Every woman dreads bra shopping whether you are large or small ...short or tall it's always a situation you have to get right frame of mind too do.... And it’s never fun.
My bra shopping experiences began at a rather early age and by the time I was 16 I had blossomed with a full bosom, rounding out to a 32 DDD. On a frame of 5'6" and at a 120 pounds I was quite an eye-catcher. But with such a small back size it was always a challenge as I was pulling a heavy load in the front. Swimsuits were much more taxing, as most bikini tops were rather flimsy and you had to be careful not to expose more than you planned with a quick turn. Oh, it did have its advantages…. For the most part I always looked great in clothes and was never short on dates. So life was good for a while…
I married in my mid twenties but, shortly thereafter came the first blow. I lost an ovary to an acute case of endometriosis. Now… just to refresh your memory, your ovaries produce your estrogen, lose one... And the supply naturally goes down, with the most visible result being a loss of breast firmness, and in my case more of a deflation. You see, my remaining ovary was also affected, and during the next few years I, like many others faced with my diagnosis, attempted to get pregnant via in-vitro, enduring round after round of hormone shots to conceive. And as it was the mid 1980's my failure to get pregnant, was either due to a lack of knowledge in the radical new process, or my poor little ovary was just too far gone. The end result was no pregnancy, so I focused on other aspects of my life and made the best of it.
By 1995, the other ovary had to go. Having endured increasing amount of abdominal pain, this was a welcome operation, and after many years, I was finally pain free, but my breast continued their deflation and were definitely traveling south, still getting crammed into a 32dd
As time wore on, being blessed with a pretty high metabolism, I managed to stay quite fit and keep a good figure, but no amount of arm toning or chest exercises could do much to improved my breast tone. Even my move into the usage of bio-identical hormone therapy by 2006 which helped my libido and bones, didn't do much for my breasts. They were just too far gone. In a bra, I could still look pretty damn good. The key ….however, was getting the right bra, and with a 32 chest measurement, the store rack options dwindle once you are past 32C. So I would find myself wandering The Victoria Secret stores, loading myself down with stunning bras to try on only to be bitterly disappointed with each one. Being just a smidge short-waisted, the under wires that were to provide stability and shape, just dug into my waist when I sat down. And the full load was being held up with the straps, which would feel like bungee cords as they dug into my shoulders. Oh, I could make it out with it for a few hours at a dinner in a cute dress, but they were not for “day to day” use. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you could end up with something like an iron maiden, tightly constricted and hot. So you could imagine my joy when The “semi fitted” sports bras emerged on the retail scene. Hey, these would hold you in and up and were marginally comfortable, they just kind of mashed you and if you were not careful you'd end up with a "uniboob" look.... okay nothing was perfect... Then I found it. Soma came out with an under wire soft cup sports bra that was everything I ever wanted, moderate definition, support all in one comfy package. I was still a little short in the shape department, but I was home.
Well, that dream was short lived. After about a year, I wandered back in to get a fresh supply of my new dream bra, only to be told that that they weren't going to make them in a 32 any longer and maybe I could just change to a 34??. Wrong, what pulls down the front, rides up in the back when it’s too loose. Oh, this was not a solution! So I pleaded, could they hook me up with their warehouse so I could direct by the remaining stock?--- anything?... I was a desperate woman. Eventually, I ended up calling about 24 stores from Maine to Boca Raton, ordering every one I could get my hands on. With a stockpile of about 20+ bras, I felt I had created enough of a buffer, to allow me time to begin a new search, without feeling pressured. So I handled them with loving care, anything to promote their longevity but time marches on and all bras eventually fall apart.
This time, I directed my attention on all of the normal channels but added the new emerging bra specific catalog companies, touting their favorite picks. Great progress had been made, but I found fault with each one I ordered, "scratchy straps, band buckling, riding up, fabric too thick or thin", the list went on and on. I was now hoarding my remaining bras like gold.
