“So, Doctor, how long should I expect to recoup after my mastectomies?”
I stare at my breast surgeon and give a slight nod of my head with a disconnected expression in my eyes.
“You should prepare to just putter around the house for a month and only leave to see the doctor.”
“How much help will I need at home?”
“I would say 24-hour nursing care for two to three days, and then eight-hour nursing care for two weeks or so.”
“This sucks,” I say without eloquence or pretense as I shake my head back and forth.
So, barring any unforeseen complications, what’s the timeline for my upcoming surgeries?
April 25th: Double Mastectomies
Until the surgery, my doctor won’t know if there’s enough viable skin on my right breast to create the new mound. (Four lumpectomies and a month of radiation have taken their toll.) If there is enough viable skin, then I’ll be released in one day. If not, and the surgeon is required to take muscle and tissue from my upper back, then I’ll stay in the hospital for three or four nights.
I’ll be sent home with two to six drains and a lot of pain medications. I’ll also leave the hospital with expanders inside my chest. As Johns Hopkins' site explains, “a breast tissue expander is an inflatable breast implant designed to stretch the skin and muscle to make room for a future, more permanent implant.”
The media tends to highlight the stories from women who are eligible for immediate reconstruction. I think it's easier for us to put our heads around that procedure sociologically and psychologically. However, the overwhelming majority of breast cancer patients who have needed or will need radiation are not eligible for this procedure. Immediate reconstruction also increases the risk of infection, and over half of the women who choose this option end up getting a second surgery at a later juncture.
May 9th: Pump ‘Em Up
Hopefully, the last of the drains will be removed when I visit my surgeon for the two-week follow-up. At that point, the doctor will inject saline into the expanders.
I’ll see the surgeon weekly for the next four to six weeks so she can expand my breasts to the desired size. (I'm assuming I'll end up with a DD cup, but we'll see.) I might need to post photos in a bathing suit top of the expansion so you all can see how they plump up!
Late June: Rest!
After the expanders are at the desired size, we wait for four to six weeks for the tissue to settle.
Early August: Implants Time!
I’ll have surgery to replace the expanders with traditional breast implants.
I’ll be in physical therapy to increase my mobility and upper body strength in the summer and fall. Once my breasts have healed, I’ll have my nipples reconstructed.
This sucks. But, like countless women before me and after me, I’ll get through it. I just keep reminding myself that this is worth it to reduce my risk of recurrence.