beyond that. These implants are actually specifically designed for women who have undergone a mastectomy or have very little breast tissue. With the Natrelle implants, I don't have to worry about leaking silicone, they hold their shape much better than saline implants and there is only a 3% chance they'll ever need to be replaced. 

Since we didn't know exactly what size implant would fit the pocket the expander had created, my doctor tested out a variety of implants during the procedure to see which one looks best. With each implant option he literally sat me up on the operating table like a puppet to examine the size (height and width), projection (how far they stick out), fullness (volume of cc's), evenness, etc. Since he is the breast expert, we told him to shoot for a full C cup and he took it from there.

You can read more about the implant/reconstruction process here.
BEFORE pictures on left, AFTER pictures on right
Honestly, this upgrade is definitely something I am still getting used to. Some days I love them and some days I still feel a little awkward by the size. I am 4'11" and I swear they turned out way bigger than I had anticipated. Also, despite the fat grafting I have some minor rippling (that absolutely no one but me would ever notice), which is very common for this procedure. 

Also, after a few months after my exchange surgery I began to notice my left breast was settling lower than my right by about an inch. This is also common in mastectomy surgery and I knew this risk going into the procedure. The implants are heavy and are being held in place by surgical mesh. However, over the following months I became more and more self-conscious by the misalignment. Most people wouldn't ever notice but I notice and it drives me crazy, especially when I'm wearing something with a lower cut there's only cleavage on one side or if my shirt is fitted you can kind of see the unevenness (if you're looking for it). But the most obvious misalignment is when I'm wearing something with a plunging neckline...
So, I wasn't going to do anything about it because the end goal was truly a cancer-free life, but my girlfriends have been pushing me to get them fixed. And Matt agrees only because he knows it bothers me. So off I went to my plastic surgeon (who I really love) to have him take a look and he informed me that 1. yep, totally common 2. it's a super easy fix and 3. insurance will cover any and all future adjustments for life! So that pretty much sealed the deal. 

On December 1st I will have a revision surgery. 

Although the recovery is no big deal for this one, the downside (which is actually pretty terrible) is that there is a very strong possibility that I'll require two weeks of drains (again) which as you remember was my worst experience throughout the entire journey. Because my revision will require more surgical mesh, the doctor will insert drains to remove any fluid build up as a precaution against infection. I'm trying not to think too much about that part though!

Also, I have the option to change my size during this surgery and despite my girlfriends strongly advising me against it (what can I say, I have very close, opinionated besties) I am leaning towards swapping out my implants for a smaller size. Verdict is still out.
TaTa party cake!
 So there you have it -- life is pretty darn fantastic 365 days post mastectomy!!!!! 

I recently celebrated my 30th birthday which was the age my mother was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I can't imagine the fear she faced as she prepared for chemo treatments and radiation followed by the devastation of learning she would be leaving her husband and two baby girls behind shortly after her diagnosis. By choosing this surgery I was able to fight cancer before it could even begin and have proactively reduced my breast cancer risk down to 1%. If my mom would have had this opportunity, I know she'd still be alive. And I know she's proud of me for making this brave decision to stop the trend of breast cancer in my family

The journey was definitely one of the hardest things I've ever been through but I would do it again and again and again, without hesitation, to be where I am today -- healthy and cancer-free. Happy 1st Boobiversary to me!
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20 comments:

  1. I'm so glad to hear that, overall, things are good! Wishing you lots of luck on the revision surgery coming up! I had a friend recently go through this after finding out she had a cancerous lump in her breast. It's been incredible to watch her strength and resilience throughout all of this, and also learn more about all of the processes that go along with it. Also I had no idea insurance covers bras afterwards! Thats amazing!

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  2. Thank you for sharing your journey. So glad to hear one year later (can't believe a year has gone by!) and you're doing so well!

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  3. Congrats!! Hope the division surgery goes well. You are such a trooper!!

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  4. Congratulations! You are such a brave woman and inspiration to many! I pray your revision goes as smoothly as possible. I'm sure your sweet mom would be so very proud of you for all the tough decisions you've had to make.

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  5. i hope you know how incredible you are friend... so proud of all you've accomplished AND being so open about your health, procedures, etc! OXOX

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  6. I cannot believe it's been a year!! I'm so glad you're cancer free and the surgery seems like a thing in the past! Good for you for getting a revision surgery (even though you have to get drains - no fun!) but I'm sure you'll be so glad you got it!

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  8. Thank you so much for posting this! I had my prophylactic mastectomy in June and my exchange surgery in September. I've been following your blog throughout the process, and it's really helped to give me an idea of what to expect along the way!

    I am so glad that you posted an update, since I was curious to see how you felt now that it's in the past. My left breast is almost perfect, but my right one has a little bit of a dent. I've shown them to a couple of people and they said they didn't notice it. At my 2 week appointment, my plastic surgeon said that it would probably go away on its own once the swelling went down, but I'm almost 6 weeks post op now and there's still a little dent (though it has gone down some). Also, I think my right one is definitely a little bigger than the left. I see my surgeon again in a week, so we'll see what she says. I'll probably have to see how much it bothers me. I'll definitely be interested to see how your revision surgery goes!

    Again, thank you so much for sharing your journey. You're helping so many people, like me! You even inspired me to start my own blog to document my experience: https://brcapositiveblog.wordpress.com/

    Jenna

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  9. Thank you for sharing your journey, Christina.

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  10. You are so brave and thank you for sharing your journey! I have been reading your blog since you announced your pregnancy with Caroline and have loved following along. You are such an inspiration!

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  11. Such a strong role model! Thank you for sharing your story...and I look forward to continued updates! Your honesty and bravery are admired more than you'll ever know.

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  12. I just want to say I really respect the honesty of this post and as a blogger myself I know how hard it is for me to post certain things I'm not sure I want my guy friends from high school or friends husbands to read...but you do it with grace and it's touching to see your desire to help women by sharing your story. Respect!

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  13. You are so strong. It's such an amazing story. Ive recently had too many close to me battling breast cancer and it makes me so sad. Your boobs honestly look amazing and I would totally tell you to keep the size too! Oh how I miss my pre-baby perky boobies!!

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  14. You are so awesome and I love that you are helping so many!! So inspirational and I wish you the best of luck with your surgery in December. Love following your blog. Your kids are so adorable.

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  15. Happy One Year! I'm so thankful you shared your story. No one in my family, or in my life generally, has ever had breast cancer so I was totally unfamiliar with this until you started writing your story. I'm so glad you did because I have so much more of an understanding than I did before!

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  16. You are so very brave. Thanks for sharing. Happy Boobiversary!

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  17. Your story and journey so far has been so eye opening to read about and follow throughout. I'm so happy for you to make the choice to stop the cancer before it ever has the chance to start. And yay for free surgery fixes and bras that's awesome! While the drains are a pest to deal with you know how great the outcome will be!

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  18. I love that you shared all of this. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months ago, so I'm going to share the massage tips (as well as insurance tips). Thanks for being you!

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  19. I'm so, so proud of you. Thank you for sharing an update with all of us!

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  20. I'm quickly approaching my 1 year mark from my mastectomy on November 12th. How did you learn about the insurance coverage for bras?

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