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Monday, October 29, 2012

Frankenstorm meets Frankenboobs

All this talk about the Frankenstorm, which is made up of a hurricane, a noreaster and a pack of lemmings, has got me thinking about the odd, piecemeal bits of flesh I've got attached to my chest: the Frankenboobs.

I know, I know, Frankenboob's Monster is the correct way to say it. But give me a break, I've got cancer.

Reconstruction after a mastectomy is something I didn't know anything about, because, well why would I? And when I was in the throws of the first days of diagnosis and surgery, it was kind of the last thing on my mind. When I visited the plastic surgeon, it was the day after I had been diagnosed. He basically said he'd take care of me, I'd be okay. And I said yes, whatever you say sir, I don't really care about this right now. You know, cause I was afraid I might die.

I woke from my bilateral mastectomy wrapped like a mummy, and pumped full of Dilaudid. My breasts were gone, and tucked under skin and muscle were tissue expanders -- balloon-like devices that would gradually stretch my body to accommodate implants at some point in the future.

Over a period of weeks, I made frequent trips to the plastic surgeon, during which he would magically inflate the expanders to stretch out the muscle and skin where my breasts used to be. And by magically, I mean that he would take a magnet to locate the inflation valve under my skin, and then inject saline into the tissue expander. I didn't watch the actual injection, but could feel the saline flowing in, and when I opened my eyes, I could see the newly inflated lump of pretend breast.

In addition to the expanders, I also drains sewn into my skin, designed to suck swelling fluid out of the body over time. I had mine in for three weeks after surgery. My body had crossed into science fiction territory.

Once the boobs are inflated to the right size, then you have what's called an exchange surgery, where the expanders and switched for permanent implants. The afterward, there are additional surgeries for things like nipple reconstruction (my plastic surgeon referred to the technique he uses as "like origami with the skin." I guess I should challenge him to paper crane folding contest to make sure he's up for it.)

I'm still at the expander stage, (and found out last week that my exchange surgery won't be able to be completed before I do radiation, so I will remain at this stage or the next several months) so my body has taken on a decidedly cubist appearance. The right side isn't too bad, it's basically the proper shape, though the balloon part of the tissue expander has some weird folds that make pokey sharp angles under my skin. It's kind of an octagon. The left breast, the bitchy, cancer-y one, is more of, I don't know, a rhombus or something. Sometimes I call it "the squished hamburger."

To complete the Frankenboobs, it will take at least two more surgeries, possibly more. When they are done, they will be made of plastic, silicone, tattoo ink, fat, and possibly skin from another part of my body.

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