Now, I have been fortunate, I married a great guy, who thankfully was not a "breast Man". Otherwise it could have been a very short marriage considering my early deflation.
Then one day I hit a wall and realized I was going nowhere.
Now, I have a very unique twist to my professional background. Fresh out of high school I trained as a nurse, and went to work in the operating room on graduation, I assisted with everything, but plastic surgery, became one of my specialty areas. In the late 70's early 80's this area was really beginning to take off, and it might be a face lift, tummy tuck one day or breast implants, nose job the next. It was always great to see what they could do, not all were good, but the good ones were real artists, sculpting human flesh into works of art. Now every cut leaves a scar, that a fact. But these guys could change people’s lives with a sharp blade.
It was now my turn.
I left nursing 30 years ago, and moved onto other things, but now at the age of 56, and no matter how fit I was, my breasts were falling further and further each passing year. In my cherished bras I still looked great, but the minute they were off I could hardly bear to look at myself in the mirror. I was not going to take this lying down and since that was the only time they looked good, it took me about 15 minutes to make my mind up and decide my course of action.
If you can’t find the ”right bra”, “change the breast”.
Now the real test, was how to break this to my husband, who saw really nothing wrong with me. So on a Friday morning over coffee, I firmly announced " you know theres one thing that would mean a lot to me and that’s have my breasts reduced, to something more manageable and to make me feel more comfortable. .... so I’ve scheduled a consult on Monday." You could have heard a pin drop. Now my husband hasn't been blind to my struggles thru the years and considering my decisive tone on the subject, he really didn't put up too much opposition. I mean there are worse things you could spend money on. Why just last year when we flew to Vietnam in Business class each seat had cost me $5600. so, the effects of this investment would definitely last longer than a 14 hr flight!
Our large cosmopolitan city has no shortage of plastic surgeons, so I asked around, casually of course, but eventually I went with the practice that I had worked with in my nursing days. Established, with a good facility and a long standing reputation. I also held little hope,that insurance would pay for the procedure, it would be up to me. Fortunately, sometimes good things come with age, for us we were in a financial comfort zone. I would not let $$$ become an obstacle.
When Monday, the 24th came, I was excited and a bit nervous, I mean who wants to actually stand there with your top off to be scrutinized. My Dr bounced right in and I was immediately at ease. A good rapport is essential as you must be comfortable to bare your concerns as well as your breasts to a stranger. One wants a careful blend of experience, artistic talent and enthusiasm for sculpting a beautiful breast in a plastic surgeon. Then he told me he had done a short stint in France. Now no one loves a perfect breast like the French. I had found my guy. On exam, he also informed me that a “breast lift” not a “reduction” would be best. Ah, we all long for that - which we have not! So I confided my lifelong dream about being a C... “Hmmm” he said “you may still end up being a D, but a well shaped D. With my consult over, I had my mind made up before I had my clothes on. You see I travel quite a lot and timing is everything, I was going to be home for the next 6 weeks....just how soon could we get this done?
A few minutes later I was moved to the scheduling area, and while waiting ...my Dr, trotted back in and proceeded to show me a lift he had done the day before with photos on his IPhone. Boy! times sure have changed!....I was more than on board for this!
When I hit the schedulers desk, I announced, I’d like to have this done as quickly as possible, anything in the next 2 weeks? “Yes”, she said “but you'll need to get a few things done first to get clearance”. “ you’ll need a mammogram and EKG from your reg GP”. “Not problem” I said, “I’ll make it happen”, so she penciled me in for the 11th. I had 17 days to get it all together and prepare. Within an hour of arriving at my office, I had both my mammogram and visit to my GP for the EKG scheduled for that Wednesday and my pre-op back with the surgeon on Thursday. On my return visit, he took a much closer look and we discussed, the procedure, recuperation and allowed activities in much greater detail. And yes, I’d be ready to fly off to Vegas for a meeting 4weeks post op.
