4 Months Post Double Mastectomy Progress Report

Hi. Ijuggling-womant’s been a while since I’ve written. Life got busy fast. Working full time and managing my recovery with physical therapy is its own process; add to that two small businesses—Jeffrey’s jewelry collection and our I Married Me project—and the things of life that are part of what connects us—like friends and family, and there’s really not a lot of time to contemplate. While distractions of the mind can truly be a powerful positive force in some situations, it’s easy to neglect oneself in the meantime. I can honestly say that I use my I Married Me affirmations daily. They’re a beautiful way to set the day’s intention and remind me to love myself ever more during this period of great change. That said, I wish there were just more time to allow the flow of life to feel more like flow and less like interruption. I would love to take more time for myself and sometimes have been successful. Other times, I just harness whatever energy I can to keep all the balls in the air.

So, what it is like to live with tissue expanders for 16 weeks? For the most part, easy to get used to. Some of the challenges in detail below. It’s been such a temporary mind state that I just keep banking on the next surgery to set things right and so I live in the void. April 3 is the exchange surgery and while the expanders have been livable, I’m really ready to move on.

Things to know about PBM with expanders:

– The Shelf: I’ve used this term before to describe the tightness across my chest. It continued to feel like I had an attachment or shelf on my chest. All the way across it was like a unit. It moved as one. But the amazing thing? Around 4 weeks ago, weekly soft tissue work by my PT totally opened the tightness and I woke up one day finally feeling things a bit more distinctly in both breasts. I now had new sensations: I could feel separate movement, especially when I leaned over. The tightness is so much less that I’m not aware of it at all times. I feel it most at night trying to roll over on to my side and certain uses of my upper body through the day.

– Range of Motion: I’ve been fortunate to regain my range pretty quickly. I prepared with 3x weekly yoga and 2x weekly PT prior to surgery; started very limited at-home PT two weeks after surgery; and once I was cleared to go to PT, we began with range of motion work until I was cleared for strength. Imagine arm windmills, angel wings, and star gazing. I continue to do the same PT exercises-only now with weights added (see Strength below). It was an accomplishment to go from 1 to 2 then finally to 3 pound weights over the multi-weeks PT regimine. An exercise in patience and releasing expectation as well.

– Strength: Muscles were cut and have to be retrained to turn on. I use my hands thinking they will be strong but without the lats working my arms are weakened which means my hand strength is as well. I strain to open a heavy door,  twist open a tight cap or lid on a jar or pull open a file cabinet drawer. Strength training has been slow going but I’m getting there. We use therabands, the reformer, and weights to work my lat muscles and shoulder joints and core exercises to strengthen my abs and back muscles.

– I Feel My Pecs In my Boobs: Yes, it’s true. That said above about strength, do you know how many things you do with your hands and arms that involve your pecs? Lots! But until your pecs have been pushed out to form a breast, you don’t really notice the everyday small things. Those same aforementioned activities…opening a door, twisting a lid, plus wisking a sauce, lifting a bag of light groceries, pulling a chair forward. Hello boobs, you announce yourselves with a contraction and I’m not used to it yet! I find myself cupping them or gently placing my hands over them at odd times as the muscles wake up and remind me of my new form, forgetting that I may be in public and seen as that woman obsessed with touching her boobs.

– Pec Under Arm Tightness: Just as I started strength training and yoga 2x week, my right pec muscle under my arm decides to stay in what felt like a state of constant contraction. It was a low level pain. A 1 or 2 out of 5 and it wanted to be kneaded regularly because it was begging to release. You forget in public sometimes and catch yourself rubbing your underarm area and wonder what people must have been thinking! There goes that boob and underarm obsessed woman again. Weekly PT to the rescue. Massage and certain subtle movements helped it unlock. Also Arnica gel is helpful for tight muscles. Like the shelf feeling, when this too released, I knew I was getting really close to feeling like like me again. I did stop yoga and PT for 2 weeks in order to give that muscle a chance to breathe. When I resumed both, it continued to progress normally.

– Shoulder and Back Pain: My 5-hour limit before I got a burning sensation down my left shoulder and across my back, requiring a heating pad also subsided 4 weeks ago. Huge! What a relief. It must mean that my thoracic spine has been getting stronger and giving my posture support again, taking the pressure off my shoulders and also relieving my back muscles from holding it all up. Atlas, your job is done. —PS I highly recommend a foam roller for your back. Just laying over it with your arms in a “t” and also star gazing with elbows bent and hands under your head opens up your chest and shoulders and stretches you in the most delicious ways.

– I Feel The Ports: The expanders have metal ports in each implant—this allowed them to be filled over time to stretch the skin and muscle slowly. The expanders’ hardness probably has something to do with these metal plates I affectionately call rocks. Just another side effect…they feel hard and jab me when I lean over. Not painful. Just there.


– Thin Skin: While I learned when I was young and the hard way to have thick skin, that didn’t exactly translate to my boobs. You can see a line on the left side of my left breast that I thought was the seam of the implant but my surgeon explained the other day at my pre-op appointment that it was actually the line connecting the pec muscle to the alloderm material. Time to add fat grafting to the exchange surgery. I figured there would be some revisions needed and I’m happy my body can provide a solution. I will welcome those pearls from my hips and hope they take.

Please know, this has all been doable, livable, manageable. I am constantly humbled knowing that these surgeries extended my quality of life by giving me the chance to avoid a breast cancer and ovarian cancer (I had a BSO to remove my ovaries and Fallopian tubes last August) diagnosis. I am so incredibly grateful for the science that gave me this escape. I hope that by reporting the progress, the next woman that finds this blog has a chance to prepare for a similar procedure with just a bit more info from another’s personal experience.

See you again on the other side of my final surgery. Mwah.