A routine check up at the plastic surgeon’s this week, where I received some great news. The good doctor says my skin has recovered sufficiently from radiotherapy to proceed with what’s known in the game as ‘the exchange’. That’s to say the switch from the saline-filled implants – the tortoise shells – to the gel-based ones – the squishies. I am booked in for the operation next Wednesday.
Most surgeons flat out refuse to work on radiated skin, fortunately Dr. Moko is in the minority. I had prepared myself for months of waiting, however she is confident there’s no need to delay. On the day of my upcoming surgery, it will have been just eight weeks since my last radiotherapy treatment. Apparently my skin has shown remarkable resilience. I’ll never know what element of the care regime helped most – the Miaderm cream, the hyperbaric oxygen, the vitamin E oil (that made me stink like a docker, by the way) – but in combination, they’ve done the trick. And while problems could present themselves on the irradiated side at a later date, here and now I’ve plenty to be encouraged by.
It’s a far simpler procedure this time around, and while I’ll be under general anaesthetic I’ll be in and out in about an hour and can go home the same day. There will be no drains to manage, no complex pain relief regime and few restrictions to my mobility. I will have to look after the stitches, though, which I didn’t do very well last time, but I’ve learnt my lesson and will take it a bit easier.
The doctor will re-excise the cut under my right, prophylactically-removed breast and make a new cut under the left, irradiated side (the existing scar runs along the middle). This is disappointing in that I’ll get another scar on the left side, however it’s a relief too because the existing scar has healed well and I was concerned whether it’d hold up if it was cut open again. I know it’ll look okay. I’ve come a long way since my first encounter with the new me back in August. I can recall my horrified reaction and the brutality of the physical response it evoked – self-loathing manifesting as nausea and breathlessness. Yuck.
As surgery approaches, I find there are many familiar elements but the way I feel about it is totally different. The other day, I sat with the surgeon, calmly discussing which implant to choose, round or anatomical ‘teardrop’ shape. She recommends teardrop: “It’s a more natural look, and better if you’re leaner.” Breastless I may be, but I am all woman and am delighted by the compliment. Physically holding them, weighing them up, I had the sense ‘this is surreal’ but this time I could see the humour. The last time I held one, my ears were ringing and I was going out of my mind with fear and repulsion.
Next on the bizarre-but-now-normal discussion agenda – nipple reconstruction options, which would require a third surgery followed by a session with a specialist tattoo artist who draws on an areola. But Ted and I have discussed it at length and kind of like how it looks currently, so have decided not to bother. “That’s not uncommon. Nor is changing your mind. It’s completely up to you and a very personal decision.”
That it is. I want to look normal from the outside whilst living with the no-nipple deformity (horrible but accurate word). I can completely understand how some people would hate to look down and be reminded every day of What Happened. I, however, feel need to acknowledge it.
Plus I can’t be fucked with the extra surgery, choosing an areola colour and all that shit, no thank you.
Anyhoo, I take the well-trodden path from the surgeon’s office into that of the account manager’s, where I sign the paperwork and pay the (less eye-watering, but still significant) bill. I got presented with the admission forms for the hospital, and the foil-wrapped surgical soap I’m to use pre-surgery. Then the fasting rules. So far, so familiar.
Next a new twist: I need to sign the breast register. There is, ladies and gents, a centralised database with all the world’s falsies registered on it, presumably so should they explode at altitude, spontaneously combust or melt, they can do a recall. Here’s another ‘did you know’- a hallmark of any boob job (post mastectomy or not) is a lack of cleavage – there will always be a gap between the two implants. This fact ranks about 18th in the Why This Sucks charts, but hey.
Later, I say to the man I love over his birthday cake “We’ve gone teardrop, Ted. That’s okay isn’t it?”
“Yeah, natural over porno.” cheeky half smile “I suppose that’s a good thing.”
It is indeed.
As is the fact that the surgical journey will be over in a week. That, my friends, is a very, very, very good thing.