Bikini top update and a time frame on my tissue expander replacement

Hey yo!

I just woke up to a beautiful morning in Southern California. After I finish this post I’m going to hop on a bike and ride along The Strand up to Manhattan Beach.

Remember a few weeks ago, when I was sitting in the hospital, bitching and moaning about how much my life sucked because I had to get my tissue expander removed? I was really, REALLY over living in Southern California at that point. I even started researching summer jobs and apartment rentals in places like Oregon, where I was convinced I would not feel any pressure to don a bikini or any kind of revealing shirt.

The view of King’s Harbor in Redondo Beach this morning from the balcony at my parents’ apartment.

Ha. Good one, Rachel. Like I could leave all of this beautiful weather and sunshine?

At the time, getting that awful tissue expander removed seemed like the end of the world. And can you blame me for feeling that way? I’m 22…I work at a fashion and beauty website…I live in Southern California. Appearance matters to me a lot, I hate to admit it. The prospect of having only one breast for an entire summer seemed AWFUL!

But it’s all about learning what works and what doesn’t. Adjustments are necessary…change isn’t all scary, I’m realizing. Okay, so I can’t get away with wearing clingy fabrics because the outline of my prosthesis will show. Well maybe that isn’t too bad…I’m finding styles that are more flattering for me. And while I used to run away screaming at the thought of wearing clothes from the women’s department instead of the junior’s department, I have to accept that I am not sixteen anymore and I have NEVER been built like a twig. Some of the clothes in the women’s department (and more importantly, in my wonderful mother’s closet!) just work so much better for me!

Which brings me to the update on my awesome bikini top (purchased from the women’s section of Target). On Tuesday, Mom and I met up for lunch after her oncology check-up at UCLA. Two miles from my office in Santa Monica is a mastectomy/breast cancer boutique called Intimate Image, so we stopped by to see what they had in terms of waterproof prostheses.

Perfect timing, because apparently they had just received a shipment of a new type of waterproof prosthesis. Its full name is the Trulife AquaFlow Triangle 630 (I think I’ll just call it “The Waterproof Falsie.”) Here are some of the fun little selling facts from the website, with notes from yours truly:

  • Molded, fast-dry spacer (…no idea what that means)
  • Breathable foam for support and structure (…ooo…support)
  • Lightweight beads do not absorb water and dry quickly (hahaha, no sponge for me!)
  • Flattering, natural profile, whether active or lying down (I like flattering)
  • Water resistant satin drawstring bag can be used to carry a wet swimsuit or other damp items (and the color of the drawstring bag is just sooo pretty)
  • Satin garment loop can be used to pin into a garment (…k…)

They only had two sizes at the Intimate Image, a 5 (equivalent to about a B cup) and a 7 (more of a C cup on me). The 7 was a tad bit too big, but since I knew I would be getting a saline fill on my right side on Thursday, it was the best option.

I also tried on a silicone breast form to do a comparison, but the AquaFlow was better for my needs. And the best part? It was less than $50, which is a steal in the mastectomy world!!!! The silicone form I tried on was over $300! It does make sense, however, since the silicone form lasts longer and so women who decide against breast reconstruction would opt for this sturdier prosthesis.

The tan object is The Waterproof Falsie; above it is the inside of my bikini top. It’s really happening!

In addition to buying The Waterproof Falsie, we also bought a little pocket. Mom is going to sew the pocket into the left side of my bikini, and then I’ll be able to insert The Waterproof Falsie when I want to go swimming. We were going to originally just sew in the prosthesis, but using the pocket instead will not sacrifice the integrity of The Falsie (I don’t want little beads falling out if a seam rips).

So now the bikini top, pocket, and my dear little Falsie are up with Mom at our vacation home in Groveland (near Yosemite). She is going to use her sewing magic, and next weekend when I’m in Groveland for Memorial Day, my bikini will be ready to go! I can’t wait to try it out and post pictures.

Moving on: on Thursday I saw the wonderful Dr. Festekjian again. He removed the stitches from my left side and did a saline fill on my right side. My right tissue expander is now at 550 ccs. I’ve decided to hold off on getting fills for a while, since my right side is now about even with both my cotton prosthesis and The Waterproof Falsie.

