The road to reconstruction
The process of gradually expanding the skin was a simple one. Near her chest, Jessica held up a wireless device that looked like a small remote control, and she pressed a button to activate the electronics in her temporary implant. Inside the implant, a reservoir contained compressed carbon dioxide. The air was gradually released in small amounts into her expander. The process could be repeated three times a day and the patient would record the amount they put in with each expansion.
“It was cool that I could wave a medical wand over my breast and control the air flow as I expanded myself,” says Jessica. “It’s a little like blowing up a balloon. You can see the expansion and feel a little of the air pressure.”
She says that she was expanded in four weeks — faster than the average saline breast implant patient. One research study showed that saline expansions can take a median of 46 days.
However, expansion varies depending on the size of the woman, the amount of air used each week, and the patient’s comfort level. “Everybody’s experience is different,” says Dr. Atisha.
Did the expansion process hurt?
Jessica laughed, “The only time it was painful was when the doctor expanded me the first time with 30 cc’s of air after surgery. I went from being big busted, to flat, and then to being expanded.”
“I’ve been 98 percent satisfied,” she says. The only downside was that a small amount of air was released each day, but it wasn’t a significant reduction.
“The released carbon dioxide is not harmful. It goes into the blood stream, and we already have air in our blood,” says Dr. Atisha. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of what we breathe every day.
After the expansion process is complete, the average patient will continue to have the expander implants in place for five months. However, patients who need chemotherapy and radiation will retain the implants for 9-12 months, says Dr. Atisha.
There are more surgeries upcoming for Jessica. Soon she will have her tissue expanders removed and replaced with permanent implants. In four to six months, she’ll be in the operating room again to have her skin grafted to create a nipple and areola and to have fat taken from other parts of her body and injected into her breasts.
Focused on the positive
As a transition specialist, Jessica helps special-education students become more independent after high school. As a double-mastectomy patient, Jessica calls herself blessed as she helps other people overcome challenges.
She looked for the positive aspects of breast cancer, not the negative ones. Her optimism was fostered by reading helpful books, posting inspirational quotes and messages on social media, and surrounding herself with an army of encouraging supporters.
“My goal was to help other people get through any struggle they were facing. I could implement my hard time so I could help others,” says Jessica. To manage stress, Jessica practiced meditation. “It was important to turn off my mind and get some good rest.”
As Jessica reflects on the past 12 months, she’s realized that she has an army of support — friends, family, community, and a surgeon whom she trusts.
She’s learned that she can continue exercising, no matter how little she can do.
She’s learned to encourage people in spite of her pain.
And she’s learned that she can say, “If God keeps blessing me throughout this journey, I’ll be OK!”
Jessica’s advice to other breast cancer patients
We’re all going to have bad days — whether or not you get diagnosed with cancer. She says: I’d encourage people to have a positive mindset and support system. Even though you may want to be private, find others who have been through a similar journey. Don’t try to do this on your own. I would definitely read encouraging books, surround yourself with good people, trust in God, and believe he will see you through.