It’s Really OK
to “Give Some Back”
The year 1991 would change my life forever. Besides getting married to my wonderful husband, adopting Bailey, my umbrella cockatoo, into the family and making plans to purchase a home, I had a breast reduction. Now, almost 18 years later, I can still say that if I had it to do again, I would without hesitation. Here is the story of how I came to my decision to have a breast reduction and details of the outcome.
When my Mom took me shopping for school clothes as I prepared to enter the 4th grade, part of the ensemble was my first bra. Now most little girls are thrilled to shop for their first bra (and usually don’t need it). I, on the other hand HAD to have one, and really didn’t want it! By the time I got to school, I learned there was only one other girl that “had” to wear a bra, so we became “bosom buddies” so to speak. I hated wearing the bra. It was uncomfortable, it made the boys too curious too soon, and the girls weren’t nice either (probably because of “jealousy”).
My first school dance was awful, because of my big breasts. Scooped necklines were the fashion then, so it was hard to find a dress that wasn’t scooped. With my size, I couldn’t help but show cleavage. My Mom (very small breasted) was thrilled for me but I hated it! My friends made me pull my shoulders forward and my long hair forward to cover myself. After all, “nice girls don’t let the boys see their cleavage.”
So, I never really “liked” my breasts. By the time I was in my 20’s, my breasts were a DDD+++. Ed: is there a real size? This may be confusing… or is it humor? I really didn’t like them then. Nothing fit me right. If I bought blouses that would adequately encircle my breasts, the shoulders hung to my elbows. Everything I tried on appeared “low cut,” even though on a smaller-breasted woman it wouldn’t. I am a health care professional, so I had to be very careful to not show too much. I had trouble finding bras that were the right band size and with a large enough cup. I even special-ordered bras but they weren’t much better. I hated to look at myself clothed (and especially unclothed) in the mirror as I thought my breasts were so large they were at least odd looking, if not downright obscene.
The weight of such large breasts was sometimes almost unbearable. I fantasized about having plastic surgery to reduce my breast size, but I didn’t allow myself to think too seriously about it. At the time, I believed that plastic surgery was a luxury for the wealthy and famous. Plus, many women would think I was lucky and wonder why would I want elective surgery when the tissue was healthy?
In 1991 I was working with a patient that had difficulty using her arms due to compressed nerves in her neck. As I interviewed her, I learned that she had undergone a breast reduction. It was done to see if decreasing the breast weight would take pressure off the nerves in her neck. Unfortunately, she had waited too long and had to have surgery on her cervical spine (neck) as well. Being the perceptive person she was, she voiced that she had noticed my breast size and asked if I had ever thought about breast reduction. When I told her I had but that I had discounted it as a luxury, she scolded me. She pointed out that I use my hands to make my living as an occupational therapist and a massage therapist. She cautioned me not to wait too long, like she did, or I would be out of business.
The next time after our conversation, I asked her to disrobe and to drape with a patient-gown (so I could perform massage to her neck, shoulders and arms). She invited me to stay in the room while she changed, so I could see what her breasts looked like after her reduction. I was amazed! For a woman in her 60’s her breasts were beautiful. Yes, there were scars, but they had faded to the point that they really weren’t that noticeable. I decided then and there that the scars were a small price to pay for increased comfort and self-esteem.
I discussed it with my husband and made the appointment for a consultation, which was no charge and carried no obligation to follow through if I decided breast reduction was not for me. I did a little homework, and decided to use the board-certified plastic surgeon that my patient had used. He really made me feel comfortable by interviewing me in his office first, fully clothed. He asked me many questions to determine why I really wanted to have the procedure done, what my goals were, if my husband was supportive, etc. He described what the procedure would be, step by step, and what the follow-up care would be.
I was taken to an examining room, given a paper vest, and was left to undress to the waist. He returned and examined me, and made suggestions. By the end of the consultation, I had learned that I was an excellent candidate for the procedure, and that I would need to have enough removed for my insurance company to consider it medically necessary. I had some very real neck discomfort and serious grooves in my shoulders from my bra straps.
I decided to proceed with the procedure, and my next appointment was filled with the nurse taking photographs of my breasts from different angles, for the records. The purpose of this is much like the taking of x-rays or other images prior to any medical procedure. We decided on a surgical date and scheduled the surgery.
