Breast reconstruction with breast implants: One woman's story

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Breast reconstruction with breast implants: One woman's story

Breast reconstruction with breast implants helped Jane Getting resume her active lifestyle after mastectomy.

Photo of Jane Getting
Jane Getting chose breast reconstruction with implants after her mastectomy surgery.

No amount of mental preparation could have blocked Jane Getting's reaction to her first look in the mirror after her bilateral mastectomy. In the split second before she could redirect her thoughts, two words flashed through her brain: "How ugly."

Like most women who develop breast cancer, Jane considered herself an unlikely candidate for the disease. She was only 44. She ate healthy foods and enjoyed physical activity — water skiing in the summer, walking her beagles through all four seasons. She never smoked.

But breast cancer usually strikes at random. For Jane, the ordeal started the day she found a lump in her breast.

Firmly convinced that a lumpectomy and a course of radiation would remove her cancer, Jane had scarcely glanced at the breast reconstruction photos her doctor showed her.

But when the planned lumpectomy revealed evidence of cancer throughout Jane's breast, she took a completely different course. She opted to have both the diseased breast and the healthy breast removed. That way, she reasoned, she'd never go through the trauma of being diagnosed with breast cancer again.

One factor in her decision was the availability of reconstructive surgery. In fact, it never crossed her mind not to have reconstruction. For Jane, it was all part of her journey to better health. Also, she felt that breast reconstruction on both breasts at the same time gave her the best odds of achieving breast symmetry.

Tissue expansion: Gradual, sometimes uncomfortable process

A few weeks after her mastectomy, Jane began the first step toward reconstruction — tissue expansion. At the end of her mastectomy surgery, her plastic surgeon placed saline tissue expanders under her chest muscle.

"You couldn't tell that by looking at me, of course," Jane said, "but they were there. I was flat as a board, but I could feel the expanders beneath my skin."

Having the tissue expanders in place when she woke up from surgery didn't affect Jane's post-surgical care. Initially, the tissue expanders weren't uncomfortable in themselves.

Tissue expansion involved weekly visits to her doctor to have the expanders filled with saline. This was an accelerated pace for expansion — many women opt instead for two- to three-week intervals for the expansion injections. But Jane wanted to be done as quickly as possible. As long as she could tolerate the discomfort associated with each expansion visit, her doctor agreed to the schedule.

The drawbacks of more rapid tissue expansion included the potential for stretch marks on the breast skin and discomfort during the process.

For many women, there is some discomfort associated with the tissue expansion process. Jane experienced pain that typically peaked one to two hours after her tissue expanders were filled, and tenderness and discomfort that continued for a few days afterward. The pain and discomfort Jane experienced were due in large part to her accelerated tissue expansion process. For Jane, the entire process took only eight weeks, and she avoided developing stretch marks.

Tissue expansion

Illustration showing tissue expansion

During tissue expansion, a balloon inserted under your chest muscle is gradually filled with saline over a period of several weeks or months. The gradual inflation of the balloon stretches the skin and tissue over your chest to make room for an implant.

Breast implants and nipple reconstruction

Eventually, Jane had surgery to remove the tissue expanders and place her permanent implants. The surgeon used the scars from her mastectomy surgery to make the incisions, so Jane has only one set of scars. The scars run horizontally across Jane's breasts not quite the entire width.

A few weeks after getting her permanent implants, Jane underwent nipple reconstruction. Nipple reconstruction concealed her scars to a certain degree. After two tattooing sessions to color the skin surrounding the new nipples, Jane's breast reconstruction was complete.

Jane realizes that she'll need to have her implants replaced at some point, for instance if she develops troublesome scar tissue or if an implant ruptures. And that means another surgery. "But I'm OK with that," she said. "I knew going in to the surgery that they would need to be replaced." Although she plans to wait on that decision until she's faced with it, Jane anticipates that she will have her implants replaced.

Last Updated: 05/14/2007
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