Now, came the hard part, surgery didn't scare me, but my workload at my office and at home did. I’d have to plan this with precision to pull it off. Well, there was no lying to my staff, being women, I fessed up and told them my plan. They were joyful for me. Great! Now-- what to tell my clients? Well certainly not the truth. So I decided on using a vague comment about needing some “shoulder repair work”. Perfectly acceptable, and the limitations I’d have would be in the right area and everyone would understand. During the next 2 weeks I worked close to 14 hrs days at the office and then on the weekends at home I aggressively cleaned my house from top to bottom and then hit my garden, trimming and workings as hard as I could. If, I was going to have to sit back an not “lift a finger” for a month, I needed to minimize the things that would get under my skin, like “weeds and dust”. I’d have plenty of time to sleep post op.
Overall, I only told the truth to less than 8 people, my parents of course, my sister in SFO and 2 close friends, one of which who was a breast cancer survivor. I had been with her thru her surgery and knew she would be supportive. Otherwise, I practiced avoidance, if you didn’t see them then you would not have to discuss what your plans were for the summer.
The 2 weeks passed pretty quickly and soon I had all of my ducks in a row, Rx filled, pillows in place and plenty of ice bags in the freezer. The last day I brought home everything I’d need to work from home when I was ready. Actually my only apprehension, was my tendency with nausea after surgery, I would not want to be heaving with chest incisions! Fortunately, one of my longtime clients was an anesthesiologist, son of my retired GYN. I called in a favor, told him upfront what I was up to and with time to mull it over could he come up with anesthesia plan to minimize the nausea? This way I could have an informed conversation with the nurse anesthetist the morning of surgery. I had a detailed list from him the next day and placed it in my surgery bag.
The night before….
I was super calm and home by 630pm the night before surgery. "Curveball"! One of my husbands friends had dropped by for a drink. I had a lot to do and really didn't want him in the way or asking nosy questions. His wife, was also very close friend, but I had decided not to tell her. I knew she'd be concerned and would want to help but didn't want her attentions to me to attract his notice. So I finally drove him off by by running the vacuum! By 8pm I ceremonially began the removal process, polish off and no jewelry, it took some doing but I finally greased my wedding band off. I then laid out my button front PJ top on the chaise and set 2 alarms for 530am. Then, not to ever forget why I was doing all of this I pulled out my camera and with my top off took about 10 front and side photos. I wanted my own "before" and "afters". The two previous days I had ridden my bike 10 miles each night followed with rounds of sit ups. I’d be blowing off exercise for the next month too, so I wanted my heart as well as my stomach muscles to be strong. Throughout the day I had been drinking heavily... Water that is. I wanted to be well hydrated, and took my last sips at the 1130 cutoff. By midnight I was enjoying my last night sleeping on my stomach.
I was up at the first alarm. Since I wasn't going to need any coffee, I went straight to the shower, nice and hot with a lot of soap, who knew when the next real one would be? My routine was also shortened, since I needed no makeup nor would they allow any lotion (okay, I did put a little on the bottom of my feet). Lotions primarily prevent tape from sticking .. And that could be a bad thing. Since they weren't working near my feet I figured I’d be safe.
By 640am we were in their surgery center and I was heading to the pre-op area, waiving to my husband. Yes, I was a happy camper, I wanted to be here and was "pumped" about what was going to happen. For me an Operating Room has always been a friendly place. Within minutes I had the gown on and was under an air blanket warming up. Next the anesthetist came in and started my IV I pulled my list and said "I hope you don't mind but id like to see what you think of these suggestions". She was so receptive and we were 90% on track with the plan I’d brought compared to the one she had already prepared. Great Karma!
Shortly thereafter, My Dr peeked thru the curtains and said “are you ready”? With a big smile I said ... “Come on in”. Now, for the good part…..
I stood up took off my gown and he whipped out a tape measure and a black Sharpie marker. Now I had done a little measuring of my own and I wanted them high. Just after my shower I had taken a yellow highlighter pen and drew a line on my arm .... "This is where I want my nipple to be" I announced. He chuckled, and took that big black sharpie and then proceeded to draw black lines from my clavicle to my navel and then keyholes around my nipples, all using his little craftsman measuring tape. My architectural plan was now in place!
