After polling on Instagram this week I discovered that almost 95% of you want more surgery/reconstruction content. So, since I have been putting this post off for about 4 months, I figured it is time to bite the bullet and share my most recent surgery recap and insight with you all. When I think about why I have been putting it off, I think it’s because I kept waiting for perfection, and complete satisfaction. After 5+ surgeries I can now say I have accepted the fact that perfection and complete satisfaction are unattainable. My reconstructed body will never be perfect and it will never be what it was before cancer. I have finally come to accept that, that is perfectly OK.
If you haven’t been following me since the beginning you can read my previous surgery and reconstruction posts to catch up:
[list_item]My Boob is Trying to Kill Me [/list_item]
[list_item]My Boob is Trying to Kill Me Part II: Mastectomy and Tissue Expanders [/list_item]
[list_item]How to Prepare for a Mastectomy[/list_item]
[list_item]My Free Boob Job: Myth or Reality? (Expanders)[/list_item]
[list_item]Let’s Talk Nipples[/list_item]
[list_item]The Reconstruction Saga Continues (Implant Exchange Results)[/list_item]
Before cancer, my breasts were one of my favorite parts of my body. Sure they were huge (36DD) and quite saggy for age 27 (thanks to gravity and aging), but I loved them. They were a part of me and made me sexy and womanly. Going through chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, I felt my femininity was stripped from me. I couldn’t wait for the reconstruction stage, so that I could begin to feel whole again. I saw reconstruction as the answer to my insecurities and sadness about my newly changed body.
Just like with many things in life though, the things we see as the solution for our unhappiness never work out as planned. Each surgery left me with new disappointments, added recovery time and new complications to face. Beginning the road to reconstruction was a step in the right direction for me, but being such a long process I had to find other ways to reach acceptance and reclaim my body. Ultimately it was blogging, reflection, and lots of self-love practice that helped me love my body again. It definitely didn’t happen overnight. It took a year and a half of ups and downs, sadness, reflection and lots of work to get to where I am now. And to be honest I still have a lot of work to do – thus my self-love goals for this year.
All in all, my reconstruction has lasted 2 years. When the plastic surgeon first told me it could take up to 2 years for the reconstruction process, I didn’t really understand the weight of her remarks. I thought after the first surgery I would be satisfied and it wouldn’t matter that there would be “touch up surgeries” down the line. Now after 5+ surgeries including 3 specifically for reconstruction, I have new perspective and insight on the process. There are a few important lessons I have learned and I am sharing them with you now.
Be your own advocate – Do your research before reconstruction. Look into a variety of approaches (expanders, immediate reconstruction). Research implant types, sizes, materials, surgery specifics like under the muscle or over the muscle. The more you know, the more questions you can ask and the more satisfied you will be with the results of your surgery. Make sure you are the driving force in the decision making.
Be patient – This is the hardest part. Expanders take time, recovery takes time and waiting in between surgeries takes time. Immediately after each surgery, my world revolved around my recovery, my feelings about my results and ultimately my disappointment. The more I learned to be patient and let me body heal, the less I stressed about the results. In time, I was able to reach a healthy level of acceptance.
Take progress photos – Just like with weight loss, it’s hard to see growth when you are looking at yourself everyday. I am so glad that I started taking progress photos at the very beginning of my cancer journey. Those photos help me see how far I have come and how strong I am. They help me celebrate my strength, my beauty and my growth both physically and emotionally.
Live your life – Sitting around waiting for your reconstruction to be perfect can keep you from living your life. When I finally let go of obsessing over my reconstruction I found I had much more time, energy and interest in living life, trying new things and connecting with others. Our disappointment and self-doubt can hold us back from greatness
OK so now that I have I overloaded you with my insight and emotional reflection, let’s get back to my latest surgery. In late August I had reconstructive revisions and fat grafting surgery. The revisions were to remove extra skin and tissue that made my foobs (fake boobs) look disproportionate. The fat grafting was also done to improve the natural appearance of the foobs by adding fat taken from my stomach and hips to my chest. The goal was a more rounded, natural shape. For reference my implants are under the muscle Natrelle Inspira Overfilled Round in 750CC (Silicone).
I knew from the beginning I wanted to get fat grafting because I mean free liposuction, why not haha? I also knew from my research that fat grafting on smaller framed women is the only way to create a more natural appearance after reconstruction. What I was not prepared for was how painful the liposuction was. I woke up from surgery in horrific pain and my abdomen and hips were painful to the touch, tender and sore for over 30 days. I had to wear compression garments (this girdle) 24 hours a day for 4 weeks!!! I also had the typical 5lb weight limit for 4 weeks and dealt with heat rashes (yay sensitive skin), itching, and the delightful post-surgery care. In terms of functioning, I was able to move around a day after surgery and started a new job 7 days later.
So you may be thinking… was it worth it? My honest answer is, I am not sure. I am now 4 months out and while the appearance of my foobs is improved, not all of the fat took. The average survival rate for fat grafting is about 60%. Did you know that you are born with a set number of fat cells and that number never changes? The reason you may gain or lose weight is because those cells grow or shrink. When moving fat around in fat grafting surgery, they go in with a scraping tool (yes that’s why it’s painful) and remove cells from areas where you have a large concentration. They then run those fat cells through a processing machine to “purify” them and then they inject those fat cells to the new location. The injected fat cells need enough oxygen and blood flow to survive in the new area. If they inject too many new cells at once the fat cells will die. It takes time to determine what amount of the injected fat cells survived. This process can take up to 3 months. After the 3 months, many plastic surgeons will then suggest another round of the fat grafting. On average most patients go through 3 cycles of fat grafting to achieve the desired results.
At this point though, I will not be going through another round of fat grafting. In terms of the appearance, I know another round would help and I would be more satisfied, but it’s just not a priority for me right now. Right now we are focused on pregnancy and a family after cancer. My reconstructed foobs will never be my pre-cancerous boobs and that’s OK.
My plastic surgeon and I will revisit the topic after children and may at that time, assuming my body has changed even more, I may go through additional fat grafting sessions. Maybe in the future, it will become a priority again, but for now, I am sticking with this body I have and I am celebrating my foobs. Sure there are imperfections but they are all part of my story. I choose to celebrate instead my strength, my determination and my amazing body that has gotten me through so much.
Wherever you are in the reconstruction process, I hope you find peace and love for your body. I now know that no surgery will solve my insecurities, that was something I had to resolve from within. I had to find love for myself and then the body acceptance followed. You are beautiful inside and out and your foobs do not define you! Rock on my beautiful survivors.
Originally published on mycancerchic.com.