Genes, Boobies and Other Accessories

Archive for June, 2012


I finally came out of the fog of that horrific expansion two weeks ago. It took me about 4 days and then I was mobile and pretty much pain-free. The next week I got to do some things I haven’t done in months. Are you ready for this?! I WORE A TSHIRT! I know that sounds silly, but it was a big deal to me. I haven’t had that kind of mobility yet. I ended up wearing tshirts all weekend in fact…just because I could.

I know there’s a big lesson for me to learn regarding that horrible fill but I can only think of these three lessons right now. (I’m still trying to wrap my mind around how I survived that week.) First, I found that my threshold for pain is much greater than I ever knew…but I’m still not sure I would be into the things I learned about in Fifty Shades of Grey. Hell, who am I kidding. I would give it try now that I know my limit. – just kidding, mom ;)- I also learned that expanders tug at my arm fat and I don’t like it. Mostly I learned that expander boobs are still weird no matter who you are or how you try to cover them up.

I know many of you that are considering or preparing for surgery are nervous about the pain of this whole process. It’s scary. I get that. I was scared too. The scary part is that you don’t know how you will tolerate expansion until you experience it. Many people say that they just feel “tight” all through their chest but that it’s tolerable. For those of you gearing up for reconstruction with expanders, I pray this is the case for you.

I have a theory about why my pain has been so excruciating now that I’m past that huge fill. This week I got a 50cc fill. The pain was still present, but not as bad as with 100cc. Through this milder pain, I was able to identify where the pain was coming from. I realized that my arms hurt like they do if you have tennis elbow or carpal tunnel. At some point I went to scratch my shoulder and it turns out, it wasn’t my shoulder that was itchy but an area on my chest. Guess what that means?! Nerve pain. So my theory (based on my years of medical experience on the internet) is that because of the nerve confusion and disruption that my body experienced during the surgery (a la cutting through all the nerves), the pain I’m feeling isn’t totally muscular…it’s also nerve pain. Guess what THAT means?!

Not much I can do about it.

In graduate school I studied uncertainty reduction theory. It basically states that we find ways to reduce uncertainty in order to make sense of the world around us. If we can label something then it’s not as scary…or uncertain. Figuring out the source and/or cause of my pain is a way that I can reduce the uncertainty before each fill. Maybe now I can minimize or eliminate the paralyzing fear I experience prior to the fill. I feel like I reached another milestone in my mental battle with this process. There’s not a whole lot you can do about nerve pain. Now that I know that’s what it is…I’m more convinced to continue the smaller fills. At the very least, I feel like I’ve got a little more control over the beast that is – pain after a fill.

I have also finally been able to identify the length of time it takes for me to get over the impact of a fill. For severe pain it takes me 4 days. For tolerable and milder pain it takes me 2 days. All that said…I’m back behind the steering wheel and can manage my life around these “episodes.” I mean it’s mind over matter at this point, people. I just gotta power-thru.

My doctor told me Monday that I’m at the half-way point! I’m at 350cc and I just need to get to 700. Can I get a hell yeah?! This means I’m on track for my next surgery to be scheduled sometime around the middle of September. I have a goal in sight now. I’m digging in my heels and am determined to make it through the rest of these fills. I’m bound and determined to not get nervous about the next surgery because if I survive expansion the next bit should be more manageable (notice I didn’t say easier). And because in the words of my best friend, Jess, “Mandy should not be afraid of her surgeries…her surgeries should be afraid of her.”

I’ve been taking pictures of myself wearing the same tank top after each fill. In the end, I’ll share an entire series of pictures from start to finish so that you ladies that are gearing up for surgery can see the progress that’s made during expansion. I’ve had a few very heart-felt messages from some of you (both on the blog and privately) that are nervous about expansion because of the pain that you’ve read about in my posts. I don’t ever want to scare you, but I do want to make sure that I share my experience so that you go into this with as much information as you can. More importantly, I want you to know that even through the pain, I’m still progressing and happy with the decision I made. I think it’s at least somewhat helpful for you to see the difference that the 100cc fill made for me. Not only so you can visualize the size difference, but also so that you can see that from first glance, you probably wouldn’t know that I was going through reconstruction.

