First off, I apologize I haven’t updated or posted in such a long time. Time truly flies by quickly doesn’t it? Whew…. okay I last left off on the week of my final surgery (which literally feels like forever ago). Here is a quick recap of the final stage of my prophylactic double mastectomy.
During my final surgery, the expanders I had in my chest (which are implants that are filled with saline multiple times over a few months to expand the skin) were taken out and my silicone tear drop shaped implants were put in. I no longer have any breast tissue in my chest. All I have is an implant and some extra cushion from fat grafting. Fat grafting was painful. Basically the plastic surgeon took fat through a little tube out of my stomach and placed it around the implant and on top to give my foobs a more “natural look”. Although I am certain they do not look like natural breasts, I do think that fat grafting was necessary. Recovery after this last surgery was worse than I had expected. I was in quite a bit of pain and it was more in my stomach area than my chest. I have a high pain tolerance so I thought I would be okay, however my stomach felt like it had been cut all the way across my body multiple times yet it was only a tiny little hole. Bruising was not as bad this time but it was still on both of my sides and all around my scars. A few weeks later and everything was just fine. My scars are visible but they are not over bearing. I think they are perfect. I am proud of these scars as they tell me so much about myself.
Out of everything I have been through during this journey only two minor struggles stick out to me that were not the easiest to deal with. The first would definitely be the drains that I had in my sides with the first surgery. Even though I only had them in for a few weeks, I do not want to go through that again. The only other part that I struggled with was the last recovery from the fat grafting mentioned above. Everything else was exciting and all in all it was all so worth it. As I am sure I have said this in a previous post, going forward I will only have to have a MRI every 3 years to check on the implants.
Just two weeks ago I had my one year follow up with the plastic surgeon to briefly check the implants and make sure everything healed properly. The first thing she said to me was that the girls looked so good! Then she asked how I was feeling and all I could say was relieved. I did not have any worries or questions or what if’s to speak to her about. I was almost speechless but in a good happy way. She checked my foobs and she said everything looked/felt perfect! YAY!!
I took my daughter with me to this appointment and we had a great girls day.
As my little princess sat next to me, all I could think about was how my decision to have this done truly was the best decision for me. I literally can not express my feelings after having my double mastectomy. Before, I had so much worry and fear that breast cancer would take me as it took my mother and now after, I know I will not be the 1 out of 8 women that will be diagnosed. Of course I can not protect myself from everything in this world, but I did stop breast cancer from ruling my life.
I hope to continue on here with personal updates and even other stories of women going through this process. I truly believe that even if something is so personal to you, by sharing your story/experience and opening those doors it can move mountains in helping others! Thank you for all of your continued support and if you have any questions feel free to contact me. Goodnight and God Bless!
So 2015 has been a whirlwind of emotions, appointments and surgeries but I am very thankful for everything that I have been able to go through this while keeping a positive attitude. To the people who have questioned this whole process to learn about and get a closer perspective on, I wish you all the best and I am here for anything you need! So I wanted to clarify a few things in this post about what has happened so far and what I have to look forward to.
- I am not a BRCA gene carrier.
Only about 5% of breast cancer patients have the BRCA gene. BRCA 1 & BRCA 2 are the two types of genes that you may test positive for. This is one of the first things you should do if you have any question about breast cancer running in your family. My mother was diagnosed in the middle 90’s and when I discussed her diagnosis with my doctor, she stated this testing may not have been available back then so we are unaware if she had BRCA gene or not. My aunt (mom’s sister) did not have the BRCA gene so we would assume mom did not have it either. However, just because you do not have the gene does not mean you will not get breast cancer, as in my aunt and mother’s case. If you have any question as to if you have this gene, it can be as simple as a saliva test to find out. I was able to do the test locally and received results in 2-3 weeks. I was negative for this gene.
- My lifetime chance of obtaining breast cancer was still very high risk even with testing negative for the gene.
You can test your risk from a simple series of questions about your family history, health and lifestyle and by talking with your doctor. You can also go online to https://www.brightpink.org for more information on your risk assessment. This website has so many wonderful events, support teams, and information for early detection/prevention of breast and ovarian cancer. I highly recommend this site.
- You must have an open mind and a positive mind set before making any serious decisions like this. Obviously mastectomy was my choice, but that is not everyone’s choice. Many people I know have been diagnosed with breast cancer and they are not ready to have this surgery. You can still get your regular check ups and mammograms to be proactive! Surgery is not for everyone, but it was the best decision I have ever made. Emotions are real with this surgery and can easily affect you as well. Thankfully, I think that this has made me a happier person overall! Although I am more self conscious about what I wear (which is mostly black, gray or navy) and what the girls look like, I am ready to have my new chest to finally know what size bra to get or what type of shirt looks okay. This will take time to feel comfortable but the rest of my emotions about this are wonderful!!
- This surgery may be covered by insurance. Definitely call them if you have any questions about the gene test and any preventative screening – mammograms, mastectomy, lumpectomy etc. I just hope this piece of it is not a battle for you as mine was, but do not give up – keep on top of it.
- I will no longer have to have a mammogram each year. I will have a MRI every few years instead of smashing my boobs with that dreadful machine because it could potentially bust or damage my implants.
