Three phase construction
There are many different types of reconstruction but as this is a personal account of my experience I am not going to discuss the other options. The professionals are the best to talk to if you need personal advice.
1) My reconstruction began at the same time as the mastectomy which I mentioned in ‘The question was: One or two breasts.’ As Dr Ndhluni finished with the one mastectomy Dr Barker then worked on that side inserting the saline bag under my pectoral muscles. It is mostly empty to start with and each time (approximately every two weeks) I had to go and have them filled a little more. There was a magnetic valve just under the skin where the liquid could enter through a needle that opened the valve. The needle was attached to a tube that filled the saline bag with saline solution. The skin is anesthetized so it was not sore. I kept going for fillings and I felt pretty much like I was going to a beauty salon. As the saline bag filled each time my muscles felt like they were being stretched lightly, but nothing traumatic.
This period ended in January, 4 months after my bilateral mastectomy, when I went for further surgery to have the saline bags removed and my silicon breasts inserted into the space that had been made. Since I had already been in surgery 4 months earlier I didn’t feel the same anxiety about going into surgery. Derek left me at the hospital and daughter D who accompanied me this time. It was special having D look after me; like a role reversal. It was a bonding experience for us.
2) On the 8th of May I had the nipple construction done. I didn’t need to go under general antithetic and it was quite an experience. They had a screen up but I could observe the atmosphere of the surgery. They played jivey music and the nurses were singing along. I felt glad to be part of it. Can I say it was fun? Yeah it was lighthearted for me but I am sure everyone was very professional. It is hard to explain what the surgeon did. It was his own design which he had recently come up with but afterwards there is a lightly raised area where the nipple would be.
3) Once that healed, on the 16th August, I went to the plastic surgeon’s rooms where he did the tattoos there. The tattoos add the colour of my original nipples. (So just to be clear, because people still ask, ‘when they take the breast tissue away for the mastectomy do they take the nipple tissue away too’? Yes they do because it is part of the breast tissue.
Through it all life went on as normally as possible. I worked two mornings a week, I went on a 4 day camp and I didn’t feel hampered much at all. There were days when I still felt tired; and there were days that I did a lot of soul searching.
One of the things that really hit home for me is: don’t put off what you want to do for a more convenient time. Obviously one should be sensible but I am likely to put things off indefinitely. We decided ‘why wait till we retire to go on a road trip’….’Why not enjoy it now while we are young enough to still move around and have some fun?’ I turned 50 years old while under reconstruction and we went on our first ever road trip in Africa. If you are not following my trip through Africa you can find it here.
What I remember clearly is that I was very happy to know that we could go traveling in Africa between the nipple construction healing and the tattoo colouring which was done when we got back from our trip. The only thing that was still a problem was that I had to regain or build up strength in my pectoral muscles. So I was constantly dealing with feeling weaker than I used to. I found climbing up into the roof top tent quite a job to begin with because of the week pectoral muscles.
It is not a breast – then what is it?
Breast is made of breast tissue,
ducts, lobes and nipple.
Mine is just skin over pectoral muscles
Just pretend –
not the real thing.
But I do think
that the plastic surgeon
did an amazing job
of what he had to work with
just like an artist!
If you want to read the sequence of events from the beginning you can find them here:
First Discovering I had cancer
second Meeting my surgeon
Forth Facing my fear of surgery
Fifth I am on fire: breast surgery recovery
Sixth Why me, Cancer, why me?
Seventh Breast reconstruction