Here are two photos. (When I post final pictures, they’ll be edited better and not just straight from my phone.) I just really wanted to post something so that you’d have a good idea of what the difference in the two fills looks like…and you can see I’m slowly starting to get some sort of shape to them. I hope that they are taken for what they are – an encouragement to stay focused and know that we do, in fact, survive expansion.

Because we should not fear expansion…expansion should fear us.

Before 100cc fill (yes, that’s Happy being lazy on the couch)

After 100cc fill…ouch

Project New Mandy

This time of the year always makes me a little more introspective. With the upcoming anniversary of my brother’s death/birth (not sure how to write it since he died on his birthday), it’s hard to not think about what life would be like if he were still here – while examining my life’s current course. I’ve found myself thinking about whether or not I’m living my potential, if I’m truly happy, examining what I can do to be a better citizen/friend/daughter/mother. All of those life questions that at some point most of us face. They just seem to be staring me down right now.

This is not my first rodeo of self-discovery or renewal (said in my best Texas accent). I have said for the last 8 years that losing Jake was the biggest identity crisis I’d ever experienced. I knew how to be Jake Redwine’s big sister. I was good at it…even when I was torturing him when we were kids. I understood my role. Over the years when I questioned if I was a good person, or a good step mother, or a good friend, or a good student, or a good whatever – I never questioned my role as Jake’s big sister. And now, I’m facing another opportunity to refine and improve myself in spite of Jake’s absence. I knew that total rejuvenation was in store for me when I made the decision to take control of my future by removing the burden of cancer in a very “physical” way. I also knew that along with any changes my body would have to endure, I had to face the emotional and mental changes as well.  I say all of that just to say – this was all part of a conscious decision to update, renew and challenge “me.” I survived Jake’s death by facing it much like I have the mastectomy. I only hope that the person I am next year grows half as much as I did as a grieving sister.

Last week was rough. When I experience the painful side effects of breast reconstruction, I am very aware of the mind vs. body struggle that encompasses this process. It’s a constant struggle (and sometimes battle) to make sure that I don’t let the pain take over to the point that I slide into a deep depression. It’s so easy to do – no matter if you’re prone to depression or not. On the flip side, I woke up Friday feeling much better and by Saturday evening went out with some friends. It’s the first time in a few weeks that I got to feel “normal.” During the times without pain where I get to blend in with people and do things I would have normally done pre-op, the mind vs. body struggle is still present. I still have to be aware that I have physical limitations. I find myself at times frustrated over not being able to raise my arms, open heavy doors, not having the endurance that I had pre-op (no late nights out on the town), and the fact that my clothes still don’t fit like they used to. Breast reconstruction is in many ways more mental than physical.

Now, with all of that said, the mind vs. body struggle is also much more than those negative struggles I just mentioned. On the bad and painful days, I find myself also daydreaming of what life is going to be like when this is all over. Even in the midst of the most painful times, I’m overcoming the fatigue of pain by staying focused on the finish line. Sometimes the daydream is as simple as thinking about wearing dresses next summer and not having to wear a bra – thus eliminating the whole bra strap issue most of us face. Or the fact that I’m adding in a tummy tuck to my last surgery as a gift to myself. (yay!) During those times when I’m out in public with friends and feeling like I’ve got a little bit of “Mandy” back, I feel a new sense of self-worth and confidence because I’m sitting around people who may not know what I’m going through and aren’t treating me any differently. I’m able to laugh and look them in the eye and appear to be regular “Mandy.” Even though I have no nipples and my boobs are a weird shape and did I mention hard as rocks?! And I have incisions that are still healing and last week I was in bed for 4 days and miserable…  I think you get the point.  

I’m currently reading The Happiness Project. For those that haven’t read it, it’s about a woman’s quest to increase her happiness over a period of a year. In some ways I feel like from the time that I scheduled surgery to the end of my reconstruction next year, I’m going through a similar “project.” My hope has continued to be that I come out of this year a renewed person. I want this year to be more about the emotional and mental process than the physical. So I find myself separating out the two although while both are running parallel to each other, they are also dependent on each other.