Showtime.... Marked up and with my gown back on they walked me to the next room and I got on the OR table. Positioning is important, these cases can take 2-3 hrs so you don't need any back or leg strain. they put a big pillow under my knees and then I asked for a small washcloth for under my neck. “Comfy”? She then advised me I’d start feeling sleepy, "goody... This is best part of the ride" I said and I was out.
Waking up.... This is never fun and I tend to do it badly. You also get amnesia, everything is in a fog, you can talk to them but you won’t remember a thing! That’s why you have to have someone with you to remember for you. I vaguely recollect pulling up in our driveway, but don't have a clue how I made it up a flight of stairs and into bed. But I was thirsty! Mostly because my throat was sore from the intubation. I had the good luck and foresight to enlist my mother to be waiting for me at home by 1pm. My husband needed to tend to work matters, but she would be at my beck and call as I dozed in and out. Then I had a minor lapse in judgment. I wasn't really in pain in the conventional sense, this was more like a burning and my chest felt very very tight. I’ve had cracked ribs before and this felt the same. I just know that the first 24 hrs post op you need to keep pain in check. So at 430pm I had my mom give me 2 pain pills. Bad move. I was taking them on an empty stomach... “what was I thinking”!.
Now I was okay for a while. She left at 530 to avoid an impending rainstorm, and by 8pm I asked my husband who was now my primary caregiver for a bowl of soup. Fortunately, I have a great sewing craft room next to my bedroom, so I made my way to the desk and slowly ate my soup. Waking up a bit, I decided to turn the TV on. The local news and weather station had just reported our rain totals when they cut to a human interest story, a woman similar to Angelina Jolie who had just undergone a mastectomy and reconstruction. Then they went to interview her PS. Well it was my guy! Talk about timing.. I had the TV on for 5 minutes and he comes on? I thought I must be hallucinating and made it back to my bedroom. Thats when it hit me.. A huge wave of nausea. The price of the pills I had taken on an empty stomach! Luckily, I was prepared with a melty anti nausea strip they had given me to put on my tongue. I hit the bed and prayed. By 10pm I was in the clear, but vowed to avoid the pain pills again unless I had eaten. I had a fitful night, snatches of sleep 30 minutes to 2 hrs, but I made it thru the night. At 730am I made my way to the kitchen for a lovely cup of hot coffee. 24 hrs down! I knew that every hour that passed would just bring me closer to returning to normal.
The day after…
Thoughtfully, I had scheduled my day after visit at 1130am. After this kind of ordeal, you move slow and need to rest about 30 minutes for every 10 minutes of effort. But by 1115 I had pulled myself together and I was back in the exam room. After surgery, they place you in a special bra and pad you with thick bandages. Now with the gown open they undid the hooks in the front and carefully removed the padding. There was very little blood, just a few small drops here and there. Then, I turned to take a look. My eyes went I'm sure wide with amazement. They were perfect. High, round, and better than I had ever imagined. There was no droop, just perfect round grapefruits sitting high and on their own.
Now, this look was really helped out by the fact that they used fleshed colored tape in the crescent lines under each breast, straight up and around each nipple. He agreed they looked great and reminded me about the no exercise, lifting and over the head movements, but said I could now take a shower and sent me home, tired but thrilled.
The weekend went slowly, I did spike a small temp by Friday night, and decided to switch to extra strength Tylenol to take care of my temp and discomfort. That really that's whats it’s been so far, discomfort, not really pain just chest tightness and burning. I was also pretty faithful about using my ice packs 4-5 times a day. I was getting some swelling on the sides under my arms as the fluid drained away, the ice packs helped to keep this in check. Also, no Tshirts. Pulling anything over your head is a "no no" so I was pulling short sleeve shirts from the back of my closet. The biggest thing is just not doing the things you take for granted, like getting a glass out of the cabinet because you can't raise your arm up or get juice from the fridge because it’s too heavy. Bending at the knees to pick something up and rolling to get out of bed could just be huge issues. His great surgery skill could be undone by me in a careless moment. Typically, they don't want you to drive at least 2 days after narcotic painkillers. But, I really never took any. I couldn't drive as I just could not reach to open and close my car door!
