I was diagnosed with cancer in March of 2013. I...
I was diagnosed with cancer in March of 2013. I considered either having no reconstruction or reconstruction with implants. I chose two-stage reconstruction with implants.
May 2013 – Bilateral skin sparing mastectomy and tissue expander insertion. I work in an office and took three weeks off of work and should have taken a fourth. I was anxious to go back to work as a distraction from constantly thinking about cancer.
June 2013 – weekly expander fills
July 2013 – A nice break
August 2013 – Exchange from expanders to implants with fat grafting. I took six workdays off, although I worked at home a little after a couple of days (I had drains for a week, so I couldn’t go in).
December 2013 – Revision surgery to correct scars and additional fat grafting. I recovered over a long weekend.
December 2014 – First session with tattoo artist to replace the nipple area with something else.
What I learned:
• I struggled with full range of motion after the first surgery in May and had some additional tightness (cording) due to the testing of my lymph nodes. I thought the first expansion of the tissue expanders was painful. At the time of the first expansion, I started physical therapy a few times a week for a couple of weeks to address the tightness issues. I used a physical therapist from the hospital that was breast specialist – they used massage techniques and gave me specific exercises to do at home. This gave me immediate relief from the tightness. I continued to stretch and exercise throughout the expansion and my expanders ended up very comfortable. The expansions weren’t painful after the first fill.
• I am athletic and I was concerned I wouldn’t get my strength back. I did all things normal people do within a month of my first surgery. Initially I lost the ability to do more extreme upper body things such as a strict pull up or push up. It took me three months to get enough strength back to do one of those. It was a full year after that to get back to more extreme athletics where I was before cancer – which was the ability to do many push-ups and pull ups quickly.
• I ended up with some scars from the first surgery that were bad and needed a revision. Many people going through this process get revisions until they get the result they are happy with. If you are unhappy with your results you can get them revised although this may be another surgery.
• My tattoo artist likes to wait one year before tattooing over scars. Initially I found the reconstruction process frustrating because it seems to take a long time, but now I’m glad I didn’t get a tattoo right away. It gave me a chance to get used to how I look now and decide what I want. The emotional healing from the cancer diagnosis took me longer than the physical healing so the time didn’t matter.
• I didn’t really understand how I would look. I attached a variety of pictures. In clothes or swimsuits I can look like I used to. I think the side of my reconstruction looks the most different from normal, so I usually cover it. It took time to get used to how I look without clothes. I’ll post more pictures after my tattoo.
Breast Reconstruction Tattoo
I had my breast reconstruction tattoo started and chose Mark Evans at Anything’s Possible Tattoo. He came up with a design based on:
• I did not want a tattoo that looked like a nipple, or that type of placement. I also did not want anything that would resemble a bra – so no matching sides or placement like a bra cup.
• I picked out several flowers I liked. He could mix and match, or pick a different one. I preferred black and grey and the look I wanted I defined as soft and pretty.
• I wanted my left side to be the most tattooed to camouflage some imperfections that I did not want to bother getting fixed.
The first picture shows the tattoo in progress and the layout of the balance, the second and third is the finished section a week later. I love it and am so glad I got it. My next appointment is in a month to get more of this design done.
I had another session with my tattoo artist and he was able to finish the outline/shading on the rest of the tattoo, but still needs to put in some details. This is my first tattoo and I was worried how well I would sit through it because we would be doing some tender areas. My pain tolerance left me around the six hour mark, but I did much better than I thought I would especially since I consider myself a baby. It was a tough day, but not nearly as bad as scary cancer stuff. I would do it again and am glad I chose this route.
I go back in a month and he’ll put more details in and touch up any spots that need it.
Breast Reconstruction Tattoo
I had my final appointment with my artist and he added some details to my tattoo.
- Total time was 17 hours over three appointments. This time includes two hours of design. The balance of the time was being tattooed and breaks.
- I was charged $950.
- It was all done by Mark Evans at Anything’s Possible Tattoo. I think he did a great job and was easy to work with. Also, the shop has private rooms so it was comfortable to be without a shirt and get up and look in the mirror without a bunch of people around.
The tattoo helped me feel more like myself. I am more comfortable with my clothes off than I was before and the reconstruction feels more like part of me since I decorated it. I love the way it looks and I am glad I got it. I will go back in a couple of months so my artist can take a picture to share.
Breast Reconstruction Tattoo
I went back to my artist five weeks after the last session and I let him take pictures he could share. These are the pictures he took.
Breast Reconstruction Charlotte
I've had the implants for over 2-1/2 years. I'm pretty active and I worried initially if the implants would last. I haven't had any problems and I don't notice the implants much anymore.