It was an itsy bitsy teenie weenie breast implant-filled bikini

Hey y’all! Long time no write. Between work, travel, and training for my upcoming Hadrian’s Wall walking holiday in the UK for my mom’s 60th 30th birthday, it’s been a very busy summer.

In July I had the pleasure of spending almost a week in Hawaii on the island of Kauai for a friend’s wedding. Prior to my trip, I embarked on every girl’s worst nightmare: bikini shopping.

Bikini shopping has never been a pleasant experience for me, but it was with an open mind (and a sense of humor) that I headed into Target. I browsed the racks for 15 minutes, and then, armed with eight or so bikinis, made my way to the fitting room.

It was a disaster. Everything about every bikini was dreadful, from the styles to the colors to the awkward hanger marks. I knew I’d have to call in the big guns: Victoria’s Secret.

I’ve been a fan of Victoria’s Secret bikinis for quite a few years, since they are some of the more supportive bikini tops on the market, but coughing up the $75+ for a matching top and bottom set has always been a bit difficult. This time was different, however. With a Hawaiian vacation on the horizon and a new set of boobs to flatter, it was worth the splurge.

I settled on a teal top and bottom bikini set. I was quite pleased with the choice because the top is supportive without being overly padded. I’ve worn the bikini quite a few times since buying it in late June, including at the beach and at the lake, and it’s been great.

The other day I was skulking around Facebook when I saw a picture of my fellow previvor Carly celebrating her birthday in Las Vegas. She looked AMAZING in a light pink bikini. I clicked on the image for further inspection and realized it was the same style bikini top as my teal one from Victoria’s Secret. We exchanged messages about the top and agreed that it’s the perfect bikini top for breast implants.

This realization prompted me to try on all of my other bikini tops, for a comparison of the various styles. My bikini top needs are quite different now that I have breast implants instead of “real boobs.” Before I was concerned with getting adequate support, now I’m concerned more with coverage. I was a bit surprised to see how things fit.

Here are my thoughts on the styles–hopefully they will help other post-mastectomy and post-reconstruction women find the perfect bikini tops:

I wore this bandeau bikini in Hawaii, but it was much better suited for lounging on the beach than swimming.

In high school and college, I always wanted to wear triangle bikini tops but they were never supportive enough for me. At least they work better now!

Too…much…cleavage.

I tried on the mastectomy bikini top my mom made me last year just for kicks. Last summer, my number one bikini concern was finding something that could hold and disguise a waterproof prosthetic.

This bikini top + Rachel = Goldilocks when she finds Baby Bear’s porridge…justttttt right. This is the Victoria’s Secret bikini top Carly and I both bought. I am definitely going to look for more in various colors and patterns. Here’s what it looks like from the side, with the cheeky low rise bottom (side note: Victoria’s Secret, I am totally open to sponsorship =D):

I’m fortunate that there is still at least one month of warm California sunshine to enjoy this summer, so my favorite bikini will be getting a lot of love.

What do other post-reconstruction ladies think of bikinis/bathing suits? Do you have any new favorites?

Update: Just ordered two more, in yellow and paisley. Dad, if you’re reading this…they were on sale. A LOT.

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I see a tissue expander in my future…

Can you believe it’s been three months since that awful episode of cellulitis? I really can’t. But it’s true! And you know what that means…

TISSUE EXPANDER REPLACEMENT SURGERY–YAY!!!!

This coming Monday, July 30, I’ll be making the trek back up to what seems like my home away from home, UCLA Medical Center. At 8 am I am scheduled to have a PICC line placed at Ronald Reagan hospital; following the PICC line procedure, I’ll head over to the UCLA Outpatient Surgery Center in the building next door to have my tissue expander placed.

It was a bit of a hassle to get approval for the PICC line, but I’m so glad we were pushy (shout out to my mom for making it happen!) For those of you who don’t remember, I have BAD veins. They run and hide when I get within five miles of a medical facility.

When I know I am going to have my blood drawn, I prepare the day before by drinking a lot of water to pump up my veins. When I was admitted to the hospital for a cellulitis infection in late April, my veins were not prepared for needles and I was already dehydrated from being sick. When the nurses tried to draw blood, it took them three pokes (with multiple people involved) until they had success; when they tried to start IV antibiotics, it was even worse.

I ended up being poked for blood and IVs about ten times during that hospital stay because my veins would either not produce any blood or they were too fragile for the strong antibiotics. By the third day at the hospital, none of my veins were strong enough for a simple IV, so I was switched to the PICC line.

The PICC line was my savior. I never thought I would love something attached to a needle as much as I loved that PICC line.

“PICC” stands for peripherally inserted central catheter. It is a small needle attached to a port that is inserted into a deep vein (in my case, in my upper right arm). It’s then fished through to another vein close to the heart. A PICC line can stay in place for weeks without being changed, and it can be used to draw blood and to administer fluids such as antibiotics. For those of you who know my family, when my dad was at UCSF in 2010/2011 with a foot infection, he received routine antibiotic infusions through a PICC line.

An illustration of how a PICC line works, from Macmillan Cancer Support’s website http://www.macmillan.org.uk.

Once my PICC line was inserted in April, the rest of my hospital stay was a breeze. I didn’t feel any burning from the antibiotics and no one had to poke me in the middle of the night for blood tests.

This time around, my mom and I have been adamant that I receive a PICC line from the start. I know Dr. Festekjian is going to put me on IV antibiotics as a precaution, and I know I am going to be put under anesthesia. Both of those things mean needles. Any needle poke runs the risk of infection; with my non-compliant veins and history of infection, why would I want to take any chances? PICC line, here I come!