By Monday, Three days post op, I was ready to tackle some office work in short bouts from home, with a nap or two each afternoon. See, I'm still not sleeping that good. I’m a stomach/ side sleeper. So sleeping elevated on my back is a peculiar form of nighttime torture for me. And every morning it takes me a long time to pull it together. I’m also trying to be super careful about what I eat, no exercise for a month can really add the pounds on if you are not careful, but your body need nutrition to repair it self. So each day I fill my blender with heaps of frozen banana, blueberries, raspberries, frozen cut pineapple (super good for you after surgery) and almond coconut milk. Its my antioxidant tonic. Then, I go for proteins, for lunch like egg whites and turkey. Plus my moms “old fashioned meatloaf” as comfort food for dinner with veggies.
One week down…
At seven days, it had been a long week. Getting a bit of cabin fever it was perfect timing to head back for a 7th day progress exam. Getting the hang of showering, without raising my arms too high to wash my hair and just using the hairdryer took some adjusting. But with make up on and a pretty top I felt pretty good and showed up with a big smile. I knew they would remove some of the stitches, so I took a Tylenol (first one on 4 days) just to keep the edge off in case he started mashing. Carefully he took off the flesh colored tape. I knew this was hiding the Frankenstein scars, but how bad would they really be? I had been looking at others post op photos on the internet and some looked pretty gruesome. I was braced. But amazingly there was hardly any bruising, no redness, no angry red gaping lines, but just clean tight suture lines, just about as good as it could possibly get. I was elated. The remainder of the large sutures were removed, steristrips applied, re-taped, told to keep up the good work and return in another week.
Then he said the magic words, "Oh, by the way, you can start to look for your new bra now".
I just hit the 2 week mark and things are progressing better than I ever expected. But I have paid close attention and done the following things:
- From Day 1 I have slept on a wedge pillow, elevated, on my back. I've found that having several other pillows hunder my legs and side have reduced my sleeping discomforts.
-I have kep my incisin tapes dry at all times. I was allowed to shower on Day 2, and after a careful pat dry, used the hair dryer - on COOL and a distance away to throughly dry the taped incisions.
- My Dr. had me begin a course of VitaMedica Vitamens. in addition, they also included Bromolain ( from pineapple) which has anti swelling-healing attributes. doses of Arnica Montana 3 times per day to reduce bruising. I feel certian that this has assisted my healing greatly as I had little brusing and minimal swelling.
-I had an good supply of ice packs, I found pack made of Clay at Walmart for about $10 each. These stay cold but not too cold - wrapped them each in a thin cloth napkin and would apply them 1 to each side 4-5 time per day to releive pain.
-My only drug has been Tylenol- which I seem to need 1-2 tabs, every other day.
-I refuse to lift anything heavier than a book.
-I found my 2nd week to be a bit more challenging. at 8 days post op- I ran an errand at Target and was out for an hour- I came back exhausted. when you reduce your activity- you need to build up your engery levels. The following day I forced myself to go to the grocery, and felt better. ( did not carry my bags!). I did return to work- a desk job at 10 days. and worked 6 hrs- which was too much- was wiped out, and have now a paced myself each day. Yesterday, I worked 8 and I'm really tired today. As it is the weekend I plan to rest and recharge.
-I too am experiencing electrical shooting pains at odd times. And at the end of the day the entire breast hurts (more like if I had a road rash). Ice and a warm shower help.
I feel fortunate, my incision lines are tight, no gaps or puckers and my breast are in perfect postion. I do feel discomfort at the crecent lines under each breast and wear my bra 24/7.
-I am now applying scar gel daily.