I confronted Dr. Festekjian bluntly about when I’ll be getting my left tissue expander replaced. When my infection was running wild and he first suggested that the tissue expander be removed, he said it would need to be out for at least two months. Of course I was shooting for two months, but at the start of Thursday’s appointment when I asked, he said “three to four months.” Bummer.

I wanted a more concrete time frame in order to plan my summer, so after he completed my fill, I pushed him for answers. He said three months was his final decision, and calculated the date based on when I got my the tissue expander removed. Three months from April 30 is July 30, which is a Monday. I can work with that. Three months is better than four!

In the coming weeks, Jeani (his assistant) and I will nail down a date for the tissue expander replacement surgery. Luckily it’s an outpatient procedure and I probably won’t have to stay in the hospital overnight. AND I won’t get a drain!!!!!! (Fingers crossed Dr. Festekjian doesn’t change his mind about that one!)

Well that’s all the update for now…The Strand is calling!

Calming down and getting on with life

Well, immediately following my previous post I lost eight pounds. I guess that will be my secret to weight loss…bitching on my blog!

I’m also happy to report that on Friday evening, Jeani told me to stop taking the Clindamycin antibiotic because the culture from my infection was only responding to the Doxcycline. This was good news because man, was that Clindamycin harsh! I know you all are completely over reading about my digestive patterns, but I’m pretty sure that the Clindamycin was what gave me such bad diarrhea.

Eating a real meal again is so wonderful! Om nom nom!

Not wanting to repeat the Crazy Drain Incident of 2012, I decided to lay low for the weekend. No walks or exercise, just hanging around the house being a lazy bum. I watched lots of movies and TV to the point that my eyes hurt. And let me tell you, all of that hard work paid off, because on Monday morning I got my drain removed!

What a great appointment. Really. Is it sad that a follow-up with Dr. Festekjian can make me so happy?

First he removed my drain. Then he removed my PICC line! AND he gave me permission to swim this summer!!! He said that my infection looked to be completely cleared up and that the following week he would remove the stitches on my left breast. He also did a fill on my right tissue expander, bringing it up to 475 ccs.

I’ve been going back and forth on the question of what to do with my right tissue expander: should I just let it be until I get my left tissue expander replaced, or should I keep getting my saline fills? What do you all think? I’m curious to get the visual on my chest’s potential size, but I don’t want to make this flat-on-one-side situation even more awkward.

I had him do a fill on Monday because the prosthetic boob I’m using on the left is too big…I want to even things out with the right side. It’s just a soft cotton-stuffed pillow shaped like one of the “chicken cutlets” you might use to add a bit of va-va-voom to your cleavage. It came in a pair with the mastectomy bra I bought before my surgery. I didn’t think I’d be needing either prosthetic…good thing I saved them!

Notice the prosthetic boob poking out there! And yes, my iPhone case is a photo of Madeline.

My graduation is on Friday. I was really on the fence about attending. When I first went back to the hospital following my infection I was pretty pissed about missing some senior events (Fountain Run, sorority formal). During that week of moping I tried to talk myself out of going to graduation, citing that I “missed everything else” so “why bother” going to graduation? Danielle brought up a good point, however: it’s my graduation. I’m never going to graduate from USC as an undergraduate again and though it might not seem like a big deal now, would I regret it in the future if I missed it?

OK, so she’s right, and she convinced me to attend my graduation. What I then had to worry about was my graduation dinner the following evening. What the hell would I wear?!

Dressing for my small boobs was hard (see Shopping for the Post-Mastectomy Patient). Dressing for a boob on the right and nothing on the left? OY VEY! Obviously I’m going to be using the prosthetic, but that still presents challenges with dressing. I need a dress that will enable me to wear a supportive bra to keep everything in place. It can’t be low-cut and it either has to have very thick straps or it has to be tight for a strapless bra.

After visiting what seemed like every store at the Camarillo outlets, I finally walked into J.Crew and found heaven in the form of a pink strapless dress. It’s tight enough to support a strapless bra and a prosthetic, and the fabric is thick enough to hide awkward lines or lumps from that bra combination. I feel like a ballerina when I wear it because of the color!

Hey…wait a minute…I thought you were missing a boob?!