I started this journey by referring to it (to myself) as “Project New Boobs.” I mean, that really sums up the physical piece. I’m getting a new rack. Plain and simple. I had a high risk of breast cancer and a suspicious mass. I have now eliminated all of that risk and worry. But I can’t deny that it’s much more than just a new rack. I’m evolving this year. I hope it continues to occur in a very organic, yet deliberate, way. And so, Tata Tatas is the storefront to my happiness project…the project that I’ll now call, “Project New Mandy.”

A to C in under 5 minutes

The last two weeks have been great. I had my step-daughter here with her best friend. We had so much fun. I had hardly any pain but was starting to get a cold. It only lasted a day or two so it didn’t really impact our time together too much. It was so wonderful to have her here. Not only did they help me with a few things that I still can’t do, but they kept me sane. We got to shop and lay out at the pool and laugh together. Best two weeks – ever. I can’t wait for them to come back and see me when I’m not so gimpy.

Unfortunately, this week has sucked. Since in my last fill I did well with 50cc and then another 50cc a few days later, we decided to try 100cc this week. For most people this doesn’t really mean much so let me break it down like this…I went from a full A cup to a C cup in less than 5 minutes. Not only is this stretching the skin and my incisions but it’s also stretching the muscle because the expander is under my pec muscles. OUCH!

I’ve been trying to take as much of a fill as I can each time. There are some women that get 100-125cc each time. (I’m starting to think this is just a lie that the internet told me.) I am struggling with being as flat-chested as I am and I have a wedding and a few other things summer that will require me to be in pictures…I just want my clothes to fit. I’ll never talk my doc into this size of a fill again. He asked me if I wanted 50 or more. I said, “Let’s try 100. I’m ready to go for it.” NEVER.AGAIN.

As the nurse was injecting the saline solution into my expanders, I made her talk to me continuously about her upcoming wedding just to keep me distracted. I knew the minute we finished the first one that I had messed up. I got dressed, walked to my car and sat in my car crying because I didn’t know if I could move my arms enough to drive myself back home. In fact, I probably shouldn’t have driven home. I got home, took some Tylenol and then proceeded to pace around my apartment for 2 hours – sobbing. I can’t even describe the pain. It was the first time in this whole process where I found myself crying and questioning “why me?!” I found myself angry (for a little while) about the fact that I had to do tissue expansion and not some other procedure. (Side note: Tissue expansion was my only option because of the fact that I have had gastric bypass and am much more likely to reject fat and muscle transfers.)

At some point, I decided to get in bed and try to rest. Every time I had to move to adjust the way I was sitting, I would cry. The pain throughout my chest, arms and back was like nothing I’d ever felt before. It’s worse than that first fill. So much worse. I got out of bed at some point to pee and as I moved myself out of bed I screamed in pain. It scared Happy and she hid in my closet for a few hours. I couldn’t get her to come to me. It was so sad.

Day 2 wasn’t much better. My dad called and his pep talk was exactly what I needed to hear. He said, “Mandy, don’t look at this as a set-back. This is part of the process. It will get better. Don’t let the pain get to you. Control your thoughts as much as you can.” He is right. It’s not a set-back. It is just part of the process. I just have to endure it. Pain can mess with your mind and I know that. I can’t let it beat me down. But, this really sucks.

Day 3 is a little better. I was able to wash my hair today without crying. I put dishes in my dishwasher without crying. I’m still so sore. Elena (Thank you!) brought me a heating pad. That’s helped my back a lot. The doctor called in some muscle relaxers for me yesterday and I think they are helping some (Thank you Renee for picking them up for me). I just have to change my expectations and relax. There’s nothing I can do but just be patient and take it easy. I hate that I can’t hide my pain better when people call to check on me. I know they can hear it in my voice. It’s part of this process I guess. I promised myself I’d be authentic and vulnerable when I started this and started blogging about it. I can’t pretend that everything is okay because my friends that are about to go through this need to know. Sugar-coating it doesn’t help anyone. I will get better and this will be over at some point. I know this. I just have to get through this week and never-ever-ever take as large of a fill as I did. It means I’ll get 50 cc every other week for at least 10 more weeks. Ughhhh 10 weeks sounds like an eternity, but I have no choice. It’ll be worth it in the end. On the flip side, I have larger noobs now. Even though they feel like concrete and are shaped funny, they stick out like real boobs. I wish they didn’t hurt so bad. This is one of the times where I’d sell my soul for my mom to be here.

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