Reconstruction & Fat Grafting Recap

After polling on Instagram this week night I discovered that almost 95% of you want more surgery/reconstruction content. So, since I have been putting this post off for about 4 months, I figured it is time to bite the bullet and share my most recent surgery recap and insight with you all. When I think about why I have been putting it off, I think it’s because I kept waiting for perfection, and complete satisfaction. After 5+ surgeries I can now  say I have accepted the fact that perfection and complete satisfaction are unattainable. My reconstructed body will never be perfect and it will never be what it was before cancer. I have finally come to accept that, that is perfectly OK.

If you haven’t been following me since the beginning you can read my previous surgery and reconstruction posts to catch up:

Before cancer, my breasts were one of my favorite parts of my body. Sure they were huge (36DD) and quite saggy for age 27 (thanks to gravity and aging), but I loved them. They were a part of me and made me sexy and womanly. Going through chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, I felt my femininity was stripped from me. I couldn’t wait for the reconstruction stage, so that I could begin to feel whole again. I saw reconstruction as the answer to my insecurities and sadness about my newly changed body.

2 days after my diagnosis

Just like with many things in life though, the things we see as the solution for our unhappiness never work out as planned. Each surgery left me with new disappointments, added recovery time and new complications to face. Beginning the road to reconstruction was a step in the right direction for me, but being such a long process I had to find other ways to reach acceptance and reclaim my body. Ultimately it was blogging, reflection, and lots of self-love practice that helped me love my body again. It definitely didn’t happen over night. It took a year and a half of ups and downs, sadness, reflection and lots of work to get to where I am now. And to be honest I still have a lot of work to do – thus my self-love goals for this year.

All in all, my reconstruction has lasted 2 years. When the plastic surgeon first told me it could take up to 2 years for the reconstruction process, I didn’t really understand the weight of her remarks. I thought after the first surgery I would be satisfied and it wouldn’t matter that there would be “touch up surgeries” down the line. Now after 5+ surgeries including 3 specifically for reconstruction, I have new perspective and insight on the process. There are a few important lessons I have learned and I am sharing them with you now.

  1. Be your own advocate – Do your research before reconstruction. Look into a variety of approaches (expanders, immediate reconstruction). Research implant types, sizes, materials, surgery specifics like under the muscle or over the muscle.  The more you know, the more questions you can ask and the more satisfied you will be with the results of your surgery. Make sure you are the driving force in the decision making.
  2. Be patient – This is the hardest part. Expanders take time, recovery takes time and waiting in between surgeries takes time. Immediately after each surgery my world revolved around my recovery, my feelings about my results and ultimately my disappointment. The more I learned to be patient and let me body heal, the less I stressed about the results. In time, I was able to reach a healthy level of acceptance.
  3. Take progress photos – Just like with weight loss, it’s hard to see growth when you are looking at yourself everyday. I am so glad that I started taking progress photos at the very beginning of my cancer journey. Those photos help me see how far I have come and how strong I am. They help me celebrate my strength, my beauty and my growth both physically and emotionally.
  4. Live your life – Sitting around waiting for your reconstruction to be perfect can keep you from living your life. When I finally let go of obsessing over my reconstruction I found I had much more time, energy and interest in living life, trying new things and connecting with others. Our disappointment and self-doubt can hold us back from greatness

OK so now that I have I overloaded you with my insight and emotional reflection, let’s get back to my latest surgery. In late August I had reconstructive revisions and fat grafting surgery. The revisions were to remove extra skin and tissue that made my foobs (fake boobs) look disproportionate. The fat grafting was also done to improve the natural appearance of the foobs by adding fat taken from my stomach and hips to my chest. The goal was a more rounded, natural shape. For reference my implants are under the muscle Natrelle Inspira Overfilled Round in 750CC (Silicone)

I knew from the beginning I wanted to get fat grafting because I mean free liposuction, why not haha? I also knew from my research that fat grafting on smaller framed women is the only way to create a more natural appearance after reconstruction. What I was not prepared for was how painful the liposuction was. I woke up from surgery in horrific pain and my abdomin and hips were painful to the touch, tender and sore for over 30 days. I had to wear compression garmets (this girdle) 24 hours a day for 4 weeks!!! I also had the typical 5lb weight limit for 4 weeks and dealt with heat rashes (yay sensitive skin), itching and the delightful post-surgery care. In terms of functioning though I was able to move around a day after surgery and started a new job 7 days later.

So you may be thinking… was it worth it? My honest answer is, I am not sure. I am now 4 months out and while the appearance of my foobs is improved, not all of the fat took. The average survival rate for fat grafting is about 60%. Did you know that you are born with a set number of fat cells and that number never changes? The reason you may gain or lose weight is because those cells grow or shrink. When moving fat around in fat grafting surgery, they go in with a scraping tool (yes that’s why it’s painful) and remove cells from areas where you have a large concentration. They then run those fat cells through a processing machine to “purify” them and then they inject those fat cells to the new location. The injected fat cells need enough oxygen and blood flow to survive in the new area. If they inject to many new cells at once the fat cells will die. It takes time to determine what amount of the injected fat cells were survive. This process can take up to 3 months. After the 3 months, many plastic surgeons will then suggest another round of the fat grafting. On average most patients go through 3 cycles of fat grafting to achieve the desired results.

At this point though, I will not be going through another round of fat grafting. In terms of the appearance I know another round would help and I would be more satisfied, but it’s just not a priority to me right now. Right now we are focused on pregnancy and a family after cancer. My reconstructed foobs will never be my pre-cancerous boobs and that’s OK.

