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Reconstructing Myself: Implants After Breast Cancer

In truth, this surgery comes at the tail end of eight years of struggling to get my breasts to look "right" after a double mastectomy and two failed reconstructions.
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Back when I was in school, a male friend confessed that his fantasy woman -- the woman he would marry someday if he met her -- would have tiny hips and large breasts. Fast forward to him marrying a woman to whom he had given the nickname "Mudflaps" in honor of her rather large outer thigh area. She did have very nice breasts, however. (Still does, I'm sure, although they have since divorced, so I never get to see her anymore). Apparently, back when my friend and I were in school, it was quite unusual to have both tiny hips and large breasts. One, but not the other, sure. But both? Well, not back then, at least.

See, I went to school in the 80's and 90's, before the advent of what I not-so-affectionately refer to as "McBoob Jobs." With the advent of the McBoob Job, even the waifiest of waifs can carry huge, maternal breasts upon her tiny ribcage. It's the mysogynists's dream really: make the female disappear essentially, except for the parts you can play with.

But I digress.

On June 17, I will be doing what women of my generation could only have ever dreamed of -- and jokingly at that: I will be having surgery to transplant what excess flesh I have on my butt to the place where my breasts should be. In other words, smaller hips, bigger boobs. A dream come true. But wait, there's more. Insurance will be covering the entire cost.

In truth, this surgery comes at the tail end of eight years of struggling to get my breasts to look "right" after a double mastectomy and two failed reconstructions. I was 36 when diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer. I chose to remove both breasts because I planned on surviving, and I didn't want to ever have to deal with finding another breast cancer in the future and going through the whole thing all over again -- chemo, hair loss, radiation, the whole facing-down-death thing. Once was enough for me, if I could help it. And no breasts meant no breast cancer, pretty much (okay, 99 percent).

Plus, I was vain. Still am, in fact. I didn't want to be asymmetrical. One real boob, and one implant? No.

Then this past January, I found myself on the business end of a really hilarious cosmic joke. Following a heating-pad-caused burn on my right breast and the resulting staph infection that was serious enough to keep me hospitalized for the better part of a week, my doctors recommended the removal of my right implant. What could I do but go along with it, begging all the while for a new implant as soon as the infection cleared.

In the meantime, I was now what I had done everything in my power to avoid being: asymmetrical. And did I mention that my son's bar mitzvah was in a month? I spent a lot of my time focusing on how I could hide my asymmetry with the right bras, the right inserts and the right clothing, with the end result being that (a) no one could possibly tell that I was walking around with only one boob and (b) I spent a lot of time -- too much time -- getting dressed every single day of my life.

After the bar mitzvah, and after the staph infection cleared, I was left with a large wound that was going to take a long time to heal. My plan was to have the other implant removed and go totally flat-chested. But my plastic surgeon managed to talk me out of that. He said that I was "too young to compromise." And it sounded about right. He recommended the name of a surgeon who takes butt fat and turns it into breast mounds. It's a whole microvascular thing involving the "superior gluteal artery" being transplanted and grafted onto an artery in the chest, but I will refrain from saying more than that on the technical side because the last time I tried to explain it to a friend, his face turned ashen, and he asked me to stop.

The surgeon he recommended was the same surgeon that had been recommended to me a year before, when I was casually looking into bettering my silhouette. At the time, it all seemed so frivolous. Now, it seemed like the only choice.

A few meetings later, it was determined that I would have this surgery, which is called "SGAP Flap" in South Carolina with two surgeons on the case, one for my left side and one for my right. South Carolina is, apparently, the "mother ship" for these doctors, although they also practice in New Orleans and New York City.

It made the most sense for me to go to South Carolina in mid-June because in early July, my doctor would be in New York City, which is close to where I live, and thus she would be available for me to see her for a check-up. Not that she won't be checking up on me in South Carolina, where I am setting up camp (in Charleston) for 10 days, only three of which will be spent in the hospital.

I feel more excited than I ever thought I would. I have long ago given up on my breasts. They were very nice before I had breast cancer. Then they were very hard and uncomfortable and rather ugly. Then after a second surgery, they were softer, but still rather ugly. People who have had this surgery tell me that it is wonderful and miraculous and amazing. I don't like to hold out such hope because I have had zero luck in the reconstruction department in the past. But I am optimistic in spite of myself and counting the minutes until I leave for Charleston next Tuesday.

I plan to update and let "y'all" (as they say in Charleston) know what's happening as it happens. So, stay tuned...

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