Today marks two weeks since my double mastectomy. I’m happy to have the tumor out but there’s been some nagging regret about the reconstruction. I’m half-heartedly telling myself it’s the pain and discomfort talking, it’ll get better. Right?!?
A few people have kindly tried to cheer me up by saying at least I’ll have perky boobs. Right now they’re far from perky. They’re Frankenboobs.
After surgery it felt like a steel plate was sewn into my chest. The muscle spasms and extreme tightness made it difficult to breathe deeply. Under each breast it felt like thick wire digging into my rib cage. I’m not sure if it’s from the wide, stitched incisions or the AlloDerm underneath. As expected, my breasts are numb to the touch and the expanders feel hard as a rock.
I didn’t look at my boobs until I came home. The doctors assured me they looked great but it was shocking to see the surgery aftermath. My bruised, swollen chest was covered in clear tape with holes for each nipple. In a nipple-sparing mastectomy they scrape the inside of each nipple to remove as much tissue as possible. They’re delicate things. My right nipple looked horrible. Dr. M, my plastic surgeon, was optimistic but cautioned me that it might not make it. AAGGGHHHH!
The first couple of days I slept a lot and moved very little thanks to Percocet and muscle relaxants. When I did move, I felt like a plodding T. Rex with tiny, useless arms. My range of motion was limited. I couldn’t pick anything up. Sitting was uncomfortable and sleeping on my back propped up by pillows was worse.
To add to the Franken-effect were two bloody, tubes sticking out of each side of my chest with their drains pinned to my shirt. You can’t easily disguise or hide them because of their length and size. With the drains and limited movement I was restricted to button-up shirts, sweatpants and a doctor-recommended bra that I had to wear 24/7.
The cherry on top was my chest could not get wet— no showering until my tubes were removed. This was 10 days of stinkage but occasionally Jason helped me wash my hair in the sink and get me in and out of the bathtub.
Our take-home instructions were to “milk” the tubes sticking out of my sides every four hours and record the amount of fluid in each drain. The last time the nurse did my right tube, it stung a little. I didn’t think anything of it until Jason started milking the tubes. The left tube, no problem. The right one hurt like hell.
After several torturous milkings we called the doctor’s office. The nurse tells me we must be doing it wrong. Uh. No. The other tube was fine. Then she says, “You really don’t have to milk the tubes unless there’s a blockage. Just empty the drains and record.” Oh, NOW someone tells us this.
A week after surgery Dr. M checked my drain progress. Still too much fluid. Urgh. Two days later, the good news: we could take the tubes out. Bad news: I was a little freaked out about removing them. It’s not like they’re just attached to your side— the tubes continue inside you. I had no idea the total length and I didn’t want to know.
First the nurse removed the tape covering my chest. Then she snipped the suture that keeps the tube in place and asked me to take several deep breaths while she pulled. As the end of the tube exited my body I felt a sharp, burning sensation. Each tube removal was about 10 seconds. Not fun but not too bad. I was happy to be free of them!
Dr. M’s boob review
As Dr. M scrutinized my breasts, he admitted he might have over-filled the expanders. Not quite what I wanted to hear. After a quick back and forth with the nurse, he decided to remove fluid in the left one to better match the right. The nurse grabbed a huge, scary looking needle and handed it to Dr. M. “Don’t worry, remember your breasts have no sensation now.” Oh phew, that’s right. I didn't feel a thing.
In case you're wondering, over-filling doesn’t mean that I’ve opted for DDs. I’m going with the same smallish size that I was before. Hopefully the expander fill-up during surgery was enough so I won’t need more fluid added to prepare for my future implants.
Dr. M thought my boobs looked good. I’d like to believe him but I see a lumpy, bruised mess with a sad, painful looking right nipple. He assured me that with ointment application and time, the nipple should make a full recovery. Yay!
The swelling will go down and he can address the lumpiness once the implants are in with fat taken elsewhere from my body. I need another couple weeks to heal before I can see Dr. M again and start radiation at the end of the month.
Each time I see the doctors, they ask what my pain is on a scale of one to ten. Today I’m a three. There’s an occasional burst of pain or muscle spasm but happily nothing requiring meds. My chest feels less tight and my range of movement has slightly improved with doctor-prescribed stretches. It doesn't help that I've come down with another cold because everyone in the house has been sick.
What bothers me the most is the constant sensation of having wires or a belt tightly cinched below my breasts. It is beyond uncomfortable, especially when sleeping, but it's supposed to ease up over time. If this would go away, so would my nagging regret about reconstruction.
Thank you to friends who gave me advice based on their mastectomies and assured me that all of this was normal. Your well wishes for my poor nipple is helping!
It's still a smidge awkward to talk about things like my nipples but I know the TMI is important to help people learn about the experience.
These two weeks have been jam-packed so there’s more story to tell and I've saved the best for last. Time for some happy news!