I've Started This Process Decades Too Late; Don't Put It off Like I Did (A Cautionary Tale) - Lawrence, KS
I've wanted a breast reduction pretty much ever...
Someone told me (years ago) that Victoria Secret had lovely bras that fit bigger sizes, so I went in and asked to see their big bras. The visibly uncomfortable clerk said she needed to measure me first, and after doing so, blushed furiously and said, "I'm sorry, we don't have anything THAT big here." So that was fun.
I had been very athletic since a young age, and tried everything to manage the giant mass on my chest. When doctors and insurance companies say that we should just work out more, I want to scream. They should first tie two bags of flour to their chest and then try to work out even once, let alone for years. Working out does nothing except keep the rest of your body toned; it doesn't reduce chest mass, and, at least at my size, it doesn't take care of the pain problem. And it is so damn hard to work out at my chest size. I can't jog anymore and I stopped swimming workouts the day I saw a man taking my photo with his cell phone. He wasn't subtle about it, either. You'd think that past a certain point I'd lose the ability to be embarrassed, but nope.
I have sharp neck pain, shoulder pain, and now chronic back pain. My arms and hands are numb in the morning. I get headaches that spiral into migraines. I dealt with the pain with heating pads, Motrin and Tylenol when I was younger, but the accumulated years have left permanent damage. I now have a hump at the base of my neck from posture problems. It's hugely embarrassing to me and from what I've read, I'm stuck with it regardless of a successful surgery. I've tried posture devices. They were expensive and ultimately worthless when the primary problem hasn't been dealt with. I also have such severe lower back, neck and shoulder pain that I have to take narcotic pain killers and get trigger point injections and epidurals from my pain doctor. Lately, I feel like I can hardly stand up by five pm; I've caught myself bending over like a hunched back old lady if I stand too long.
I walk, I do modified yoga, I stretch, but I am not an athlete anymore and I grieve that loss. I loved being strong, I loved movement and speed and physical self assurance. I shouldn't have waited. I delayed breast reduction surgery until I was absolutely sure that I wouldn't have any more children, and to my own way of thinking, just speaking to my own situation (this is just my opinion; not advice), I've made a terrible mistake in waiting. I waited because I had a very allergic child who did brilliantly with breast feeding, and because various family and doctors kept telling me that breasts went down in size after breastfeeding, after losing the last of the baby weight, that to lose sensation in my nipples would be the most aggravating thing ever, etc, etc, etc. I'm not blaming well meaning people; I have no one to blame but myself. I'm in charge of my health and it is madness to think otherwise.
It is especially mad to listen to doctors as if they have windblown hair from their recent descent from Mount Sinai, but I'm sorry to say I did so. I treated various doctors and their input as gospel ("What's too big, anyway," "Men like a curvy woman," "Big breasts are in style, most women would pay a lot for bigger boobs," "Don't do anything you'll regret; you'll hate being smaller," and, of course, "Just exercise").
But I shouldn't have waited. I should have pushed for surgery the moment my allergic child weaned. I mostly put off the surgery for potential future children that never happened (I wanted more kiddos but Stuff Happens. Oh, Stuff. Why are you always Happening?).
I have spent my entire life since puberty hating my body. Men talk to my chest, or try to be polite and look everywhere else to avoid the big damn elephant (or two medium sized elephants) in the room, kids in school were cruel as only young children can be, and I learned very early to put up with sexual attention from people who were old enough to know better. I have had people do double takes when I'm not wearing my usual loose, flowing clothes and it is humiliating.
It has been so strange to watch my teen daughter and her healthy relationship with her normal sized breasts. They are pretty and proportionate to her slender frame and she loves them, is empowered by them, loves buying bras, loves buying clothes, loves looking at herself in the mirror, loves the way she looks in a swimsuit. It's wonderful to see, and I'm so profoundly relieved that her body is a joy and not a burden. But it's completely alien to me.
I won't go into how it feels to go bra shopping when you are a size H. Everyone on this board already knows that uniquely humiliating, infuriating exercise in futility. I also won't speak to the experience of loving clothes, fabric, design, shopping, and knowing that the only styles available are baggy and baggier. Even the maxi-dress trend, which hide a multitude of sins and look great on everyone, were fraught with negativity for me. I love them but can only fit into the maternity size ones because I'm so top heavy. I can't tell you how many of my clothes I've bought in the maternity section of Target or TJ Max. The plus size clothes I can afford are ugly, shapeless and flat out tacky. Lovely, well designed clothing like Eileen Fisher are not in my teenytiny budget.
So. I started my long delayed but lifelong dream of breast reduction surgery last month. I've been researching it for years and years, but the first person photos and accounts on this site gave me the push and the information that I really needed. After lots of input from everyone BUT the people having the surgery, I finally got real photos, real answers, real experiences. What an amazing resource this place is!
I had an appointment with Dr Joseph Barnthouse in KCMO, but it took more than three months to get into him, and my appointment got moved once, making it even longer, so I kept looking and made an appointment with Dr Gary Hall in Overland Park. It only took about a week and a half to get in for a consultation.
