That’s a Wrap

I never thought I’d be able to say this, but I’m DONE!!  At 9:30am on Wednesday morning I finished what I started planning over a year ago, and now it’s all behind me.  There are no more decisions to make, no more surgeries to plan.  Now it’s time to let the incisions heal and watch the scars fade away.

Fresh out of surgery!
For several weeks I actually forgot that I planned my second and final surgery for Wednesday, April 20th.  This operation would remove the temporary implants that were inserted after my mastectomy and used to expand my tissue and peck muscles.  In their place, the surgeons would insert the permanent round silicone implants.  This “exchange” surgery would complete my breast reconstruction and put the entire process to rest.

But after my initial surgery in January, I honestly forgot about my second operation scheduled for April!  At least, I didn’t obsess on it like I did with my first operation, anticipating the pain and recovery every minute leading up to surgery time.

After all, I kinda grew used to to my temporary implants, despite all their quirks and abnormalities!  They really didn’t bother me very much, so I never dwelled on counting down the days until my exchange surgery.

Truth be told, these implants felt like half-full water balloons, which is kinda what they were.  There was also this rock-solid magnetic port on the top that my doctor used to inject more saline into the implant and make the implant (and surrounding tissue and muscles) grow – hence, why these call these bad boys “expanders”.

One night I actually tried to stick a refrigerator magnet to this spot on my boobs, hoping for a new party trick.  I mean, how funny would that have been??  Alas, the magnets at home don’t stick like the magnets in the doctor’s office.  What a bummer.

It also helped that my surgeon didn’t over-expand my temporary implants.  A lot of doctors need to make them them a lot bigger than the size you want in the end, so women end up with X-rated breasts before they can downgrade to their normal-sized permanent implants.  But my expanders were filled to about 375 cc’s of saline, which translates to a plump C-cup.  So they felt a little voluptuous but totally manageable.

I could even run several miles with my expanders, just like I used to before my surgery in January.  By mid-March, my chest no longer felt sore after jogging around the city.  One afternoon I ran past all the the beautiful Cherry Blossoms sprinkled throughout the national monuments in downtown Washington, D.C. and felt like the perfect picture of health – expanders and all!

Just as my body was back to its prime, I realized it was time for surgery again.  Ugh, ugh, ugh!  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was excited to get my permanent soft, squishy silicone implants.  But I was not excited to get cut open again, recover again and get back into shape again.

After all, I had the image of the first surgery stuck in my head.  I pictured myself cooped up in bed for weeks with nasty drains and a long list of heavy pain medication and stool softeners to take every other hour.  I imagined myself unable to leave my house alone, dependent upon the kindness of strangers to help open doors and lift groceries.  And strangers aren’t too friendly in my neck of the woods, especially for a young woman who looks strong enough to do everything on her own.  Man, I thought, this second surgery is really going to stink!

A few days before my operation, I called the plastic surgeon’s office to get any last minute details.  The nurse said the procedure would last about two hours, and I would probably need drains again.  What?!  I thought one of the perks of this surgery is that you don’t actually need drains!  It’s supposed to be quick and drainless!  Oh, hum bug, again.

So Wednesday morning finally rolls around, and it’s show time.  I wish I could say it was a blur, but I remember every little detail.  My boyfriend and I woke up at 5:00am so we could be at the hospital bright and early since my surgery was scheduled for 7:30am.

I was nervous all over again.  Before my mastectomy, the only other surgery I had was to remove one measly wisdom tooth.  I still have the other three.  Although this exchange surgery is allegedly pocket change compared to the mastectomy with initial reconstruction.  So I honestly thought I’d be calm, but I was wrong!  I was totally freaking out!

Before I got to the hospital, I thought to write down a laundry list of last-minute questions.  First and foremost, will I get fat?  I mean, seriously!  Last time I remember waking up from anesthesia, it looked like I soaked up the whole hospital’s supply of saline.  So I just wanted to get that one out of the way from the get go.  The doctors assured me they’d scale back on the saline for this quick procedure.  Okay, phew.

I also wanted to be clear about how the girls should look after surgery.  I wanted round implants, and I wanted D-cups.  My plastic surgeon took a few different sizes into the operating room to literally try on, so I wanted to make sure I contributed my two cents.  After all, I couldn’t look down and give any of the implants a thumbs up or thumbs down.  It was up to the doc to ultimately decide.

Lastly, I really wanted the anesthesiologist to knock me out.  Like before the operating room.  Last time she gave me a nice cocktail of anti-anxiety and pain medication before I ever entered the cold, sterile operating room with all the knives and scalpels.  The pre-anesthesia blend was so strong that I don’t remember any of this room!  It was amazing, and I wanted it again.  They said, sure, no problem.

