Wow, its been a while since I updated the blog. Let me catch you up. In September I had the Diep Flap surgery with Dr Arya from Scripps Hospital in San Diego. This which was stage one of the reconstruction. The only down size of being in good shape is that if you even need a skin graph or transplant, they dont have much to work with if you dont have a lot of fat. After careful consideration she felt she could use the skin from my stomach rather than my back which she originally thought she would use. I was thrilled because after two kids, the loose skin drove me crazy. I was happy to say goodbye to it...on my stomach. I felt like the abs were shot from having kids anyway not to mention the hassle of drain tubes in my back and not being able to sit comfortably.
I didn't have a lot of skin to work with but the doctor did what she could. My veins were so shot from chemo that they collapsed with each poke of the needle as they were trying to get my IV in for surgery. Finally they resorted to a vein in my hand and got one that was good enough to get things started. The procedure is amazing and very innovative. Five years ago, reconstruction would not have been an option for me because of the lack of skin due to the infection. It would have been like trying to put an apple under the skin on the top of your hand. There just wasn't room. With this procedure, they reattached blood vessels and skin to allow for expander's and eventually an implant.
As I mentioned, the surgery required two surgeons for over 12 hours. They took veins from one area and attached them to the other when reconnecting blood supply. They removed part of my abdominal muscle and moved it to my chest to make a pocket to hold the implant. After the surgery I was in ICU for just over 24 hours. From there I was moved to another room for just less than a week. I was blessed to have great friends who traveled 3 hours to come visit and bring me food. I didn't have to eat a single hospital meal. I mentioned earlier that a friend of mine was diagnosed about 6 months before me. Well, she is the one that told me about Dr Arya. We were both going through the reconstruction process about the same time. I hadn't seen her since moving to AZ (she lived in CA where I lived a couple yrs ago). One day in the office, she walked through the lobby as i was waiting to be seen. we had not seen each other since having cancer and both of us looked like we had a buzz cut. We both did a double take and with tears in our eyes we smiled and hugged. She sat with me while I waited and told me about her reconstruction process and having to have another surgery. She too was going to have the Diep Flap surgery. We joked about having it together and being roommates in the hospital. To our surprise, they doctor agreed. I had my surgery on Fri and she had hers on Sat. We spent the week together recovering.
You might wonder why we had so many surgeries. Unfortunatly, the skin you are left with after radiation is tough. It shifts the implant in weird positions. This is why the need for the Diep Flap surgery. They take fresh non radiated skin and move it to the chest to cover the implant. This way, the radiated skin can be cut out and you have a softer breast that isn't being shifted around as much. The larger the person the better the look and results.
After my week stay at the hospital I was released. I had many drain tubes from the stomach and out of my chest. I couldn't stand straight for almost 6 weeks but of course, that didn't stop me from getting out. Days after I returned home to AZ (an almost three hour trip from San Diego) I went shopping. I had my mom get me a wheel chair at Dillard's and she pushed me around the store. It was so painful to laugh, but we had a great time. Her driving was terrible and she kept running into clothes and mannequins. We almost took a few out. I would laugh, then cry, then keep on shopping. After a few weeks I was able to lessen the amount of pain killers I was taking and use my arms again. Eventually, I started driving again and although I couldnt use my arms, I walked and tried to start exercising with the lower body.
I took a few pictures after the first surgery but then erased them from the camera. I had a really hard time accepting the new look. I knew I wanted to update the photos in hopes of educating people about this process and my journey but struggled with the horrible images. I knew with each surgery things would get better but it was hard to accept the images. I've never questioned why me, I have always known since day one that i was strong enough to handle this but it wasn't easy. I've been so strong through this entire process but accepting my new look is/was difficult. I didn't want someone going through this to see the images before the final product because I didn't want them to loose hope. Sadly, I tried not to look in the mirror either, I didn't want to loose hope either. With each passing day and with each surgery (6 so far, 1 to go)the scars fade and my new breast look more like normal breast.
The Diep Flap surgery was in September 2010. Once healed, I went back in for expanders in November 2010. These are implants with a port that allows the doctor to expand them once inside the chest wall. Every two weeks I would drive to San Diego and get "inflated". It didnt hurt on the non radiated side. The side with the radiation was almost unbearable. The expanders were taken out and a permanent implant was inserted in January 2011. My last and final surgery to re-adjust and enlarge the breast will be in June. I could have it at any time but I'm training for the Rock N Roll 1/2 Marathon and I wanted to run it frst. I am back to running, and teaching 8 hours of group ex per week. I feel good and feel like im getting my old life back. My blood counts are not good but I have a new doctor and she is on top of things. The cancer markers are low but we need to get the white and red blood cell counts higher. She also wants to test my bone density since I am in menopause and that takes the calcium from the bone.
My final surgery is in June 2011. The doctor will enlarge the breast and create more cleavage. In clothes they look fine but without they need a little more work. I will have to say I'm 100% impressed with her work and don't mind having perky boobs that don't fall off to the sides without a bra. Once I get the nipple reconstruction (a few months after the final surgery) I will feel normal again...or the new normal.
Overall, I'm feeling good and happy to see the finish line!