Category Archives: Bilateral Mastectomy

Exchange Surgery Update

I did not realize it has been eleven days since I have written but after looking at the date of my last post, it makes sense and is all coming back to me now.

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In the last episode of my breast cancer reconstruction quest, I was waiting patiently for March 10th to arrive as it would be the day when I would visit with my ‘preferred’ plastic surgeon.

My husband and I arrived thirty minutes early for my appointment and stood in the crowded waiting room until I found a bench to rest my weary butt upon. Half an hour later, a patient was called to a room and I quickly acquired her chair. Within another half hour, another patient was called and I motioned to my husband to occupy that chair – vacancy was not long lasting. Our wait stretched to two and a half hours before my name was called.

The nurse did her routine duties and apologized for the long wait, explaining that they were double-booked because the previous Monday’s blizzard caused them to be shut down. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I did not really care anymore, I just wanted to see the doctor and go get something to eat for I was starving!

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© Unknown

When the doctor came in, I explained to him my feelings of concern with my previous plastic surgeon. I showed him pictures of other women’s successful reconstructions as an example of how I wanted my chest to look.

He looked closely at the pictures and then at my chest and told me that my chest would never look like the woman in the picture because my chest structure is different, “not all breasts are the same…” He continued with, “your expanders look fine to me; I see nothing wrong with them, they are supposed to be up high.”

I indicated that I would like him to do the exchange surgery anyway and he told me that the girls out front would make the necessary arrangements. The nurse gave me a book (Sientra Reconstruction) which I was to read, fill out the form at the end of the book and return the form to him at my pre-op visit.

Stopping at the front desk before leaving, I asked if there was anything more I needed to do and what the next step would be. I was told that Angela (or whatever her name was) would be phoning me to arrange the pre-op appointment after she acquired approval from my health insurance company. I asked how long that might take. “Six to eight weeks” was the answer.

After arriving home, I began to re-think my thinking! Why should I wait up to eight weeks just to get the approval from my health insurance company and then another who-knows-how-many-weeks before surgery could be scheduled … all for results which will NOT look like the woman in my show & tell photos? After all, didn’t he say that there was nothing wrong with how my expanders looked?

My decision was changed once again… I was going to stick with my existing plastic surgeon. I reasoned that she knew my body; she was there during the worst surgery of my life and we have history. I made a list of phone calls needing to be made to put the brakes on the switch I had started and get back on track with Dr. T. By noon of the next day, I was back on track with a new exchange surgery date set for April 3rd.

Two weeks from today I will be in surgery. I will be keeping myself busy leading up to surgery, trying to keep my mind off of any worries. Oddly, I feel much more anticipation as this surgery approaches than I felt prior to the bilateral mastectomy surgery. I wonder why?

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A Fellow Breast Cancer Blogger

Occasionally, I visit Word Press’s tag page specifically for articles tagged “breast cancer.”  I ran across a young woman’s post questioning how to prepare for prophylactic bilateral mastectomy Her post begins with:

Now what exactly do I mean by preparing? Mentally preparing. Emotionally preparing. Telling my work that in 2 weeks I’ll be off work for an undetermined amount of time. Telling all of my family. Telling my friends. Telling my rowing coaches. And other smaller(ish) details…

At the time of viewing her post, there were no comments offered, so, I took it upon myself to answer her questions as best I could from my own experience. Of course, everyone’s experience is going to be different, but, all of us who have dealt with breast cancer seem to  seek each other out for stories, support and to offer help. Here are her questions and my offerings of answers:

  • Clean & organize my house (after the surgery I wont be able to reach my overhead cupboards)
    • Prior to surgery, I put things on my counter that I knew I would be using regularly – like my favorite coffee mugs, my jars of instant coffee and creamer, think ahead, you will thank yourself later!
  • Get tops that I can wear post-surgery (i.e. button-up or zip-up tops that are really loose, because a) I won’t be able to pull a shirt over my head and b) to make room for the drains that I will have in for 10 + days)
    • I didn’t feel like getting ‘dressed up’ so I just bought those old-lady-type housecoats that zipped up the front. I wore those for the first two weeks then switched to sweat pants and some old button-down shirts of my husbands.
  • Get small ice-packs to put on my boobs to help deal with swelling?
    • This is a good tip. My hospital sent me home with refillable ice packs, but I didn’t know this prior to surgery. It won’t hurt to have extra!
  • Get lots of food (preferably pre-made meals) so that I don’t have to worry about this for the first little while?
    • Another good tip! I cooked and froze food ahead of time since I don’t like to eat the food my husband cooks, plus, my son was coming in to be with me for moral support.
  • Who can shovel my driveway? There’s no way I’ll be able to do this for a long time, and we’re supposed to get a lot of snow this Feb.
    • Again, check with your hospital or even insurance company, there are volunteer organizations that can help with this, even check with local churches.
  • Who can come with me on surgery day & drive me home?
    • Once again, check with your hospital, they may even have a “pay” service , but, you will REALLY need some help at home at least for the first couple of days… especially if you are taking medications!
  • Do I need to fill any pain prescriptions ahead of time?
    • Your doctor should give you your prescriptions prior to surgery, at least, that’s what mine did.
  • Do I need to get one of those special post-mastectomy bras?
    • Your doctor should let you know ahead of time. Mine measured me ahead of surgery and had the bra with her at the time of surgery. I did have to buy one later, so that I had two – one to wear while the other one was washing. I had to wear my bra for months, day and night.
  • Will I be able to lift the cat food bag in order to feed the kitties? What about their litter?
    • No. You WILL NOT be able to get up off the floor, so don’t even try to get down and sit on the floor for any reason! You will NOT be able to use your hands to boost yourself up!!
    • Again, keep things that you will use daily, in a convenient, reachable place. Insofar as the litter box, I told my husband to clean it out. See if you can ask a friend, or if not, set up another litter box.
  • How long will it be before I can drive?
    • Each person is different.
  • How on EARTH am I going to sleep on my back/sitting up??Seriously, I am a stomach sleeper, and can’t sleep on my back. Legit can’t. And I’ll have to, because post-surgery you can’t sleep on your stomach or side.
    • I am also a stomach sleeper. I literally slept in my lazy boy recliner for THREE MONTHS!!! I got used to it, I had to.
  • Do I have enough movies/books to keep me entertained while I’m bed-ridden?
    • The first little while, depending on your pain tolerance, you may be sleeping a lot with pain medication – I know I did. You might want to look into Netflix – my son bought a subscription for me and believe me, I watched so much television – the entire series of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Fringe, and movies, movies, movies… It’s worth the cost and you can cancel when you don’t want to be sitting around any longer.
  • What will I do about showering? I’m not allowed to for the first while (because of the drains) -should I buy dry shampoo? Baby wipes? Will someone have to help me with my hair & have a semi-bath/shower/sponge-bath?
    • I have short hair, so I took a towel and folded it up and laid it on the edge of the kitchen sink, where my “boobs” might rest, then, I bent over and washed my hair.
    • I did the sponge baths in the bathroom sink, it wasn’t as nice as a shower, but felt oh so good to be clean!
  • Do I need to buy a shower chair (see above note?)
    • I didn’t and I’m 60 years old
  • Will I be able to keep track of all my meds etc. when I’m all doped-up?
  • Will I be too stubborn to ask for help when I need it?
    • Not when you reach your wit’s end.
  • Will the pain meds even work? (I have an insane resistance to pain medication, itnever works for me)
    • Only you will be able to answer this.
  • When will I be able to return to work? Will I be up to doing some work from home?
    • Again, only you will be able to answer this. Everyone heals at their own pace but I think it’s quicker for young women.
  • When will I be able to get back to rowing? (or at least exercising in general?)
    • Your doctor will advise you.
  • Are there physio exercises I should be doing post-surgery?
    • Your doctor will advise you.
  • Buy extra pillows (to help sleeping on my back/propped up).
    • Unless you have a nice, comfortable recliner.
  • Buy thank you cards
    • Yes!
  • Tell my rowing team (although, I partially did that by posting my blog on facebook and letting people just discover it themselves).
    • Right now, you must put YOU FIRST!!
  • Stock up on cat food, cat litter, toilet paper, Kleenex
    • And frozen food!
  • Buy a thermometer (you have to keep an eye on your temp to make sure you’re not getting an infection)
    • Yes
  • Re-organize my room so that the clothes I’m going to be able to wear post-surgery are easily reachable
    • Yes
  • Purchase a camera? I want to document this entire process, but maybe I’ll just use my iphone the whole time.
    • Since you already have an iphone, I wouldn’t worry about buying a camera unless the new purchase will make you happy!

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