When you're first diagnosed with breast cancer, your learning curve is like drinking from a fire hose. A new language. Completely foreign territory. Concepts you've never heard of, never thought of. And decisions to make. So many decisions to make. And what seems like a HUGE mountain to climb.
When you start to understand that your breasts have to go to get rid of the cancer, you learn that your surgeon can create new "breasts" in all kinds of bizarre ways ... and they explain it like they're making a sandwich. In 2012, my surgeon said things like, "We'll create a kind of pocket under your pectoral muscles where we place the tissue expander. Here, feel this. We'll put it in you with very little fluid in it, then expand it over a few months to the appropriate size."
The expander rubber was tough. Rough. Tough and rough enough to expand and create the necessary "pocket." Able to push against your skin, muscles and bone without being compromised. I've told friends it reminded me of the rubber used in an old-time hot water bottle. It had a big round self-sealing valve in it where I was told the expansion fluid would go.
Anyone else feel like you just kept nodding and agreeing with your docs during those initial decision-making appointments? Numb. Still stunned about your diagnosis. Watching them talk, but not really hearing. Knowing that information was being shared, but not really understanding. Just going with the flow.
There is widespread dislike (I almost said "hatred") of expanders in the breast cancer community. It's often the first time any of us could feel a "foreign body" inside of us. Some describe them as "baseballs attached to your chest." Or "bricks duct-taped to your chest." They're often hard to sleep with. They're usually uncomfortable.
The discomfort and/or pain that comes along with the fills is just something you have to endure. I found out something stunning a few years after my season with the expanders ended. My second plastic surgeon explained that as the fills increase, the pressure on expanding your tissue and muscle happens .... but that pressure also presses against your ribs. And your ribs actually bow IN every so slightly as the pressure increases, which increases your discomfort and pain. (Thankfully, she explained, once the expanders were out, the ribs would return to their previous position).
Just who thought those things up?
Our poor loved ones have to listen to months of complaining throughout the fill season. When the time comes for your "swap," when your plastic surgeon takes out the expander and places a softer, more lifelike implant in the pocket, the relief for everyone is palpable. And thankfully, the swap surgery is a very easy one, compared to the others.
I asked my plastic surgeon if he would give me the expander. He explained he couldn't because it was a biohazard and was against the rules. OK. Oh well.
But then I got home from the outpatient swap surgery, and guess what was in my backpack? Yep.
My incredible husband had endured months of my complaints about the expanders. We deserved a celebration, and he gave us one! He did an amazing job of helping me ceremoniously give one of my expanders a fantastic send-off in the desert of Arizona. I hope seeing it gives you JOY!
Special note: Please forgive the spontaneous cursing! And for the record, my hubby had me practice for about an hour before we shot this video. He rocks!
Shared with love by Jan James, Hope After Breast Cancer
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