So now it seems that things have calmed down around here. Having my tissue expander removed last week really felt like it would be the end of the world–at least the end of MY world. I was dreading summer, especially living in Southern California. But now I realize that hey, it’s just one summer. One Ugly Summer. I can deal.

Now, for all those who are wondering what I ACTUALLY look like, sans prosthetic…here are some fun pictures! Isn’t my bra great? Freakin’ optical illusion.

P.S., if you’re reading this: HI DR. KARAM!!!

 

Cellulitis 2012: Out Goes the Tissue Expander

Hi everyone. I apologize for not writing in a few days. While it’s true that I am insanely bored at the hospital, by the time I actually have a free moment to sit down and type out a blog post, I am usually exhausted and my eyes hurt too much so I nap instead. This one, however, is going to be exceptionally long. Get ready!

The last time I posted was Friday morning. My IV port had to be changed again since the Vancomycin beat up the first one too much. A new IV was put into my right hand.

Around noon I had an ultrasound on my left breast to check for fluid pockets. Images from the ultrasound revealed that there was one big pocket (I think about 5 cms) and possibly two smaller pockets. A few hours later, I was taken back to radiology to have that pocket aspirated. The radiologists inserted Lidocaine into the area to numb it up then used an ultrasound to locate the exact location of the fluid pocket. They then inserted a big ol’ needle into the area to extract it. In reality, the needle wasn’t very big at all, but since the ultrasound video magnified it it seemed like an eight-inch needle was poking around my body.

The fluid from this pocket was sent for a gram stain and a culture. The initial gram stain did not reveal any bacteria; however the culture could still grow into something after a few days.

When I returned from the aspiration, I noticed that the infection seemed to have spread around my breast. It all seemed very red. I was nervous. Friday was a very emotional day for me; I spent a lot of time crying and wallowing in self-pity.

My parents finally found out I was in the hospital on Friday evening. They had been on a road trip to the Grand Canyon since Tuesday April 24. I did NOT want to ruin their vacation by telling them about my hospitalization. I know, I know…I’ve heard from plenty of moms that it wasn’t MY choice if my parents wanted to come back early, and that parents want to know everything no matter the circumstances. But honestly, my family has had really bad luck when it comes to family illnesses and vacations and they deserved to see the Grand Canyon. Plus, I knew that my parents were planning to head up to our house in Yosemite after visiting the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t overly fussed about them not missing the Yosemite portion of the trip, since they can go up north another time. Instead of leaving Barstow to head north on Saturday morning, they stayed south to get into Los Angeles.

By noon on Saturday they were at the hospital. It was nice having them there, because they are medical-savvy and know how to talk to doctors. Having been through her own double mastectomy, my mom is familiar with the terms, processes, and side-effects. My dad, on the other hand (or should I say “foot”…wait for it!) , spent quite a few months in and out of UCSF in 2011 due to an infection on his feet. He had an IV of Vancomycin, too.

My friend Kaitlin stopped by the hospital on Saturday afternoon. It was such a pleasant surprise. She brought with her a book and an adorable little stuffed animal elephant. I immediately latched onto the fluffy gray creature. His name is Kapow and he’s my lucky elephant.

Kapow transfers some of his luck to me, trunk to nose.

On Sunday my infection did look better, and my veins were feeling even worse. The Vancomycin is so harsh that it burns my veins. Every time a drop went through the IV port on my hand, I could feel it sting. We had to take that IV port out. A transport nurse tried to place another IV; he poked me one more time and it still didn’t work. At that point, he made it clear that I couldn’t be poked anymore because the risk of infection was too high. If they wanted to put in any more antibiotics or draw anymore blood, I would need a PICC line, but the staff members who put in PICCs don’t work on the weekends.

Dr. Galanis, the Chief Plastics Resident at UCLA, came by to say that he was putting me on an oral antibiotic for the day and night and that I should be prepared to go into surgery on Monday morning, which meant no eating or drinking after midnight. Nothing was for sure yet, but the fact that my infection was getting worse was an obvious bad sign.