The consultation itself was a bit odd. With my years of research, I went in expecting a conversation and examples. Dr Hall wasn't rude, exactly, but he wasn't warm, and he made me feel like my questions were unwelcome. I said I was concerned about shape and nipple placement, because there seem to be a huge variety of that in the before and after photos. I was especially concerned because the after photos of the plastic surgeon in my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas, actually seem to be almost square-ish with extremely low nipple placement (with the nipples almost pointing directly south;not attractive, really bizarre in fact....every single after photo looked the same). The doctor interrupted me and said "So the after pictures of middle aged women didn't look like the before photos of young teen girls? Why are you surprised?" He sounded so exasperated I didn't pursue it. When he asked what cup I'd like to reduce to, I said I knew that I am not very slender, that I'm a size sixteen (previously size ten) from a dead thyroid and I have tried unsuccessfully to lose weight but I've given up on that ever happening, and that bigger bodies shouldn't go too small, but in spite of that I really, truly want to be a C cup (I know, I know, not exactly articulate), and he said "Why? Why can't you be a C? What does being plus sized have to do with anything? If you want a C cup, you can be a C cup." So, that's nice? I guess? That I don't have to beg to be as small as I want? When I said I'd read that it's best to bring photos of before and after pics that most resemble the shape, size and nipple placement that I'd like, he interrupted me and said "Yeah, no, not necessary." So. Not outright rude, but certainly not winning any Florence Nightingale awards for bedside manner. With my bad thyroid and my chronic pain I've been to so, so many doctors, many of them lacking any sensitivity or capacity to connect or even fake a caring manner. Dr Hall's bedside manner doesn't even crack the Top Fifty playlist, however, he sure as hell doesn't make the I Love My Doctor anthology, either.
That being said, I've learned the hard bad way that I'd rather have a super competent doctor over a super personable one who only has a little game, a la Doctor House or Doc Martin, and Dr Hall seems to have mostly good reviews, and his before and after pics are pretty good. I don't think I'm going to find NY/LA level plastic surgery here in the Midwest, and frankly, at this stage of my life, I'm just trying to get boobs that will stop wrecking my health and that won't look too terribly bad. Contrary to whatever storyline Dr Hall has playing in his head, I don't expect to look like a twenty something, post surgery. I just don't want weirdly placed nipples or weirdly square-ish shaped breasts. It seems like even the biggest, saggiest boobs have a more graceful shape to them than a lot of the post surgical stuff I've seen, so I am concerned about that, but like I said, I'm at the point where I just want them reduced, period. I want to wear a pretty bra before I die. I want to wear truly trashy, filthy underwear, just once in my life. I want to wear a tee shirt without getting uncomfortable reactions, I want to go shopping without wanting to cry. But mostly, I'd like to be able to make it through the day without pain medicine, to stand up straight all day long.
I'm accepted by insurance! Better than the letter getting into college :)
I must say, I'm impressed by the masterful show of prevarication from them. Truly top notch bureaucratic maneuvering.
So, after the third round of questions via phone from the nurse, I thought, golly, this is going to be ugly. It's never gonna happen.
But then! A week after the last question (have you tried buying bras that fit better? not. joking. I fully expected the next question to be: have you tried the power of positive thinking?) I got a letter out of the blue from the insurance company saying I'd been accepted and to go ahead and schedule the surgery. I'd like to think it's because of the superior manner in which I conquered the questions, but I suspect it's really that some poor schmuck looked at my topless mugshot and went "My eyes, God help my eyes!" and stamped it in an effort to expunge the horrific sight.
So from first appointment to acceptance letter was less than two months. Very fast. I have the surgery tentatively scheduled for Feb 18, two days before my forty fifth birthday. Best present ever, no?
I am really (reallyreallyreally) nervous about the anesthesia. I've had enough surgeries to know that you always feel like you've been cut at or stabbed, no matter how competent the doctor is, but that the pain, although pretty bad, fades after a week to tolerable levels. I've had some bad reactions to anesthesia though (going numb for a few months after one surgery, waking up in the middle of another surgery). I'd love to talk the doctor into doing some local-twilight-sleepy type thing instead of general. Here's hoping all goes well. My thyroid is mostly kind of stabilized now (Hashimotos), I suspect that will help with metabolizing the anesthetic.
So I've got a list of things that need doing; hopefully working my way through them will help keep anxiety at bay. From all the reviews I've read, it seems that being nervous is part of the deal, but not a dealbreaker. I mean, we'd all suffer a lot more than scary cutting and anesthetic and cold fish doctors to get rid of the weight on our chests, right?
Cue the Hallelujah chorus! I'm post op!
I am in a lot of pain. I always read other reviews and thought, hmmm, just how bad is it really? Like childbirth bad, or broken bone bad, or just a bad cut bad? It turns out, in my personal body with my personal nerve endings, that the pain is pretty damn bad. Not childbirth bad, though.
