I thought I would share my experience to help put some of your minds at ease if you are planning to do expander/implants.
I had cancer in 2001 and had a lumpectomy with heavy rads. I say "heavy" because I had a lot of tissue damage that even resulted in the surgical removal of part of my breast to repair it.
In 2007 I was dx'd with another cancer, totally different from the first, in the opposite breast. This time I needed a mast for it so I opted for the bilat because I was sick of playing ping pong with cancer.
Then I discovered that because of my previous radiation history my options were limited. Extremely limited because I didn't have enough belly for a tram or and every doctor said that implants would be a real challenge because I just didn't have strong enough skin to support one on the rads side. Except my PS who is a genius, artist and the most compassionate doctor I have ever met. He uses Allo-Derm and he made it possible for me to get recon.
I had my bilat on March 6, 2007 with immediate tissue expander placement. When I woke up, I had breasts. He filled them to I think it was 300 ccs so I had a cleavage- and a perky one to boot!
I then began nine long months of chemo, during which time one of the expanders ruptured due to (alledgedly) overly aggressive lawn mowing on my part. It should be noted here that I never stop doing the normal things I did before my surgery or chemo... much to all my doctors dismay.
I completed chemo and had radiation. They had to radiate the tissue expander which was a risk for causing scarring around it. They also had to deflate the other side because the radiation beam couldn't zoom past its perkiness when I laid on the rad table. You can be sure I was not wearing any tight fitting tops for this period.
After rads my implant exchange was scheduled a couple of months later so I could heal. Two weeks before that surgery was scheduled I developed cellulits in the left breast and it was ugly. It made the breast swell and the swelling and fluid retention turned to scarring which caused contracture of that expander. Meanwhile on the right, radiated side I developed a bad case of contracture because of the radiation I had on it.
Capsular contracture is the body's natural response to a foreign object in the body that causes scar tissue. The tissue encapsulates the object and then as it gets older and stronger it contracts around the expander.
My surgery had to be canceled because the skin was really messed up from the infection. But I was in such pain. When I hear about terrible tissue expander pain... I always think, I hear that! They are uncomfortable under normal circumstances. They jut out like bumpers on a bumper car, they do not move at all. Get larger sizes if you buy new tops because you can't zip up your old ones because they don't smoosh in like breasts do. When you lie in bed they stick straight up and when you roll over they remain that way only facing which ever way you lay. Plus, there is always pain when you lie on your side because if this inflexibility. When you add contracture just multiply it by 10.
I had my expanders for a year and 4 months and 4 days. Usually people don't have them that long, but I was on the layaway plan for chemo so I had no choice.
Well, yesterday was the big day. The pain had been so bad from the contracture I was ready to have my PS remove them completely and not even put in the implants. I had a mini melt-down in his office a few weeks ago telling him, tearfully, how DONE I was with the whole thing. And he did it again. He brought me out of hopelessness.
The first time he did it was when I was first diagnosed and thought I couldn't get implants and he said I could. The second time was when I told him I knew the secret that docs never tell you- that implants look good in clothes but never naked, and he said to me without a moment's hesitation, WHY NOT? He was so confident I put all my trust in him - the first doctor I have ever done that with. And he has never let me down.
So in his office that day when I told him to forget the whole thing, he said to me, "We have been through so much with this, let's see it through." He saved me again. I said ok.
In preop he was drawing his maps on my chest and he said I had quite a bit of contracture changes even from a couple of weeks ago. He made his marks and sat there looking at me like an artist studies a hunk of clay and wonders, how am I going to make this beautiful? He is also a sculptor so I think that is why he is so good at what he does.
In the OR I had two docs trying to get a vein to work in both my feet- one each. I have had both sets of lymph nodes removed and have bilateral lymphedema so my feet are the only place I should get ivs. My feet were not cooperating and they were really hurting me. My PS stood there, and just put a reassuring hand on me and smiled in such a way as if to say, don't worry, it will be over soon. Finally I said to him, "Tell them to use my arm" and he did and then I told him to tell them what vein to use in my arm that always works, and he made sure they stopped torturing my feet and had my marguerita started as soon as the IV was in.
When I woke up he told me what happened during surgery. He gave me a detailed description. This is what I remember of it, it took three hours and he had to do a lot of repair on the cellulitis side and that is it. I never remember what the heck these docs say in recovery. He spoke to my dad outside and my dad had the same report for me. But my dad is not exactly the Edward R. Murrow of medical reports. All he wants to hear is if I am OK and the rest he thinks I will have been fully briefed on.
Now here is the good part.
I have a lot of pain on the cellulitis side which is to be expected. But the unrelenting, non stop pain I have had for months on the right side is totally gone. It feels like a giant balloon was popped. I have been in pain for so long there and in the arm, every time I moved it, I can't believe how good it feels. What a relief!
Here is the better part- all you girls with expanders read this part!
When I went to bed last night and laid on my side, it moved. The breast moved with my body and instead of being like a block of cement, it felt like my old breast again. I have not had that feeling since March 5, 2007. It is heaven.
I have no idea what these new babies look like, but right now I FEEL like my old self again. And that is a great feeling.
So I just wanted all you potential expander/implant women to read my story about what happened to me personally. Hopefully it answered some of your questions. But most of all, I hope that if you are feeling like I was, like it was torture that would never relent, it has a happy ending.
I will post again after I see what they look like.
Hugs to all,
I have to add that my doctor's name is Dr. Ron Israeli. He is artist and an angel.