It was very relaxing not being connected to an IV at all on Sunday. I could shower and actually use both hands (during the first shower I had a plastic glove over my hand to protect the IV) and I could move around without worrying about accidentally pulling out the IV. I spent a lot of Sunday reading the book Kaitlin brought over, called Bitter Is the New Black by Jen Lancaster. It was a quick and somewhat mindless read about a former sorority girl turned business exec turned unemployed mess. I breezed through the entire book in one day, and was pleased by the happy ending, in which the writer gets a book deal! (Oh please let that be MY happy ending!)

On Sunday at midnight I started my eating and drinking fast. Not eating was easy. The heavy antibiotics have temporarily killed my taste buds and ruined my digestive system; whatever I eat comes out the other end pretty quickly. That doesn’t give me much incentive to eat. Drinking, however, is difficult; since I’m so used to being poked for veins, my natural reaction is to drink as much water as possible in order to plump them up. But I had to avoid the water so I wouldn’t be sick if I needed anesthesia.

On Monday morning my parents came over early, as did members of Dr. Festekjian’s team (Dr. Galanis included). They said it was highly likely that I would have the tissue expander removed, but they would leave the ultimate decision to Dr. Festekjian. He came in about an hour later and told me it would have to go because we were “fighting a losing battle.” At that point, I didn’t care anymore. I had read online about many women who stayed on some awful antibiotics for weeks, suffering the side effects, only to have to remove the tissue expander anyway.

Around 11 am I had a PICC line installed. A PICC line is a central venous catheter, a more permanent form of an IV; it goes through the arm and hooks up with a major blood vein near the heart. It can withstand the beatings from tough drugs like Vancomycin, and it can also be used to draw blood. While I’m here, I’ll never have to be poked again! Whoohoo!

Around 1 pm I was taken down to the OR to have my tissue expander removed. I woke up later in the recovery room and demanded ice. Whatever anesthesia they give me at UCLA is great; I am never nauseous after waking up and can guzzle water like it’s my job.

I was moved back up to my room about half an hour later. Someone from Dr. Festekjian’s team (I was still kind of out of it so I don’t remember who) came by to tell me that they had found some additional spots of infection near the tissue expander. They are culturing those right now.

In order to give me some nourishment, I’ve been hooked up to an IV drip since yesterday. There was also a drip for pain meds.

I felt fine when I woke up today. In the afternoon Dr. Galanis took a peek at my left breast (or total lack thereof at this point!) and said it was still red but it looked better. I have only seen the top of it through the tight bandage; it looks like a wrinkly skin crater. Ewwwww.

My parents visited in the morning, and then I was surprised by two friends from work, Garineh and Mia. They came with a card signed by everyone who sits around my desk and a Jamba Juice…perfect! Jamba Juice is the only food I’ve been eating. About an hour before they arrived, some beautiful yellow flowers were also delivered from my team at Demand Media.

Mia (on the left) and Garineh (right) came to visit me from work! Please note my lovely halter bra and drain. Yep, I have another drain.

And now I am going to tell you all the highlight of today…drumroll please…

I got to see a doggy!!!! After hounding (bahaha) the UCLA People Animal Connection for three days, we were finally successful in getting a real live dog to visit me. His name is Scout and he’s 10 1/2 years old. He’s a German Shepard mix and he is so sweet. He sat on my bed and let me pet him for half an hour. His owner, Beth, told me about the strict requirements for volunteer dogs. It was very impressive–she should be proud that her dog was accepted at UCLA!

Scout was so friendly!

I hope that I can continue to bother the People Animal Connection in order to receive visits from more of my four-legged friends. Animals brighten my day so much. I must figure out a way to sneak Madeline inside. Let me know if you have any ideas! Now off to bed.

Fear

I know the title of this post is not very SEO-friendly, and I don’t care. This is probably as stream-of-consciousness as I’ve ever written.

I’m scared. On Monday I wrote about the pain in my left breast when I lifted up my arms; I stayed home from work to rest. On Tuesday, it got worst. I stayed home again and developed a throbbing headache. My parents left for a trip to the Grand Canyon that day, but I still drove over to their apartment in Redondo Beach because I knew it would be more peaceful there and I would have access to the vast medical supplies of The Horn Pharmacy.