The drive home was tricky. I brought two pillows, one to lie back on under my head, one on my chest to cushion the seat belt. I had to get the seatbelt pushed up behind my head and away from my chest because even with the pillow, it was too painful. The drive was about an hour from home, and we hit a lot of bad road because of potholes from the rough winter. My poor daughter had to drive in rush hour traffic on the freeway after just getting her license last week, with me going "OhgodOhgodOhgod gasp gasp gasp" the whole way. I'm sure she was ready to knock me out with a frying pan by the time we got home, poor thing.
I haven't been nauseated, but I also haven't really been eating. Mostly crackers and clear soda. I don't have an appetite, I'm craving popscicles but haven't even had the willpower to eat any of them. I've been taking hydrocodone every four hours; I find myself watching the clock before the next dose like a nun counting rosary beads (with veeeeeery intent focus). I know how important it is to stay ahead of the pain, instead of chasing it, and the meds do take about a half hour to really kick in, so I have been taking them every four hours on the dot.
I'm surprised by how much it hurts. I've been wanting surgery for twenty five years, have been thinking and researching for so long, and wondering just exactly what it feels like, post op, so there's a part of me standing off to the side going "Huh, ok then. This is what it's like. Pretty bad, but not a ten on the pain scale. More like a seven, and a five at the height of the pain pill cycle." I haven't really slept since I woke up from the surgery. Lots of light dozing, but no proper sleep. I'm just too uncomfortable. I'm very tired, but I just haven't been able to do real sleep yet.
My daughter has been taking extraordinarily good care of me; I've lucked out in that regard. She's keeping me very hydrated with water, mint tea and clear soda, and helping me to the bathroom. I don't know what I'd do without her, to be honest. If I have any advice for anyone's future surgery, it is this: get a competent, calm, kind caretaker. I'd be in a very bad way indeed if I wasn't being waited on; I'm quite helpless still at two days post op. I have to have help adjusting my body on the sofa, to sit up and stand up, and to walk to the bathroom. I couldn't even pull my pants down and up the first day after the surgery. My arms aren't working very well and my armpits are exceedingly sore. It didn't occur to me that there are muscles under the breast tissue (I know, kind of a bimbo, no?) because I've just always thought of my chest area as a mass of worthless, heavy fat. But it feels like I've got deep cuts under my arms, into my pits, and underneath my breasts, and every time I try to adjust my position on the sofa, or get up to use the bathroom, I almost bite through my lip because it's so painful. What I'm trying to say, rather unsuccessfully, is that I thought I'd only be using my stomach muscles to sit up and stand and walk but my chest muscles are connected to those actions as well, which means they're getting pulled even though I'm trying to just use my stomach. So I'm going to try not to move around at all if I can help it, for the next few days.
Another bit of advice is for anyone with an affectionate pet. My dog has been freaking out with a capital F, every time I whimper or moan. He's been echoing me, so that there are two of us going "Aaooowww." I appreciate his sympathy, but he's being sympathetic at the top of his lungs. He's also trying to show his love and concern by tripping me when I walk to the bathroom; after one too close call (can you imagine falling onto fresh sutures on a slate floor?) he is now showing his concern at the end of a leash that's tied to the sofa.
Also, after years and years of terrible, no good, horrible cats who despised us and only stuck around for the food, we seem to have lucked into the sweetest, cuddliest, softest (his fur is softer than rabbit fur) kitty. We've never had a cat who actively sought our company and actively pursed physical affection, so this cat is the most loved and appreciated cat in the world. My daughters and I coo and bill over this little guy like drunken pigeons. All is not well in cat paradise, however, because I now know exactly what it feels like to have a smallish adult cat land on a fresh breast reduction, which is a very specific experience.
His favorite place in the world to rest has been on my previously massive chest, which was smart, no? It was huge, soft, warm, and perfectly situated for convenient scratchies. But for the next few months, he is banned from my chest, and he's not taking the restraining order with good humor. He has been spending a lot of time sneaking up my body or around the sofa to get access to his habitual spot. So we now have a cat on a leash, tied up next to the dog. If you happened to feel the earth shake about five hours ago, don't worry, it wasn't an earthquake. It was the sound of me screaming after the cat landed on my reduction.
I'm wrapping this up for now, my arms and pits are throbbing after typing and I'm due for more pain meds (glorious, glorious pain meds, oh how I love you so...you do good work, dearest pain meds, you're true pros and I'd hire you again any time, no interview necessary)...if my arms didn't hurt so much I'd write a little poem about these heroic opiates, I think I'd call it "Dearest Pain Pills, You Rock and I love you," but my arms are in fact killing me, so the world will be deprived of great art today.
Not a good couple of days....
I don't know if it's because my health wasn't poster perfect to start with (fibromyalgia, lupus, Hashimoto's hypothyroid), or if it's because I'm older than most of the B.R. reviewer's (had my 44th birthday two days after surgery), but I'm a little discouraged about my recovery time. I had been feeling pretty good about the state of things. I've been using Manuka Medi-honey and silver cream, both of which seem to have been healing the incisions very well, much better than I'd expected, frankly. But now I'm back on the sofa and upping the pain meds and have the ice packs back in place. Not A Wonderful Day.