Mastectomy with Immediate Reconstruction - Wellington, New Zealand

We were living in China when I decided my husband...

We were living in China when I decided my husband could buy me some new breasts for my 39th birthday. For two years I loved them, I didn’t show them off with cleavage or tight tops but I stopped worrying about swimming, or someone turning up when I didn’t have my padded bra on, or that fact that above my bra my chest suddenly turned flat and bony…

Then, I found a lump. At first I didn’t worry, I just thought it was somehow related to the implants.

My mom and grandmother had both had breast cancer, then mastectomy and lived long and healthy lives. My Mom was very worried when I told her, and insisted I get it checked. By then we were living in India and I did try to have it seen to, but I can tell you they don’t see many women with implants in India! They really didn’t know what to do with me, they gave a lot of excuses but basically refused to give me a mammogram, an MRI or really anything at all.

Mom to the rescue again… on our next visit to NZ she had me booked into the specialist the day after I flew in. I was still thinking it would be nothing, but the Dr seemed to take it a little more seriously. I still wasn’t really worried… however, he booked me in for a mammogram which very quickly led to an MRI, then a cone biopsy, sentinel lymph node biopsy, then advice to have a bi-lateral mastectomy. It was caught very early so it had not spread, thank goodness, and I am nothing but relieved to have given my boobs to the cancer. It can have them, so long as it never comes back!

The surgery was apparently very difficult. The implants had compressed the breast tissue so that it was very difficult to get out. The tumor was high into the chest wall and close to the surface so a lot of skin was taken also. Rather than the 2 ½ hours that it was expected to take, it took 5. I had opted for immediate reconstruction so that did add to the time.

When I came out I did not feel much pain, but my chest felt tight and I felt very weak and dizzy. It did take a while to come right, my blood pressure dropped very low and I couldn’t see straight or even sit up without practically fainting. Still very little pain though, although I’m sure the drugs helped with that.

The hardest thing was coming home to my kids and not being able to pick them up or cuddle them close to me. They were really good, at 5 and 7 I gave them just enough of an explanation to understand, basically that there was a bad cancer inside that had to come out. I told them I would be like grandma and have fake boobies (they didn’t know that they already were!) and they wouldn’t even be able to tell. They knew my dad had died of cancer before they were born, so being able to see my mom was really important for them to feel secure in the knowledge I would be alright.

I stayed at my moms for a while when I came out of hospital until I thought I was well enough to come back to my mom-in-law where my kids were. We had put them into school in NZ for the first time ever, it is quite nice to think they are learning about their own country for the first time.

My reconstruction is using sizers, which are filled each week (about 40cc a time) until they are a size I would be happy with. I then can go back home (which is now Indonesia) for three months to rest my skin before flying back for an exchange to permanent, silicone implants.

So, at the moment I am at 260cc (each side) and am aiming towards 500cc if possible. Apparently my old implants were very large and had put a lot of stress on my skin, and I had a lot of skin removed with the mastectomy and tumor removal so I may have to settle for much less. As I had no breasts most of my life, even 260cc is more than the 130cc of natural breast tissue they removed!

After having silicone implants, and now the sizers I can tell you that sizers are absolutely hideous! I feel like I have boxes under my skin, they are hard and kind of flat and just really yuck. My skin is pretty much dead over the front of them but I can feel the outside edges. This is quite good, as I don’t feel the injections of saline into the sizers at all. I am having to wear a padded bra again, not due to the size, but that they don’t look the right shape at all, they are flat and wide rather than rounded. I know they will improve once I have the permanent implants so I’m just being patient…

Possible problems with the sizers

After commenting to my surgeon a couple of weeks ago that the reconstructed breasts were different sizes, this week she commented on the discrepancy of sizes and tried to balance them by adding an extra 40cc to the smaller left sizer. She has no idea why this side is smaller and is a little worried that there is some kind of leak in it. This would mean that I would need surgery again to exchange it.

The worst part would be that I wouldn't see my husband again for an even longer time, as this would set us back another 3 or 4 weeks. I could cope with the surgery, but it's already been 6 weeks since I have seen him! I know most husbands have to go back to work, but not many of them have to work in another country. The kids and I miss him terribly, even if we have such a supportive and loving family around us.

So, an extra 40cc this week in that side and monitor it closely to see if it shrinks down again - so far so good after two days!
Annie Fullerton

I am reviewing Annie as she is the one doing the reconstruction, but she did not perform the mastectomy. She is wonderful!

5 out of 5 stars Overall rating
5 out of 5 stars Doctor's bedside manner
5 out of 5 stars Answered my questions
5 out of 5 stars After care follow-up
5 out of 5 stars Time spent with me
5 out of 5 stars Phone or email responsiveness
5 out of 5 stars Staff professionalism & courtesy
5 out of 5 stars Payment process
5 out of 5 stars Wait times
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Comments (5)

Thank you so much for sharing your journey- I can't even begin to tell you how helpful this has been- the photos as well. In one week I moved from a diagnostic mammogram to a biopsy to breast cancer confirmation to learning that I will be needing a mastectomy. Your story and pictures of what to possibly expect has helped provide me with some peace during this challenging time. I will be praying for your continued recovery.
  • Reply
Dear Diane, I am so glad that my story has helped. I will be updating again soon, I'm packing up to return to my husband so have been a bit busy. My left implant did not show any leak, thank goodness, and we have finished filling them at 410cc. I am to go away for about three months while they settle and hopefully drop, before they are exchanged for the permanent implants. I can now sleep on my side (carefully) and am feeling pretty good. I do have my moments of grief though, particularly since I started the drugs. They block my hormones, so I am in a kind of menopause with all the related symptoms. The mood swings are rather embarrassing, crying in the middle of conversations can limit the topics I feel 'safe' talking about! I do hope things are going ok for you, I know how shocking it all can be in the beginning. If you ever want to ask any questions feel free to message me. Take care of yourself and know I am praying for you too.
  • Reply

Thank you for taking the time to return to RealSelf and share your updated story with us. I hope the community can be of help to you with the remainder of your reconstruction. I really appreciate hearing all the details of your experience. Sounds like you have a wonderful mom. My mom is also a breast cancer survivor...going on 9 years now. I got my 210 cc implants right before her reconstruction. As much as I dislike my annual mammograms, I'm there every year. :) Hang in there with the reconstruction. Please keep us posted on your progress. Take care!

  • Reply
Hi Beth, thank you so much for your reply. With your mother having had cancer I can see why you are very strict about your mammogram! I must admit I was not, the lump was the first time I had my breasts checked. We do not have the 'Angelina Jolie' gene, ours is hormone linked, but the genetic councilor thinks the cancer must be on a cluster of genes which still means it is hereditary. My cancer appearing 10 years earlier than my mom or grandmother is a bit of a puzzle, as she said a genetic cluster would probably dilute each generation. Still too many unanswered questions with this horrible disease...
  • Reply

I'm glad to hear your so "on top of it" with educating yourself about the cancer. I think that's half the battle sometimes along with catching and stopping it in early stages. Will pray there is no leak so you can see your husband soon! On another note, if you comment on other women's reviews, they will be able to find your review a bit more easily. Take care!

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