I also had a mammogram prior to surgery, to be sure there was not going to be any surprises. At the end of this appointment, my husband joined me in the doctor’s office, so he could talk directly to my husband. The doctor wanted to be sure that my husband was ok with my having the reduction done, and to explain to him the procedure and the after-care. I really appreciated his doing that.
The day before surgery, I had a final appointment with the doctor, to take his time in making the markings that would guide him during the surgery. It was a little odd, sitting there naked from the waist up, with a man drawing on my breasts and the nurse standing by
The day of surgery, I reported to the hospital at 6am, with surgery scheduled for 7:30. I kissed my husband and told him I loved him, and then I was off to the prep room. The surgery would last 5 ˝ hours.
What they do is remove the nipple and areola, cut a wedge of tissue out of the base of the breast, and then put everything back together again. My doctor had me purchase two “sleep bras” and bring one to surgery with me. He used this as my bandage. He covered the incision lines with gauze and put the bra on over the gauze. After surgery, I had a drain coming from each breast. The drains are a tube that leads from inside each breast to a collecting bulb. Drains are common with many surgeries, to drain off excess fluids that would naturally build up as the body’s natural response to the surgery and the healing process. As soon as I awoke, even with the swelling I could tell there was an immediate positive difference. My doctor said he had removed approximately 5 pounds of tissue in total. ??
I spent 3 days in the hospital, and was very lucky to have the best nurses during the day of and night after surgery. I was a bit sick from the anesthesia, and I did not urinate right away, so I had to be catheterized momentarily, to drain my bladder and prevent a urinary tract infection. The only precaution I had was to keep my arms at my sides, to prevent interruption of any of the stitches. It didn’t take long for me to learn that I should just stay awake until after midnight rounds (when the nurse comes in to check vital signs) to remind them of this. (ed… to remind whom of what?)
It was hard to prepare my meal for eating (opening packages, cutting meat and the like), without raising my arms, so I would stand to do the prep and then sit down to eat. Because the precaution limited how much I was supposed to move my arms, I found that using a spoon to eat (rather than a fork) made the whole process easier. I didn’t have to use any force to poke the fork into the food.
On the morning of the third day the doctor came in to check me, and to remove my drains (in preparation for my discharge home). Of course he said: “This won’t hurt!” but it felt something like having my nipples strongly tweaked from the inside and I almost passed out. Because of that the doctor wanted someone to be with me at home full-time for a few days. So, I had my parents come down to our home so that my husband would not have to take time off from work. That really was a big help.
There was moderate surgical pain, which was easily managed with prescription pain medication, but each day the pain got better and better. The hardest part was sleeping on my back for about 6 weeks. When I returned to the doctor for my first post-op visit, I had developed a rash under my arms. I had been “too” good about keeping my arms to my sides. The skin-on- skin contact mixed with perspiration and underarm- hair growth had caused the problem. The doctor was concerned, as he said that I could have infected the incision, but that didn’t happen.
During that appointment, he gave me permission to drive. I had already sent my parents packing, and I was off to the mall. My thinking was that I would have lunch, take a leisurely stroll (which would be good exercise), and I’d get in some “retail therapy” as well. Lunch was GREAT, but about half way through my “stroll” I ran out of energy. I thought that I’d have to crawl back to the car. I made it home and slept for about 4 hours! Part of the reason for this weakness was having been under anesthesia for an extended period of time. It will take a while to get endurance back. The rest of my recovery was pretty uneventful, except for a slight infection in a section of the incision under my left breast. That required an office procedure to clean out the area, a specific bandaging technique to encourage proper healing, and a round of antibiotics.
June 18, 2009 marks the 18th anniversary of my breast reduction surgery. Would I do it all over again? ABSOLUTELY! My new breasts are not perfect but I love them (and so does my husband)! There are scars, but they have faded nicely.
see a licensed massage therapist approximately twice
a month for general body care. She also treats my
breasts, and all these years later, because of the
massage, the scars look even nicer. My nipples have
some loss of tactile sensation, but they are still able to
become erect normally. I love how my breasts look! I
love how my clothes fit! I love that I can go braless! I
love to touch my breasts! Overall, I think I’m healthier.
My self-esteem is improved and my body-image has
improved, and because I like my breasts now I do my
breast self-exam as I should. With less tissue to
examine, both a manual breast exam and a mammo-
gram are more effective. My neck and shoulders don’t hurt
like they used to, so...