I was recently talking to my best friend about the process at the plastic surgeon’s office where he injects saline into my tissue expanders. She lovingly said, “so what you’re saying is, you have a pair of Reebok Pumps on your chest”. I laughed but she’s not wrong, every time after I leave the plastic surgeon’s office I feel like Dee Brown in 1991 standing at half court pumping up preparing for his dunk. He went on to win the dunk contest and turn the Reebok Pumps into a big thing for about 10 minutes in the 90’s. Me? I get pumped up and then drive home from the doctor’s office – so, yeh. pretty much the same thing.
Here’s how the tissue expander pump goes:
The tissue expanders are like thick plastic deflated pillows that were placed under my pectoral muscles. Dr. Mian preserved most of my breast skin during the mastectomy and as the tissue expanders are filled, I am left with the appearance of breasts. Sort of. They look a little odd and lumpy because during surgery he stitched and folded the extra skin kind of like how you awkwardly fold a fitted bed sheet after it’s come out of the dryer. But how does he fill the expanders you ask?
I arrive at the plastic surgeon’s office and am given a fashionable paper vest to change into. I use the term “change into” loosely because it’s difficult to feel like you’re actually IN an origami paper vest that rips when you put your broad linebacker shoulders through it and barely closes in the front. The other downside to these light blue paper vests is that they don’t stand up well to moisture. I know for a fact that some of you out there in blog-land get the sweats the moment you step into a change room. Shopping for new jeans seems like a great idea until you take you 5 pairs into a change room and start trying to hike them up over glistening legs. Putting on the paper vest and waiting for the doctor to come in elicits the same sweat, just exponentially more of it and in the 5 minutes that I have to wait for the doctor, my light blue vest falls apart and changes colour like a hypercolour t-shirt.
Then, Dr. Mian comes in and with a little plastic blue thing, that looks like it was the prize inside a kinder surprise egg, he makes a mark just above each breast area. This morning I asked what the plastic tool was and he explained that the tissue expander has a small spot that is self-closing which allows him to inject a needle, fill the expander and pull the syringe out without it leaking. There is a bit of metal just below the self-closing area which serves two purposes, 1) to help him find the right spot and 2) it stops him from injecting the needle too deeply. The plastic blue tool has a little pendulum on the top of it with a magnet inside and as he moves it over my skin he can tell where the metal piece is based on how the pendulum moves. There’s a saline bag hanging and he takes a large syringe with a giant 4 inch needle, fills it with one “dose” of saline and sticks it through my skin on the spot where the magnet says to stick it. Then we stand and chat casually while he slowly pushes the saline into the tissue expander and pretends not to notice me sweating through the vest.
During the mastectomy all/most of the nerves in my chest were cut so I have next to no feeling there. I have had a total of 8 injections (4 in each side) and felt pressure each time but just a little zing of pain twice. The nerves should heal eventually but it takes time and some may never fully come back. Dr. Mian said that they try to do all of the injections before the person can feel it which makes sense and is mucho appreciated.
I have 1 or 2 more injections left before they are expanded to the desired amount…Somewhere between mosquito bites and Tommy Lee era Pamela Anderson. Because the body and immune system is so weakened during chemo I won’t have any procedures or surgeries scheduled until treatment is over. So I’ll be waiting until early 2017 before Dr. Mian can remove the expanders, insert implants and smooth out the fitted sheets. Until then, I have the inflated, supportive feeling of my Reebok Pumps.