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My New Boobs Series | “Boob Beauty”

After seven months of chemo, my cancer treatment was complete and I moved on to the next action item on my list, picking out new boobs. My oncologist advised me to take no more than six weeks, as that was the recovery period usually set aside for breast cancer patients to come back from the debilitating effects of chemo before moving on to radiation.  Since I was choosing mastectomy, I wouldn’t need radiation, as long as I had my breasts removed within that six-week window.

It seemed like plenty of time to me – I’d had my tumors on the pathologist’s table just days after confirming their existence.  Initial investigations into reconstructed breast options, however, proved that what I was looking for was going to be hard to find.  None of the online photos I searched out seemed very appealing.   For the most part the reconstructed breasts looked like a pair of overly ripe melons shoved under the chest wall.

Of course I knew whatever I ended up with wasn’t going to look the same as real breasts, but was this the best modern plastic surgery had to offer?  The most common approach was to have the breast removed, and a tissue expander inserted.  Essentially an empty balloon, the expander had a port to receive saline solution, and over the course of several months the patient would go to her plastic surgeon and receive several ounces of liquid pumped in via an IV-type drip.  Once the expander stretched out the skin and muscle to the appropriate size, a second surgery would swap out the expander for the actual implant.  Then, after the implants were firmly in place, another surgery to create fake nipples would be performed.

This all sounded about as appealing to me as catching head lice.  Months of doctor visits, multiple surgeries – I definitely didn’t want any of that.  I kept searching, believing that there had to be a better way.

I read quite a bit about a procedure called the tram flap that took stomach muscles, fat and skin to create a new breast mound.  It sounded promising, but being athletic, I was very concerned about not having my abdominal muscles moved.  How would I do yoga, or sit ups, or go sledding with Bruce and the kids?  Delving into the details, it seemed this wasn’t going to work for me.

But then in learning more about tram flaps I chanced on an innovative new approach that seemed to be exactly what I wanted.  Called a DIEP flap, it essentially used your own tissue to make the new boobs: the doctor would scoop out all the woman’s abdominal fat, shape it into a breast and using microsurgery to reconnect all the blood vessels, make new ‘living breasts’ for mastectomy patients.

What a concept this was; rather than a piece of foreign material living on top of my breast plate, this surgery would let me use my own flesh to correct what cancer was causing me to lose.  And it offered other almost unbelievable advantages:  the procedure was essentially a tummy tuck, with the fat recycled into new boobs, leaving the woman with a nice rack and a totally flat stomach.  Even more amazing, the newly repositioned abdominal fat would have no idea it had been moved, so any belly busting weight gain would now land right in the cleavage – incredible!

The only problem was in the spring of 2005, there were not a lot of micro-plastic surgeons offering DIEPs to patients.  I could see why – the surgery took about 18 hours, was exceedingly painstaking and very, very expensive.  Not that I planned on letting any of that stand in my way.  I had already learned that in 1998 President Bill Clinton had signed the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act, which among other things required insurance companies to cover reconstruction while preventing them from having final say over what type of procedure a woman could choose.  So it didn’t matter if the doctors in my plan couldn’t do a DIEP. If that’s what I wanted, and there was no doctor in my network (within a reasonable distance of my home) able to perform the surgery, they’d have to pay an out of network doctor to do the job.

And just like that, boob shopping went from demoralizing to delightful!  I located some women who had undergone the DIEP and met them at their homes or once in the bathroom of a local department store, and stared in astonishment as they lifted up their shirts and showed me their stuff.

Every pair was fabulous.  These DIEP boobs hung like the real things.  They were the right shape and color, warm to the touch and while the woman wearing them had no sensation behind the skin, to the outside world, the line between real and reconstructed was literally invisible.

I was sold.  All I needed now was the plastic surgeon.  I opened up my network of available doctors and began making calls.

1 Comment to My New Boobs Series | “Boob Beauty”

  1. August 14, 2017 at 10:12 am | Permalink

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