1988 --reconstruction or shopping for a new boob


I wasn't reconstructed at the time of my mastectomy for a number of reasons. First, immediate reconstruction wasn't done as often 26 years ago as it is now, and I was supposed to have a lumpectomy, but when my surgeon couldn't get clear margins it turned into a mastectomy. So there had been no discussion of reconstruction before surgery. Then I had chemotherapy to deal with, and my sense is that no one wanted to rush into reconstruction until it appeared I might live. I really didn't care. But my daughter was almost 3 in the summer of 1988 and beginning to notice I had a big boo-boo on my chest. It was a rather big scar and she wanted to kiss it and make it better. I didn't want her to notice it and I didn't want to notice it either.Having only one breast when you are supposed to have two presented some other problems as well. There is the nasty prosthesis to deal with. The prosthesis goes in the bra where the breast used to be so there is some balance. First I went and bought one of the big, shaped numbers that fit in my bra. It had a nipple and the whole deal. But when I was wearing it, I always felt like I had a basketball in my bra. It was too much. Next, I bought a small tear-drop shapped light rubber prosthesis that fit just right -- and it was on sale. It was hard not to tell friends and family I got my boob on sale. Then the challenge was remembering where I put the darned thing when I took it off. And for someone who always loses her keys, well, you get my point. Also, I was a swimmer back then. I began swimming as soon as my surgeon let me and to deal with not looking too deformed, I pinned the little fiber filled bra liner that Reach To Recovery had given me when I was in the hospital inside my swim suit. The only problem this presented was that it held water and dripped when the rest of me didn't. So I got in the habit of reaching over and squeezing the water out of my right boob when I got out of the pool. Yep, some really strange looks. I also felt rather lopsided. So, I began making inquiries about reconstruction.Now shopping for a plastic surgeon is not like looking for any other doctor. Plastics are artists, and, just as you travel the gallery circuit when you are looking for just the right art piece for your home, you need to spend a lot of time in the ladies room for show and tell for the art of the plastic.When I found my plastic surgeon, I was overjoyed. He had pioneered some of the surgeries I was considering; among plastics he was Picasso.The next thing in your shopping basket is the kind of surgery you want. When I found out they could make me a new breast out of my stomach, I was elated. I had been saving it for just such an occasion. When I told the plastic what I wanted, he pointed at the exam table and told me to hop up and let him see if we could. Whaaaa? See if we could? I had a stomach that needed to go away and I needed a breast. What's the problem?Well my C-section scar was the problem. If he cut across it, he told me, it would destroy the integrity of my stomach. Now that was a real shock since my stomach had no integrity. It would sell out to the first piece of chocolate that walked by. But he said no, the stomach muscles stayed where they were, and we went to plan B, which was moving my back muscle to the chest wall and putting a small implant under it. You know, taking off the breast didn't hurt because they cut the nerves. But the reconstruction hurt a lot, until I was introduced to the morphine pump. This wonderful invention had a button that allowed the morphine to flow. I used it solicitously until I found out it wouldn't let me overdose, and then it became my best friend. I went home a few days after surgery and gradually the pain left and I got used to having two breasts again. They matched fairly well since I had convinced the insurance company to pay for lifting the left breast to match the right. At first they tried to tell me that it would be cosmetic until I offered to come down to the office and show them why it wasn't. Eventually we worked it out. My new boobs were fine except the reconstructed side developed this problem called capsular contracture, which means it was as hard as a rock. The next spring I went in and had the first implant replaced with another one that was covered with a fine coating of foam rubber looking stuff that encouraged the tissue to grow more normally. It resulted in a much more natural looking breast. It also threw me into a class action suit that came along about a decade later – oh, and it was guaranteed to give me cancer if I was ever boiled.

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