Supporting women whose lives have been touched by breast cancer


by bl

I didn’t know what to expect from the expansion, but it was just like an injection. The port is located and the saline injected into it 20 mls at a time. 80 mls were injected on the first occasion and a further appointment was booked for 3 weeks time. My husband was really intrigued by it all and in no time he and the consultant were joking about me being filled with helium and floating on the ceiling! The best news for me was that all the dressings could be removed and I could have a bath or shower! For the first time I felt that my reconstruction was beginning to look like a breast, albeit about half the size of the remaining one. It still seemed a little high, a little square and very firm to the touch. I also find it strange that because the implant is under the pectoral muscle I can feel it contract if I use my right hand or arm with any pressure (such as chopping vegetables or putting something in or out of the fridge or a drawer). The surgeon says that it will round off, but if I’m unhappy with it I have the option of having it replaced with a permanent silicone implant that he can match more to my remaining breast, as they come in different shapes and sizes plus I still have the option of nipple reconstruction. The expander port has been more comfortable since the expansion, but still irks at times, usually by the end of the day.

Five weeks after my operation, my left natural breast looks normal. I still get a few twinges on the outer side of the breast and around the nipple especially when I wear the compression bra, but it’s all healing nicely. The reconstructed side is rounding off, still looks a little higher, but no pain or discomfort other than the muscle movement, which I guess I’ll get used to. I wonder if I can work on the other one and then I might be able to get them both to move to music at the same time!

Six weeks after my surgery I had a second expansion and was told to wear the compression bra for 3 more days after which I could wear any bra that was comfortable, but it should have width at the sides and back for support. I was also advised to use Bio Oil to massage into my scars. One week later, my reconstructed breast still looks higher than my natural breast and is much rounder and harder than the natural one, but there doesn’t look to be too much difference when dressed. The worst thing about shopping for a bra was the problem encountered by only having one nipple, as the partially reconstructed breast does not fill a cup in the same way as a breast with a nipple. A lightly padded moulded bra was the best option I found.

At my 12 week appointment when I was expecting no more than a discussion with the surgeon to see whether I wanted to replace the expander and have a nipple reconstruction he decided to insert more saline and over expand the breast. I had the choice of keeping the expander in which case he would remove some of the saline and allow the breast to ‘droop’ slightly, giving a more natural appearance or I could have it replaced with a permanent silicone implant which would have a more natural feel and could be better matched to my remaining breast.

The expander was very hard and I liked the thought of it being softer, although I was aware that it would still not be the same as my natural breast. I had originally been hesitant about the nipple reconstruction, although more tempted recently because it might make buying a bra easier. The surgeon said it was proven to be better psychologically to have nipple reconstruction, as it took the eye away from the mastectomy scar and after further discussion I agreed to go ahead with surgery in 8 weeks time.

After the third expansion my bras definitely fitted better and in my bra or dressed it was hard to see the difference between both breasts. Undressed was another story, as the reconstruction was a bit like a cricket ball stuck on the middle of my chest, although there was no outline of an implant, and it definitely sat higher than my other breast. I would not have wanted a nipple reconstruction if I decided to stick with this implant because I could not possibly see how they could align it with my other one. Lying in bed at night I was conscious of the cricket ball sharing my bed and if I rolled over onto my front during the night I tended to wake up feeling very conscious of it.

I’ve heard many people say how uncomfortable they have felt after an expansion, but I had no discomfort at all. I’ve also heard others say they were expanded every 2 weeks, whereas I had a much longer gap between expansions. Initially, I was disappointed that it was going to take so long, but now I wonder if that was the reason I did not have any problems and the pectoral muscle was stretched very gradually. It’s very rare now to even feel any discomfort when chopping vegetables unless it is something really hard that requires a lot of pressure.

Exactly a week before my surgery I woke in the night to find myself on my front and a strange sensation around the port. Since the second expansion I had not really been aware of the port so thought it odd, but just turned over and went to sleep. Next morning in the bath I realised that I no longer had a cricket ball; it felt a bit squishy and more natural actually. I assumed some of the saline had leaked out through the port, but during the day it deflated more and more until it didn’t look much different to when I first came out of hospital. The surgeon thought it could be the connector between the port and implant that was faulty. He likened it to the connector on a hosepipe, although he said it was unusual for it to fail at this late date and when it had worked successfully after each expansion, but he would send it back to the manufacturer to be checked out.

Mastectomy with expander

Implant Exchange & Nipple Reconstruction

Nipple Tattoo