I slept for a lot of the day but my head really, really hurt and I felt kind of nauseous too. At first I thought it was because the only thing I ate during most of the day was sour gummy worms (…you mean you wouldn’t consider half a bag a nutritious meal?) But it just kept getting worse. Nausea for me seems to occur in the form of burps. I know that’s weird, but I’ll have a burp stuck in my throat and it just won’t come out and it’ll make me uncomfortable and almost sick until it’s belched out.

I really didn’t want to call my parents but I wanted to make sure I didn’t have a fever. I was slightly concerned that the pain associated with the tissue expander was linked to the headache and nausea.

Called Mom; she told me where the thermometer was located. 99.8 degrees. She told me that if it was worse in the morning, I should call Dr. Festekjian’s office.

Bryce came over in the late afternoon and took excellent care of me. He even bought chicken noodle soup and removed all of the chunks of chicken because I’m a vegetarian (yes, I’m aware the broth itself is made from chicken stock–I don’t care.)

I took some Tylenol and that really helped my pain. My temperature was down to 99.1 degrees when I finally went to bed.

This morning when I woke up my temperature was even lower, I think it was down to somewhere in the 97 region. Score! I felt that was a good sign. But I felt even more nauseous today; every time I tried to rest my head on a pillow, it was uncomfortable because there was a burp waiting to escape.

I had hoped to drive back to USC earlier today, but since I felt queasy it seemed like a bad idea to drive. So I stuck around Redondo Beach and realized that my limbs were really sore. It was the same sort of dull pain I felt during my hospital stay and after that awful weekend of “hunkering down” while waiting for my drains to be removed. I knew I needed to move my legs a bit, so I went on a walk.

A VERY short walk. I don’t know if it was the fact that I wore my Northface jacket and that made me hot, or if I really was starting to burn up from a fever, but I could barely get a quarter of a mile without feeling sticky and dehydrated. I turned around, went home, and chugged water.

My temperature started to rise after that. First back up to 99 degrees, and then throughout the evening it got progressively higher. When I went to bed it was 100 degrees.

Sleeping was awful. My head hurt and it seemed that every pillow made it throb. I was also freezing when I crawled into bed but by the time midnight hit, I was drenched in sweat.

So that’s where I am now: sweating, awake, and with a 101.1 degree fever.

That’s why I’m scared. I thought, for a while, that I had the flu. I know it’s going around and a few close friends have had it during the past few days. But why would my temperature be so high?

I am so worried I have an infection. After showering today I looked at my chest in the mirror and realized that my left breast is bruised; the skin has a slight purple tinge to it, and it’s not just in one spot–it’s everywhere.

At 3 pm on Thursday (which I guess is actually technically today) I have another fill appointment with Dr. Festekjian. I texted Maria yesterday to clue her into the fact that my left breast didn’t look too good and to make sure Dr. Festekjian himself would examine it. I am so scared for that appointment.

First of all, I doubt I’ll actually get a tissue expander fill. The first time I had a fill, only the right side was filled up with more saline because the left side was “still a little pissed off.” The left side now doesn’t just seem “a little” angry–it looks like it needs to meet with an anger management therapy group. If my fills are delayed, that means that my exchange surgery will be delayed, and I NEED to have my exchange done by June 30th.

That’s just the first problem; if that is the only thing that’s wrong, then I’ll take it.

But what if I do have an infection? Infections are not good. At all. What if Dr. Festekjian tells me I have to start over with my tissue expander? I don’t know what I’d do. God, I really don’t know. There’s no way I would have my implant exchange by June 30th, I know that. And I just don’t know how I would deal with my lopsided appearance. I’m fine with having smaller boobs; people know I had surgery. But if I had a B cup on the right and a flat chest like a nine-year-old boy on the left, I don’t know. I wouldn’t be able to leave the house. I wouldn’t go to graduation. I wouldn’t go to my grad party. I wouldn’t go to work.

It’s fine that I am sick right now. It’s the shittiest timing ever: I missed the senior goodbye banquet at my sorority tonight; I’m not going to be able to participate in tomorrow’s Fountain Run; I probably won’t get to go to my last sorority invite on Friday. But those things I can accept if my tissue expander survives. Missing them would not be in vain.

So that’s it I guess. The 3 pm appointment with Dr. Festekjian will hopefully soothe my worries.

