Breasts Are Not a Requirement: Life After a Double Mastectomy
Options for Falsies and Mastectomy Bras"Prosthetics are now much lighter weight and have a more natural drape to them," says Jackie Hester, who's logged 14 years as a certified fitter at Reflections Boutique at the Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology. "Some are triangle shapes or asymmetrical in order to match more women's actual contours." And although Victoria's Secret has yet to heed a change.org petition urging it to start selling mastectomy bras, there are some pretty alternatives on the scene. With thinner straps and lace details, the new generation of prosthesis bras adds fun to function; some companies, like mastectomyshop.com, also sell workout tops. —Sunny Sea Gold
The Angelina QuestionWhen Angelina Jolie announced earlier this year that she'd had a double prophylactic mastectomy and breast reconstruction with implants, all within a whirlwind three months, some people—including doctors—were surprised: For many women, the reconstruction process takes much longer. We asked radiation oncologist Marisa Weiss, MD, founder of breastcancer.org, to walk us through a typical timeline.
Right after a mastectomy, in an operation that can take up to four hours per breast, an expander is inserted under the chest muscle to create a pocket for the implant. "The breast tissue is taken out and the skin envelope is left behind so that all a surgeon needs to do is, in effect, put another pillow inside the pillowcase," explains Weiss. Postsurgery, some women are unable to lift anything for two to four weeks.
Over the course of multiple visits, the expander is filled with saline until the pocket is large enough to accommodate the implant. "It's a quick appointment, but fairly uncomfortable," Weiss says. The injections result in a feeling of tightness and pressure as the skin stretches. The National Cancer Institute estimates that the expansion process can take anywhere from six weeks to six months, depending on the size of the implants and the rate at which they're filled.
In a final surgery, the expander is replaced with an implant—often leading to an almost immediate feeling of relief. For women who aren't able to keep their nipples (because the tumor was too close or the nipple itself was cancerous), a different kind of plastic surgery magic comes next: Although restoring nipple sensation is impossible, "some surgeons can use your own skin and a bit of origami action to create a nipplelike bump," Weiss says. "After it's healed, they tattoo color onto it. Alternatively, there are extraordinary three-dimensional tattoos that can make skin look more like the real thing."
Full recovery time varies but, on average, it takes at least five more weeks to recuperate (every hour you were under anesthesia generally requires a week of recovery, says Weiss). Your doctor may recommend arm exercises to prevent stiffness.
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