In terms of the actual tissue expander replacement surgery, I anticipate that it will be pretty easy. It’s performed in UCLA’s outpatient building, which already makes it seem more minor. There’s a good chance I will stay in the hospital overnight just to be safe, which is fine with me. And I only plan on taking one week off from work, as opposed to the three I took after my mastectomy surgery in March.

To be honest, the biggest concern I have is what I’ll look like with my newly-inserted tissue expander. I’ve really adjusted to having my cotton prosthesis and Waterproof Falsie; they are the perfect size to match the 550 cc tissue expander on the right side! But when Dr. Festekjian puts the new tissue expander in the left side, he will probably only fill it up to about 200 ccs; tiny in comparison to the other one!

Does anyone have any suggestions for what I can do to not look lopsided? There will probably be at least one month of unevenness; I don’t expect to start my saline fills until two weeks after this surgery. And even when the fills do start, it will take a few sessions before my left tissue expander is equal to my right expander.

Okay, nothing could be more lopsided than this: tissue expander on the right side, nothing but chest wall on the left!

I’d love to hear what people think. My initial thought is to use socks or something to fill empty bra space. Anyone else have a better idea?!

I expect to post an update on Monday or Tuesday following my surgery, so be on the lookout for that. And all positive vibes and thoughts are appreciated as I get ready for Monday! Thank you. =)

 

Memorial Day weekend and the completion of my bikini!

I’m sorry it’s been over a week since I’ve written. Not much happened last week, besides going to work each day.

HOWEVER…last weekend…well, that was awesome!

On Thursday I left the office at 1 pm and met Bryce, Danielle, and Danielle’s boyfriend John at my house at USC. Bryce’s best friend (also named John) and his girlfriend Wdee also met us there. Around 2 pm, after packing the cars, we all got on the road to head up to Camp Horn in Northern California.

Camp Horn is our home away from home, our sanctuary in the Sierras, our lair by the lake. It’s located in Pine Mountain Lake, a gated community within the town of Groveland that’s situated just 26 miles west of Yosemite.

The Memorial Day trip to Camp Horn had been planned for over two months, but after my tissue expander was removed, I started to really dread the idea of going up there. Sure, Danielle and Bryce said that we didn’t have to go swimming or kayaking in the lake, but I just knew I would be miserable staring at that beautiful glassy water.  I was almost ready to call off the trip. That was until the idea for my bikini was born!

Once I realized I could still enjoy the water even without my left breast (thank you, Waterproof Falsie), I was so excited for our trip. And really, it was everything I wanted it to be.

The first thing I did when I unlocked the door to Camp Horn on Thursday night was try on the bikini…and ohmigawd, it was perfect. Seriously, my mom is a genius. I was so so so so so so happy with how it looked that I wore it around for the next hour.

Here’s me in my awesome bikini! Can you even tell that I’m missing a boob?!

The thick straps on the bikini were very supportive so the Waterproof Falsie didn’t sag, and you couldn’t even see the pocket it sat in because my mom did such a good job with the sewing.

When I went in the hot tub, the Waterproof Falsie bubbled a little bit (tehehe) but only as much as any bikini might bubble from air build-up. And once I hung it up after getting out of the water, it only took a few hours to dry! The bead system on the Waterproof Falsie works very well. I highly recommend it for any post-mastectomy ladies who are looking for an inexpensive waterproof prosthesis!

Hot tub time!

The weekend was filled with lots of food (the boys love to barbecue), some gambling at the local Indian casino, a visit to Cover’s Apple Ranch, tons of karaoke (“A Boy Named Sue,” anyone?), a few games of beer pong, daily hot tub soaks, a rifle shoot-off, five caught fishies, and my favorite activity: kayaking!

Look at me, kayaking like a mad woman on Pine Mountain Lake!

For the first few days, the weather was rather cold and drizzly. But on Sunday the clouds broke, the sun came through, and the temperature got hot! We threw the blue kayak (named Prospero) into the truck and brought it down to the beach. My mom’s pink sit-on-top kayak was already down there. Bryce and I kayaked around the lake twice on Sunday. I spent almost an hour and half on the water.

I’m very happy to report that my arms and upper body didn’t hurt at all from the kayaking. I was concerned that the mastectomy would limit my range of motion for paddling and that it would affect my stamina. Much to my pleasant surprise, I was fine out on the water, and the next morning I had no soreness in my upper body. Yay!

All in all, the weekend was awesome. The only downside is that I have a wicked sunburn on my stomach and thighs. Naughty Rachel! I really need to start taking sun protection seriously. Does anyone have a recommendation for spray-on sunscreen that is high in SPF and non-comedogenic? I have oily and acne-prone skin, so I need to find something that won’t clog my pores. I have a good sunscreen for my face, but I want to find a product that is easy to apply for body coverage.

On a closing note, I want to take a minute to speak to any ladies out there who have lost an implant or a tissue expander after a mastectomy. I know it looks super awkward right now, being completely flat-chested on one side—but don’t let it stop you from doing what you love and being who you are. Get creative with your appearance and your solutions. If I hadn’t remembered how talented my mom is at sewing, I bet my awesome weekend swimming and kayaking would have never happened. If I hadn’t explored my options (such as visiting the kind ladies at Intimate Image who set me up with the Waterproof Falsie), I would still be cursing at the idea of putting a cotton prosthesis into a bikini top.

It sucks right now, I know. But remember that this struggle is really just a little hiccup, and you’ve got to do what you can to make it better for yourself.

Here’s what the bikini looks like from the inside, with the pocket sewn in and the prosthesis inserted.

 

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!