 

Second tissue expander fill, and volunteering for The Jester & Pharley Phund!

On Thursday afternoon I had my second tissue expander fill with Maria at Dr. Festekjian’s office. This time, Maria put some numbing cream over each tissue expander port. During my first fill Dr. Festekjian skipped straight to the biodine cleaning agent, so it was too late to put on the numbing substance; that’s why I could feel the needle pinch. At this appointment, however, I could barely feel anything–it was great! I will definitely be asking for the numbing cream from now on.

Maria put 50 ccs of saline into each side. I was a bit bummed that it wasn’t more, but I also understand that she wants to be cautious about not irritating my tissue and muscle too much. At least she filled up the left side! I am now at 350 ccs of saline on the left and 425 ccs of saline on the right.

After Maria did the tissue expander fill, Jeani (Dr. Festekjian’s assistant) came into the room to talk to me about silicone implants. She had a handy little spinning paper tool that let her see the minimum and maximum size for a silicone implant based on the width of my breast area (which Dr. Festekjian has determined to be 14 cms on each side.)

She also brought with her a few sample implants! I “tried” them on for size, which was fun but also strange! At this point I don’t really remember what my breasts looked like before surgery–I’m so used to the small size now. That being said I definitely want to go back to my “normal” size. Next week I am going to bring in one of my bigger bras and try on the different implant sizes with the bra. I’ll post pictures to get my readers’ opinions!

I didn’t feel any soreness after my tissue expander fill. However on Sunday and again this morning I’ve been in pain, particularly on the left side. When I raise my arms too high or stretch them to the side it hurts–a short of sharpness pulses through. I’m not sure what’s causing it, but it might be my sleeping position. On Saturday night I slept for a while on my stomach, which is the first time I’ve done that since before my mastectomy. I feel fine while I’m sleeping–no discomfort or soreness. Last night I slept the same way for a while and the pain is back again. I just don’t understand how the pain could be related to the sleeping position–wouldn’t my right side hurt a lot more, too?

Tonight I need to make an effort to not roll onto my stomach while sleeping. I took some pain meds this morning and decided to work from home so I could rest my arms. Hopefully the pain improves throughout the day!

Now for something more uplifting:

On Sunday I was lucky enough to help out a great cause during the LA Times Festival of Books at USC. I volunteered at the booth for The Jester & Pharley Phund, an organization which focuses on helping sick kids and promoting literacy. The story of the organization is touching: it centers around a book called The Jester Has Lost His Jingle, written by a young man named David Saltzman. During his senior year at Yale, David was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. The Jester was created for his senior project. He died right before his 23rd birthday in 1990. The Jester is about finding happiness, laughter, and hope in an often depressing world; in fact the title character brings laughter back to the world after he talks to a little girl with a tumor.

After David’s death, his family worked to keep their promise to him that The Jester would be published. And they certainly fulfilled it! Over 325,000 copies have been published, and they are now taking orders for the first bilingual (Spanish-English) edition of the story.

David Saltzman, author of The Jester Has Lost His Jingle.

The Jester & Pharley Phund is the non-profit organization run by David Saltzman’s mother Barbara. Not only does the Phund donate copies of The Jester and the accompanying dolls to children at hospitals, its members also run literacy programs like Read-A-Thons in local schools. While volunteering yesterday, three of my fellow volunteers were fifth-grade students and their teacher who had learned about The Jester through a school program.

Barbara Saltzman and her staffers Amy and Connie were all very welcoming and grateful for the help. I stayed for about 2.5 hours and helped to sell books. When I left, Barbara gave me my copy of the book, signed by the Jester’s Mom!

It was so refreshing helping out yesterday. I love the way the Saltzman family has turned a sad story into an inspirational message. If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of the book, please visit the To Order section of TheJester.org.

After helping out at the booth, I went exploring around the Festival of Books and I met up with Teresa (from The Dog Lived blog) and her boyfriend. I stumbled across Teresa’s blog when I was doing a Google search of Dr. Karam way back in November. She was one of his patients. She turned her story of breast cancer and her dog’s cancer (he’s an adorable Beagle named Seamus) into an awesome blog, and soon that story will be turned into a book! I can’t wait to read it. It was really nice to meet Teresa in person…now I need to meet Seamus.