My plastic surgeon and I will revisit the topic after children and may at that time, assuming my body has changed even more, I may go through additional fat grafting sessions. Maybe in the future, it will become a priority again, but for now I am sticking with this body I have and I am celebrating my foobs. Sure there are imperfections but they are all part of my story. I choose to celebrate instead my strength, my determination and my amazing body that has gotten me through so much.

Wherever you are in the reconstruction process, I hope you find peace and love for your body. I now know that no surgery will solve my insecurities, that was solving I had to resolve from within. I had to find love for myself and then the body acceptance followed. You are beautiful inside and out and your foobs do not define you! Rock on my beautiful survivors.

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21 comments

  1. Patricia W Leary says:

    Another awesome post, Anna. Your reflections and willingness to share so others may learn is truly inspiring. Thank you for being you! Lots of love….

  2. KANIKA says:

    Anna, I think you look absolutely beautiful and you do not need to go through anymore surgery. I had my nipple reconstruction about a two weeks ago. The left side( cancer side) doesn’t look like my right…..color is not pink because of the blood flow etc. I felt a little sad before Christmas but then I realized that no matter how many surgery I will have to correct the problem, I might just end up with other problems. So, I made up my mind that I am done with surgery all together. Like you said, our Foobs does not define who we are. I pray that God will bless you and your husband with either a princess or a prince in this New Year. God bless and always remember that you are a BEAUTY!!!

    • Anna says:

      That is kind of where I am at now too. No matter how many surgeries I have, nothing will be perfect. I am working on acceptance. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  3. Tish Z says:

    You have been an inspiration to me. I just had my reconstructive and grafting surgery last week. I’ve been following you since I got diagnosed at the end of 2016. I can’t believe a year has passed. It flew by. Mastectomy in January, my Mom passed ( from cancer) early March. She passed 2 days after my first chemo treatment. Last chemotherapy was September 5. Next, hopefully February, I get to have my ovaries removed! Thank you for sharing your journey. It has really helped me get through the past year. Many blessings to you and your husband. Hopefully, we will hear that the next chapter in your story is Motherhood. God Bless you and good luck.

    • Ambrosia says:

      Anna. Another great post on the realities of cancer survivorship.
      Thank you for your honesty and willingness to share such personal insights with others so others may learn.
      You are truly inspiring. Thank you for being you! Wishing you many Blessing in 2018!!

    • Anna says:

      I am so sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine the pain and struggle you have gone through this year and will continue to face. I am sending you love and comfort. Thank you for reading and supporting me.

  4. Amy says:

    Really admire you for sharing. Spoken so well especially bec I feel so many of the same things post recon.❤️❤️❤️ I put so much weight into the recon surgery and thought it would b the answer to all my insecurities and happiness too. No one tells you how long of a process it is. You’re a freaking warrior!

    • Anna says:

      Thank you so much for your input. I am glad to know I am not alone but I hate that you too had to go through this. Sending you love, light and leave with your recovery.

  5. Mac says:

    To any co-survivors out there it’s critical that throughout the entire process (from diagnosis through reconstruction completion) its her body and 100% of the decision making process is hers.

    As a co-survivor your responsibility is to help remember information received from the doctors and help her weigh the pros/cons of each decision.

    Even when she asks you specifically for you opinion it’s important that you do not try to convince her of any specific decision. Give your opinion as it relates to facts received from doctors and other experts, but remember that it’s her body and you have no right to tell her what she should do with her body. Not only will that cause insecurities it will also make her second guess all other decisions and take away the only control she has over the cancer. It will also turn you into the target of anger/frustration that is part of the process and will slow her ability to accept her body and love it again.

    Cancer care is more than just surgery and medicine, the mental treatment is present in every decision throughout the process.

    Love you hunny and I’m so proud of you,
    Hubby

    • Anna says:

      Mac your insight as a caregiver is invaluable. You have truly been my rock, my biggest supportive and my guidance during the toughest times. Thank you for always supporting me in my journey to self-love

  6. Amber Bergeron says:

    You are an inspiration, Anna. I am 5 years from DX date and I’ve struggled for years with my post bilateral mastectomy foobs for so long. Seeing your pictures and hearing about the struggles you’ve gone through makes me realize I’m not alone in these things. You are amazing!

  7. Courtney says:

    Thanks for sharing! Next on my list is fat grafting…I might reconsider, not sure I want to go through that within a year of the mastectomy. I want a break from surgeries for at least a year. So I’m with you! Good luck in family planning, I love following you!

    • Anna says:

      Hello Courtney, I completely understand. Take some time to live and not focus on your surgery. Maybe in a little while your priorities will change or you’ll decide your satisfied and don’t want any fat grafting. Either way time will help you get clear.

  8. Coreena Malburg says:

    Good morning, I am so brand new to this. I am probably much older then most of you but any feedback I could get I would be so grateful. First of all Anna, what a beautiful person you are inside and out you truly amaze me. I was diagnosed in Feb 2017 had my mastectomy in July and getting ready for my reconstruction on( Feb 16, 2018) exactly one year to the day I found out I had breast cancer. Not sure how I feel about this date!! Can someone PLEASE offer advice on how to mentally make your way thru this? There hasn’t been a day I have not sobbed since starting what I do not like to call a journey. I am looking for advice on how to live again and having recurrence always lingering in the background. I have never posted to anything and yet I find this site soothing and you are all so beautiful.

    Coreena

    • Anna says:

      Coreen, I completely understand. I went through that as well. Unfortunately there is not a magic pill but I think self-reflection, journaling, starting new exercise routines and getting involved in the breast cancer community really helped me. Setting boundaries was also really important for me to help with the fear of recurrence. Knowing every situation is unique and trusting I am doing all I can to live a healthy life. You can also search emotional, fear, depression or recovery on my blog to read some of my more emotionally focused posts.

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