So once the last consent is signed, the anesthesiologist turns to me and hooks up the cocktail.  My boyfriend gives me one last kiss goodbye, at least for a few hours, and I wait for the medicine to finally sooth my frantic nerves and put me to sleep.

Well, guess what, the cocktail didn’t work like last time!  As they wheeled me down the hall and into the operating room, I kept repeating, “I’m still remembering!  I’m still remembering! I’m STILL remembering!”  The medicine was supposed to calm me down, but the longer I had my senses, the more freaked out I became.  I probably had the highest blood pressure in the hospital by the time they asked me to scootch from the gurney to the operating table.

I finally couldn’t take it anymore and told the doctor, “I’m really nervous.”  She said that was completely normal, just breathe through the mask.  I nodded and took a big whiff.  Lights out.

All of the sudden I woke up.  Ah, yes, the post-op recovery ward.  I remember this place.  And, wait a minute, I’m not in that much pain.  My incisions hurt quite a bit, but it’s nothing like last time!  In January it literally felt like my chest had been flattened by a semi truck, and I struggled to take every breath under its crushing weight.  Even though there was no soreness, I told the nurse I was a 10 on the pain scale just to stay ahead of the pain.

I could also speak without any trouble, which was a great relief.  Last time when I woke up from anesthesia I couldn’t formulate my words because the breathing tube had been in my throat for so long.  Not a problem now!  I talked my nurses ears off, that’s for sure.

Then I realized there were no drains!  Praise the Lord!!  The nurse told me that the surgeon usually only uses drains on patients who choose the “gummi bear” implants, which are already shaped, unlike my round silicone implants.  So I was out of the woods!  Maybe this recovery wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Not after long, my sweet boyfriend reappeared.  He said I looked as if I woke up from a nap.  I wasn’t swollen from the saline drip, and my eyes were very awake.  I guess that’s all it was really, just a quick cat nap.  Although not every nap you wake up with new breasts.  Gosh, that was the best nap ever!

As the Vicodin and other pain medication kicked in, I felt more dizzy and nauseous.  Oh great, I was adamant with the doctors that I did not want to feel nauseous.  And here it was, the worst feeling in the whole wide world.  I guess you can’t expect your doctors to do absolutely everything!  The nurses quickly pumped me up with anti-nausea medication, which made me very sleepy but helped tremendously.

Then Lisa, my favorite nurse ever, came to visit me!  She is my plastic surgeon’s nurse, and you couldn’t ask for a better one.  Lisa explained that I received 550 cc’s in each side with 45 implants.  I knew I started with 375 cc’s in each side before my surgery, but with the mass of the expander included it was really like 475 cc’s.  So, wow, my plastic surgeon was able to get me a little bigger in the operating room!

But what in the heck does 45 mean??  My friend Elina showed me this nifty website that explained the difference between 10, 15, 20, and 45 styles of round silicone implants.  Basically, the 45 implants have a little more projection than the rest.  My surgeons describes them as the “stilettos” of the round implants.

Within a couple of hours, the nurses were ready to get me out the door and on my way home.  I asked my boyfriend to take me by McDonald’s, where I ordered a hamburger, medium french fry, and an oreo McFlurry.  All of these were gone within a matter of minutes.  Then I was back in my bed by 12:30pm.  Within seven hours, the whole ordeal was completely over!

The only pain I experienced over the next couple of days was where my incisions were stitched up and healing.  I took Vicodin for the first two days.  Motrin for the third.  And by the fourth day I was on absolutely no pain medication!

It’s been nearly a week, and my surgeon instructed me to massage my breasts every day for a couple of minutes to prevent any scar tissue from building up.  Although my incisions are still a little tender, so I have to be gentle with my massaging.  Nonetheless, I’m back to work tomorrow, only six days after the surgery, and I feel great!  I think I’ll even go to the gym tomorrow after work!

Today I perhaps got the most exciting news since the time I got an A in college-level Calculus.  My surgeon told me that I could finally buy underwire bras again!  In fact, he encouraged me to wear them as soon as possible to keep my implants positioned correctly.  Dr. Spear said sometimes the implants can head South, so an underwire bra should keep them right where they belong.

So I wasted no time booking it from the doctor’s office to the nearest lingerie store.  I couldn’t wait to figure out my new bra size and to finally wear something other than a nylon sports bra!  I’ve been wearing nothing but a razorback Gap sports bra since my surgery in January.  It was time to finally feel feminine and pretty again.