Well, that’s all for now! Gotta get back to work.

 

Tissue expander fill #1 video

Hey all: Here is the promised video clip of my first tissue expander fill on Thursday. Remember that Maria only filled the right breast with saline. The brown stuff is iodine to sterilize my skin.

Tissue expander fill #1

Yesterday I had my first tissue expander fill at Dr. Festekjian’s office.

For those of you who still aren’t sure of how the breast reconstruction process following a mastectomy works, here’s a rundown: after Dr. Karam performed the mastectomy (removing all breast tissue) portion of my surgery on March 13th, Dr. Festekjian came in to insert saline tissue expanders underneath a layer of my pectoral muscles. These tissue expanders are essentially little baggies that create a pocket in the muscle. They have a needle port on top, and over time, additional saline is inserted so that the baggie and the pocket can grow. Once the tissue expander has been filled enough and the muscle pocket is large enough, the tissue expander is removed and a permanent silicone implant is inserted into the pocket.

During my initial surgery, Dr. Festekjian put about 300 ccs of saline into each tissue expander. This is a pretty decent amount of saline, so when I woke up from my surgery, I actually had breasts–yes, they were small, an A cup, but there was still something there on my chest.

Yesterday Dr. Festekjian took a look at both sides. I was concerned because my left breast seems to be bigger than the right. It had only started to look like that a few days after my drains were removed, so I was worried that I had a fluid buildup. Dr. Festekjian said that there was no fluid (yes! The evil fluid, defeated!) but that the tissue on the left was “still a little pissed off” (wise words) and that it was swelling. He decided to expand only the right side, in order to make them match a bit more appearance-wise but also to let the left side heal more.

Maria, one of the RN’s in Dr. Festekjian’s office who is pretty much awesome (she removed my drains last Monday), did the fill. Sidenote: I really like Maria. She is very understanding and has a lot of patience. I took some before and after pictures, a picture of the tools, and also a video of the fill happening. Since I have to run to work right now, I’m only going to post the pictures.

These are the tools that are used for the tissue expander fill: the giant plastic syringe is where the saline goes, and the little green needle is what is actually inserted into the skin. The two connect at the top of the needle, and the saline is slowly pushed through the syringe into the needle and then into the tissue expander.

Before going to talk to another patient, Dr. Festekjian used a magnetic device to “locate” the tissue expander port through my skin. He then marked it with blue ink–“X marks the spot”, redefined! He disinfected my skin with some sort of brown substance, I think it was iodine. He then made sure I was OK with Maria performing the fill. He said he could do it himself, but I was already scheduled to see Maria the following Thursday for my second fill and I totally trust her, so I was fine with it.

The fill itself did not hurt, but I felt the needle prick for sure. That was the worst part (as it always is). I thought I would be able to feel the saline going into my tissue expander and making my muscle tighten, but I didn’t feel it at all. Maria was very slow and steady with the saline syringe.

She inserted 75 ccs of saline, removed the needle and then put a bandage over my skin where the needle had been. I could see a difference in that my breast didn’t look as droopy. I took a before and after picture, but since I have my bra on for both it’s kind of hard to tell. The biggest difference you can see is the fact that my bra doesn’t look as saggy.

On the left: before the expansion. On the right: after the expansion. Note that only the right side (in this case, looking at me, the left side) was expanded.

I thought I would be in pain after the fill. A lot of women experience tightness (from the muscle stretching) and have to take pain meds. It’s been almost 24 hours and I haven’t felt any pain at all.

My next fill is going to be next Thursday. Fingers crossed that I get both sides expanded! Jeani, Dr. Festekjian’s wonderful assistant, booked me for my next five fill appointments, every Thursday starting yesterday. We’re not sure I’ll need that many, but it’s nice to have them planned out.

I’m happy now. This process is really happening! My reconstruction is starting!

 

Well, it’s been over four weeks since my mastectomy!

I apologize for not writing for some time. Life has been busy! But busy in an oddly normal way. Aside from the slight difference in my appearance, most everything seems to have returned to the way things were before my surgery. I went back to work last Tuesday, I’ve been going to class, and I’ve been out and about with my friends and family. The only thing is that I’m feeling fatigued and I want to know WHY! (More mention of that towards the end of the post.)

