Double mastectomy & reconstruction
I'm sharing this information in hope that it will help women who are weighing the decision of whether or not to have a mastectomy, reconstruction, and even medical tattooing.
Weighing the decision
Like many women, I wanted to eliminate the risk of my cancer returning, so I elected for the drastic double mastectomy. For me, the decision was quite easy; I wanted to do anything that I could do to lower my risk. In a way, I felt that my breasts had betrayed me and I honestly didn't want them anymore. I had nursed two children, and I knew that I wouldn't need them for that purpose anymore, so the decision was relatively easy.
The decision to have reconstruction done was also relatively easy because I felt that at the age of 33, I wanted to still feel like a woman, and still feel normal. The fact that it was all covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) was a fabulous bonus as well! Although I had never before envisioned myself having fake boobs, I thought that now I would have something that might be a light at the end of the tunnel, a silver lining maybe. The fact that I would never have to wear a bra again was a definite plus!
The entire experience, as well as tips I recommend to others about to have a mastectomy or implants, are detailed over several chapters in my book.
I was put under general anesthetic for the surgery, which took 90 minutes. I had such a sound sleep when I was under, and woke up a little groggy. Initially I was a little scared to see my new chest; in fact, it took me two days to look in the mirror.
My first impression? It looked much better than I had expected. There was relatively no bruising, a little swelling, and just two clean lines that would eventually be my scars. The stitches were all hidden inside, and so it looked really amazing! The pain, mostly caused by the pressure on my chest from the 100 cc's of fluid that was put into the expanders at the time of surgery, was taken care of by a dose of Percocet every four hours.
There was literally no prep work leading up to the mastectomy itself, but there were a few things that helped after surgery was done. I didn't realize up until that point how much I used my chest muscles for, and so after surgery much of my movement was limited.
Sleeping was a little bit tough, but I found that if I slept with pillows under my arms it helped with the pain a little bit. There were also three drains in place to drain excess fluid out from the surgical sites. Within four days they were able to be removed, but I was not allowed to shower or get them wet until they were removed.
I religiously followed the doctor's directions to exercise post surgery and saw a physiotherapist for one week. Within four weeks, I had regained 100 percent of my range of motion back.
Implants and nipple tattooing
I decided to have cohesive gel implants, but this process was not a simple one. As I mentioned above, immediately following my mastectomy, expanders (empty implants with metal ports) were placed inside my chest. The were filled with fluid over the course of two months to stretch my skin to the desired size, and then an "exchange surgery" took place to exchange the expanders for cohesive gel implants.
At this point there I had no nipples--just scars from the mastectomy. Through research I learned I had one last option at my disposal to make my breasts look like real ones: tatooing. Basically an artist tatoos a "picture" of a nipple on. I thought this was a good option, mostly for my young daughter so that when we are in change rooms, etc. together I'd appear normal to her.
I found an incredible artist who does medical tatooing, Kyla Gutsche. She is an Oxford trained art professor who specializes in 3-D tatoos. She creates a believable nipple tattoo to replace the ones that were lost during surgery. Kyla's company Cosmetic Transformations is in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. I was grateful that part of the cost for the procedure was covered by OHIP.
As an aside, Kyla's work is awe inspiring and she has several before and after images like the ones here on her site--they're definitely worth a look. Despite being in a small town in Ontario, people come from far and wide for her tatoos. And there's no wondering why--she is incredibly talented. I can't thank her enough for making me feel whole again.
You can read more about my experience getting a double mastectomy, implants and the process of medical tattooing in my book