The woman at the lingerie store was wonderful.  She looked at my body and immediately said 32D, without a doubt.  Holy cow, I was just barely a C-cup before my surgery, this is awesome!  Just to double check, she handed me a long line of fine European bras to try on in the fitting room.

The first one fit like a glove!  I tried on lacy bras, demi bras, padded bras, you name it.  Whenever I looked in the mirror, I saw perfect, perky, voluptuous breasts enveloped by the most beautiful satins and laces.  I realized I traded in my hereditary cancer risk for a beautiful new body without sacrificing any of my pride in the process of loosing my natural breasts.  Take that cancer, look what I got in return?  Who is laughing now? Hah!

I dipped into my savings and made a very rewarding purchase.  Before my mastectomy, I told myself I needed to use my savings to buy new, pretty bras when all was said and done.  And now I feel like a million bucks.

Tomorrow I’ll return to work and my life as normal.  It feels a little anticlimactic, to be honest.  Shouldn’t there be an award ceremony, like at the end of Mario Kart?  I envision myself standing on the 1st place pedestal with the confetti flying all around me and a big golden trophy floating ahead.  Instead, I’ll get to the office, check my email and rush out a few projects that have piled up in my absence.

At least I have my breasts and my life as my prize.  I can now live everyday more fully since breast cancer is not longer in my pursuit.  And I can finally go on living my life, going to work and counting my blessings every moment of the way.  Thank you, Memamma, I love you.

7 Responses to “That’s a Wrap”

  1. April 26, 2011 at 4:19 am

    I was so happy to hear the reconstruction went so well. I hope you continue the breast massage for a long time as it really helps to “twirl the girls around” to keep the implants soft. Aren’t lovely bras the best!

  2. April 26, 2011 at 11:17 am

    I am so happy for you! So glad you are done – congratulations! You are such an amazing person and this website has been such a gift for others as well (including me!)

  3. April 26, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    We got the same exact implants! Lmao! The stiletto 475’s! You go girl! It’s an unbelievable feeling to be “done”! I felt the same as you going in to the last surgery, especially after the complications I had lingering in my mind. I begged then to knock me out before hand, anything to never be awake and see that operating room. I even made then numb the IV site lol. Little things like that hurt so much more and when you have already been through something like a mastectomy, you just will do anything to avoid any further pain. The cocktail hadn’t worked for one of my complication surgeries, so they took extra care with my swap to make sure I went down. Boy did it! Ny boyfriend says every time they put me out, they’d push the drugs in, and within a minute id do this ridiculous uncontrollable giggle and then hit the pillow like a rock! Lol. Im so graceful!

    The relief one feels when waking up from the swap and when they realize that long road has finally ended is surreal. Then the first time you get to look at the new girls, woohoo! What an exciting moment. It makes you feel complete again, and beautiful. But most of all, it made me feel strong.

    Congrats Claudia! You did it!

    They’re going to get even better every day as the swelling goes down, it’s like opening a Christmas present every morning lol! Oh, and wait until you try to bend to shave your legs lol, I tried to do so in the shower and got totally freaked out the first time,,,,THEY HANG! lol! Such an awkward feeling after having those basketball type expanders lol

  4. April 26, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Congratulations Claudia! I am so happy for you that all went well with the exchange surgery! What a wonderful feeling to have all this behind you now!!!

  5. May 2, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Yay Claudia! Congrats on being all done! I am glad that everything went so well and I have loved to follow your journey; especially since I am using the same doctors about a month after you each time (my exchange is scheduled for the 13th and I am looking forward to my 45s and new bras and squishiness!).

  6. May 19, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Wondering how you are doing a month later? On another note…did your doctors ever talk to you about the “one step” surgery, instead of the expanders? The plastic/reconstruction surgeon that I have spoken to seems big on the “one step” procedure. Doesn’t sound quite right to me, so I am doing more research. I plan to have my “previve” surgery by this Fall. Trying to get all my ducks in a row. I find it hard to believe that any woman could get away with only one surgery!? Thoughts…?
    Thank you and hope you are doing awesome, Claudia!

  7. July 16, 2011 at 2:45 am

    The day you had your surgery is right around the time I found out I was BRCA 1 positive. On November 9th, we found out that my mom had stage 4 ovarian cancer. She died 19 days later on November 28th, 2010. During that short time, she was tested since a) We are Ashkenazi and b) Her mom died at the age of 38 from breast cancer.

    Three days before she died, we found out she was positive. All she could say is “I’m sorry.” Looking back now, she was saying that because she knew in her heart that I was too. Well she was right. My sister is also. I’m only 33 and one week ago, I had my ovaries removed.

    God bless you for being so public!

    Wendy Shepherd

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