On Wednesday the 4th my sister Wendy visited us from Boston with my niece and nephew (ages 13 and 15, respectively). It was awesome seeing them. I have six nieces and nephews (and I love ’em all!) but have always regarded Matthew and Nicole as my younger siblings. I lived in Boston when they were born and I grew up with them.

Thursday the 5th was my 22nd birthday. I had work and class, so instead of rushing out to Redondo Beach after class at 8 pm to try to get dinner with my family, I decided to go out in nearby downtown Los Angeles with my friends. It was really great: not only did I enjoy everyone’s company, I also felt so normal! Danielle let me borrow a really cute crop top and I paired it with a black high-waisted skirt. No one could tell that I had recently had surgery.

Here’s a pic of B Boy and me on my birthday. We started the night at the rooftop bar at the Standard. Please note Marissa photobombing in the background.

During that awful weekend before my drains were removed I was concerned that my drain site was infected. Maria from Dr. Festekjian’s office said she might put me on antibiotics, but I cautioned her that my birthday was later that week and that I would prefer not to be on medication. Luckily I didn’t have an infection, so I was OK to drink on my birthday! My friends bought me some pretty delicious drinks (birthday cake shots and mojitos, anyone?) All in all it was a very successful night.

On Friday evening my parents, sister, niece, nephew, Bryce and I all went to the Melting Pot in Torrance to have a birthday/pre-graduation celebration. My birthday was on April 5th; Bryce’s 23rd birthday was on April 10th; and my nephew Matthew’s 16th birthday is on April 14th. We’ve got an abundance of Aries! Dinner was delicious but very filling.

Last night (April 10th) we went out to dinner for Bryce’s 23rd birthday.

The next day we met up with the Berkeley Cuzzins who had driven down the night before to spend time with fam. The cousins are: Marc, Naura and their two kids, Julia (16) and Charles (14). All of the kids (Matthew, Nicole, Julia and Charles) descended on USC on Saturday morning so I could show them around the campus. They’re starting to think about college, so it’s important that I brainwash them and make them want to go to my alma mater.

They really liked USC, especially the tour of the Frat Row…why am I not surprised? After USC we visited Venice Beach, a place I affectionately like to call the Berkeley of the Sea. Venice Beach is amazing. I love to see the reactions that people have to it. The boys LOVED it–they thought it was hilarious. The girls, on the other hand, were slightly weirded out by it.

After Venice Beach I was exhausted. Really, really, REALLY tired. I’m not sure if it was because it was hot outside (about 85 degrees) and we were walking around all day, or because I’m not as recovered from surgery as I thought I was, or both. The next day (Easter) I was still pretty tired too. I went to Bryce’s house for a late lunch and by 7 pm I had passed out upstairs.

So that leads me to the point of this post: when will everything be back to normal? Not to toot my own horn, but I look great after surgery. I feel chipper and if you ran into me on the street, you might never know what had happened. But there are times when I just feel exhausted! And I don’t know why. Are the activities I’m doing really that tiring, or is my body still in recovery mode?

I am itching to get back to my spin classes. I almost went to a class yesterday afternoon at YAS in downtown LA. At the last minute, I decided to email Jeani at Dr. Festekjian’s office to ask her opinion. She talked to Dr. Festekjian and told me to hold off on spinning until I see Dr. Festekjian again and can get his blessing in person.

I was disappointed…I really need the cardio workout! I feel like such a slug. But at the same time, I don’t want to rush it. What if my fatigue really does have to do with my surgery? Spinning might make me feel great for a few hours, but I would feel awful if something happened to jeopardize my tissue expanders and I knew it was because I had pushed myself too hard, too early.

Tomorrow morning at 10 am I have an appointment with Dr. Festekjian to get my first tissue expander fill. Hopefully he’ll give me the OK to go back to spinning. I think I’ll also post some “before and after” pics from my fill (rated G, I promise!)

I’m looking forward to getting the show on the road, but I hope the fill doesn’t hurt. Does anyone have any advice for making it as comfortable as possible?

Check out these ADORABLE cake pops that my friend Kate sent me last week! So yummy and so cute.