- I have my last reconstructive surgery this coming up Friday. It will be similar to the first surgery by cutting the same incision under my “foobs”. I do not have to have drains with this procedure which is wonderful news! They will remove my temporary saline implants and replace with silicone “permanent” implants that will have to be changed every 10 years or so. I am also having some fat grafting to go along with this surgery to cushion and make the girls look/feel a little more natural and not so rock hard in your face. I still feel awkward hugging someone because I know they are thinking “OMG, those are rock solid.” So true and so sorry lol! I am glad I can laugh and joke about these things now as I am finally used to them but now they are about to change again. Since I chose to have breasts again and not completely remove them I obviously want them to look somewhat normal. Now that my worry of ever obtaining breast cancer is completely gone, I now am anxious for what the end result will look like. I have to say my plastic surgeon has done wonders and I could not be happier with my results so far, so I have high hopes for Friday!
- Everyone has been awesome with the idea of this surgery but you will always have a few stray ones that can make those comments that can be hurtful. I only had a few that said “Oh you are just doing this for new boobs.” As I do not hide my emotions well and could have easily corrected their inconsiderate remarks, I surprisingly held it together and fake laughed it off all while reassuring them that the main goal is to completely be free of breast cancer. I will be proud of my new girls, my new scars, weeks of recovery and all the future surgeries because I am going to be breast cancer free.
- I will always be a huge supporter of Breast Cancer Awareness. As most of you know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and I encourage everyone to help and support your local charities, a friend or family member who has been affected by this cancer and any organization that supports the American Cancer Society. Please also keep in mind as your social media accounts try to bring awareness to this – let’s all be supportive, respectful and mindful of how you encourage awareness. Make a donation, schedule your mammogram, raise money, participate in fundraisers, walks, runs, school events, pink out games, etc. You can make a difference these ways but by posting a make-up less selfie does nothing for anyone.
- After I am done having kids, I am already thinking of removing my ovaries because I am also at a higher risk to obtain ovarian cancer as well. I would gladly remove any body part possible that gives me a high risk to prevent cancer from taking my life as it did my mother’s.
Quick knowledge/facts from http://www.brightpink.org
- 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer
- 1 in 67 women will develop ovarian cancer
- Vitamin A reduces risk for those who have a family history of the disease. Look for carrots, sweet potatoes, dried herbs, and leafy greens.
- Vitamin E has been clinically proven to slow the growth of cancer cells in the ovaries by reducing the production of telomerase, a ribonucleoprotein that can increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Fill up on leafy greens such as swiss chard, spinach, and kale, as well as nuts, wheat, and tropical fruits
- Cut back on cocktails. Research shows a 10% increase in breast cancer risk for every 10g of alcohol—that’s one standard drink—consumed on average each day.
- Some women who are at high risk for breast cancer have their breast tissue surgically removed through a prophylactic (or risk-reducing) mastectomy. Studies show you can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer by 95%, and you have options for reconstructive surgery afterward. You will also want to consider that you will likely lose normal sensation in the breast, and won’t be able to breastfeed. If you decide to have a risk-reducing mastectomy, you may find these tips helpful. https://www.brightpink.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/MastectomyGuide.pdf
If you have any questions about any of the above I would be happy to give more details or help clarify anything I can for you! I hope everyone has a wonderful week and thank you for all of your support. I can only hope this continues to encourage you to be more aware of your options and to be proactive! xoxo, Ashley.
It has been a little over a month since surgery and overall the recovery has been great! The doctors are very happy with how everything turned out and so am I! I received a call about two weeks after surgery from one of my doctors letting me know that my tissue did not have any cancer cells and everything was benign. I can not express the relief I had after that phone call. Thankfully, I did not have any infection either and the incision site is a perfect thin line under my foobs. The drains, that I mentioned before, went into my side and wrapped around the top and bottom of my chest for about a week and a half. Although my chest is mostly numb, I could definitely see and feel those drains. Once they were ready to be removed, the doctor literally just pulled them out and I was free. Hallelujah!! The area was still pretty sore but it was a relief to have them out. I really think the mindset I had at the beginning of this whole process made it a fast and positive recovery regardless of any pain or struggle I had. I was so excited to get this procedure done and I expected recovery to be a lot harder than what it was.
My doctor still set some limitations even though I had full function of my arms. I had to remind myself to not lift much and keep my arms down. After a few weeks, it was hard to follow instructions when I did not feel any restriction or pain so I wanted to test my strength out. My first attempt to do a push up was a total fail and I went face first on the floor. Haha it was pretty funny and definitely eye opening. I will have to gradually work on my chest muscles and gaining my strength back. Exercise in baby steps… I have to remember that!
So about these tissue expanders that I have in…… just weird. It’s like a wave in my chest every time I move. This “wave” will go away eventually but because the implant is not filled all the way just yet, I’ll pretend I’m on the beach. 🙂 Every 2 weeks I will have more saline injected through a needle and the port of my implant. They inject the saline wherever the port is so there is no control over how the girls will look during this time. To find the port they use magnets. How neat is that? My nurse grabbed the little magnet and ran it across my chest to locate the magnetic port. I just kept thinking what if that is not really it? The nurse circled the area where it was located and then a massive needle goes right in. Sounds painful but I can not feel anything, it is so strange. Over time I should gain some feeling back but I may not. Not only are my boobs wave like, water balloons and magnetic but they have their own ID cards I have to carry around. This process is definitely interesting.
On the books right now, I will go get a fill every few weeks and then in a few months I will have my second surgery. The next surgery is not as intense as the first one, which is good news.
I love the “new” me.
Don’t let go of your dream because one day it will come true! xoxo, Ashley