I met with the plastic surgeon…and survived

Today I met with the plastic surgeon. It wasn’t as bad as I anticipated, but it was still weird.

I was the only patient in the waiting room, and I didn’t wait long. After some brief questions and blood pressure check, the nurse went to find the doc. He was in the room within two minutes with his PA.

“I know your story and talked to the other doctors, so there’s no reason to ask a lot of questions about your situation,” he started. “Change into the gown, opening in the front, and we’ll do some measurements and photos.”

Measurements and photos? The doc and PA came back into the room. The doc had a tape measure; the PA handled some papers. “Just stand right here,” he said, unwinding the tape measure.

On both breasts, he measured the distance from my nipple to my collarbone and underside of my breast. He measured the size of my areolas and the distance from the edge of the areola to the nipple. As he measured, he called the numbers to the PA. Turns out, I’m perfectly symmetrical – for now. 🙂

Then we walked down the hall to a locked room across from the nurses’ station. It looked like a photo studio with lights and reflectors and cameras and a computer. There were two blue lines on the floor. “Just put your gown there,” the doc said pointing to a chair.

“Are these blue lines for me?” I asked. (Of course they were.)

“Um,” I said, standing on the blue lines, awkward and topless, while he logged into the computer. “I’ve never taken THESE kind of photos before…”

He laughed and said I’d get used to it. “You’re in a plastic surgeon’s office,” he said. “This is what we do. It’s not your last time…”

He snapped three photos (forward and from each side) and uploaded them to the computer. Then we walked back to the original exam room where I redressed and waited for the doc to reenter the room.

He returned with a three-tiered cart full of stuff. I asked him to walk me through all options – from mastectomy to lumpectomy reconstruction options – and he showed before and after photos of each. We started with implants (which I don’t want). He recommended the “gummy bear” implant, which is fairly new, and from my research, a lot of women like them. (Nicknamed “gummy bear” because they have a thicker consistency than other implants, almost like a gummy candy.) They do look more natural, and the doctor is one of the leading surgeons using this kind of implant. It’s also the “easiest” option – little downtime, quick surgery, little follow-up necessary. No.

We talked about total reconstruction using either a stomach muscle or a back muscle. The stomach option (and the before/after photos he showed) is intriguing. Muscle, fat, and tissue from the belly button to the hipbone is removed and shaped into a breast. Totally natural looking breasts and flat stomach – but an 8-10 week recovery and possibility of necrosis. Additionally, with the stomach, there can be only one breast reconstruction surgery. If I were to get cancer again, the stomach would be off-limits. Awkward moment: I was asking about the exact area on the stomach and the doc asked me to stand and look in the mirror. He lowered the waistband of my pants a bit to show me, then he grabbed a handful of tummy. With the other hand, he grabbed my right breast and squeezed both. “Your tummy isn’t quite as big as your breast, so we’ll have to inject fat from another area,” he said. Um, maybe.

The option using the back muscle is similar, but would require a small implant under the relocated back muscle. No.

For lumpectomy, the plastic surgeon would come into the OR after the breast surgeon removes the area around where the tumors were. Without knowing exactly how much tissue will be removed, he’ll shape, possibly reduce, and lift the breast, making it look as natural and good as possible. Since the lumpectomy will require six weeks of radiation, all other reconstruction must wait. (Radiation can cause skin changes and change in the size and shape of the breast, so it’s best to wait until the skin is healed – anywhere from four to six months after radiation is over, or in my case, right after the spring semester ends.) I’ll have a few follow ups then to make sure I’m satisfied with the size and shape (if not, fat from the tummy, butt, or thighs will be lipo’d and injected in the breast). Once the right breast is satisfactory, he’ll work on the left breast to make them symmetrical – a lift at minimum, reshaping with fat injections at most. All follow ups will be out patient, and just an hour or two each.

I asked about next steps. “Choose what’s best for you and the breast surgeon’s office will schedule with us,” he said.

By the time I got home, I knew the lumpectomy was the best option. Surgery is scheduled: July 21.

Now I’m starting to get nervous.

———————————

In other news: I went out of town for the weekend. It was the first trip I’ve taken since… I don’t know. November maybe? Not sure if I could make the drive myself, I took my mom and the kids to stay with family, about half way to my final destination. We toured a dairy farm, and I was completely fine with walking (quickly in the rain) for part of the tour. Oxygen levels seemed fine, no heavy limbs or excessive yawning. The next day, I finished the drive (another few hours) to see friends and attend a concert. It was super awesome that the band members wore breast cancer bracelets through the concert in my honor. (We went to high school with the band’s drummer, and it was coordinated through him.) I spent part of the concert sitting, but I’m okay with that. Oxygen stayed on target, and even without an afternoon nap, I was okay with the late night (although when we got back to my friend’s house, I crashed). It was a long drive back on Sunday, but I survived!

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