The Surgery Itself
First of all, DO NOT FRET. While this is a post about the actual surgery, I’ve done my best to keep it G-rated for those weak tummies out there. I personally can’t watch Grey’s Anatomy without feeling faint, so I certainly can’t imagine writing about an intensive surgery in graphic detail. Also, I am not a doctor or scientist. So if you want super specific procedural details, this isn’t the blog for you today. I am writing with the same care and level of detail I would use to tell a friend about all of this over drinks. That said... here we go:
So let's get one thing out there, LOUD AND CLEAR: I am not getting a “boob job”. I wish I was. Comparatively, it'd be a breeze!!! No, I’m electively doing something a lot more invasive. Before the implants are put in, ALL of my breast tissue will be removed. (Again, this is because my breast tissue is more likely than not going to turn into cancer and ruin all my plans for a great and fulfilling life.) So instead of getting bigger cool boobs because I think I'd look great with bigger cool boobs, I will have no boobs at all and then fake ones. (Also, I never in my life thought I'd type the word BOOB so many times and then publish it to the internet. Geez.)
Now, my surgery is going to be a little different than a traditional mastectomy and thank god for that. Typically, women get this process done in two major, totally separate occasions. First, you have the mastectomy. The tissue is completely removed and plastic expanders are put into your body, underneath your chest muscles, to prepare your body for implants. You wake up from surgery with no breasts and a very painful contraption that is inside of your body. (I have heard nothing but terrible, terrible things about these expanders.) So you go to the doctor once a week, and they inject saline into the expander using a scary long needle, which will slowly stretch out your skin and muscle. This can go on for months, and your breast looks really lumpy because the shape of the expanders is visible through your skin. When you reach your desired size, (whether your natural size or not), you are then cleared for a second surgery. They remove the expanders, put the implants in, and you heal up and move on with your cancer free life. With this method, there is also a risk for intense scarring just based on where they have to make the incisions for everything. This is the surgery I thought I’d be having, and the surgery I've always been mentally prepared for.
But then I found this superhero surgical team. I didn't know where to turn, so I just started googling and googling and googling. Like, where does someone with BRCA go in LA? LA Breast Health. Cancer risk clinics in Los Angeles area? Help? I tried all these search options, and quite a few places showed up but there were a lot of discouraging reviews. So, after hours of helplessly scouring the internet I only found ONE place that seemed like what I was looking for -- Bedford Breast Center in Beverly Hills. Naturally, this was in the middle of the night, and they had a little email form on the website. Instead of calling the next day, I literally wrote my google search terms and sent it. (Hi, I'm Kelli, I have BRCA and I don't know where to turn? But I think I want a preventative mastectomy with reconstruction? Can you help me?) And the next day, the world's nicest woman called me and just... the warmth that exuded through the phone was the safest I'd felt about my cancer risk since moving to LA.
I set up a consultation with Dr. Richardson at Bedford, and a consultation with their plastic surgery partner (Dr. Killeen at Cassileth Plastic Surgery), and my entire perception of what this surgery would look like for me was flipped on its head.
YOU GUYS. This team, these two facilities, pioneered a one-stage breast reconstruction. That means only one surgery. Both surgeons are there on the same day, and with their technique, there's no need for those plastic expanders I told you about. How they describe it is: "To begin, the general surgeon removes the breast tissue through a very small incision to minimize scarring. Following this step, the plastic surgeon inserts the implant and creates an internal bra using a special collagen substance."
It seemed like such an obvious choice to me! I've spent a lot of sleepless nights imagining what those expanders must feel like, or how I would work such a long process into my life. To know I can avoid that all together, well I feel like I'm getting off so easy.
Having said that, there's still a LOT of risk that comes with everything and a stupidly intense recovery, the latter of which I'll talk about in a different post. As for risks, they're not likely, but... I think about them often. My body could reject the collagen substance, or the implants, or just one implant. (In which I'd need the plastic expanders. LOL.) I could get an infection. I could heal in a way that looks weird. I could have debilitating pain or numbness or my skin could LITERALLY DIE AND FALL OFF. The list goes on and on and on and then on some more. But if everything goes according to plan, we're looking at only one surgery, and only one recovery. In about 6 months, there is a possibility I'd need to have a second procedure (fat grafting) to make everything look more natural and normal. But that's not confirmed -- not to mention, it's a totally optional thing and it's way less invasive.
So there you have my very loose description of what's about to happen. If you have any questions (or you're a medical professional with some criticisms or corrections) then please leave a comment below! My favorite part of sharing all this stuff has been connecting and creating a community. It makes telling "strangers on the internet" that I'm paying to have my breast tissue removed all worth it. ;-)