Breast Reduction: Fear, Excitement, and the Process

My friend Shelby and I collaborated on this blog when it was originally posted on our original blogs. Since this is moved content, it will not contain links to the original blogs.

Plastic surgery is either a topic readily embraced or shunned because of the word “plastic” and society’s association with cosmetic procedures with “Botched,” Hollywood fakery, and vanity. We are here to talk about one procedure in particular: the breast reduction. This procedure is one that almost always improves the lives of those who get them and more than not, is medically necessary. Shelby has one scheduled, and I (Brette) had one over two years ago. As Shelby comes closer to her scheduled surgery, she has some lingering worries. Having gone through the experience myself, I have an extensive response to some of those worries and how my experience went. Hopefully this will ease Shelby’s concerns, explain the process from two perspectives, and help others with the same fears and questions surrounding breast reductions.

Shelby: Welcome to our first collaborative blog post. Brette and I have a similar thing in common with our bodies, and growing up, it was extremely obvious.

When I was 12, I went straight from wearing no bra, to wearing a wired decent sized 32B. I also had weight issues as a child, so at times, I chalked it up to being a “big boned” kid.

When I got into high school, as a sophomore, Brette convinced me to tryout for our school’s Cheer team. I was dreading every moment, because I knew it would hurt. But she had done it for two years, and continued to, so somehow I could do it. She took me to this active wear store called “Aries” where they had special bras that could be customized to your band and cup size. It changed running, jumping and stunting for me.

With weight loss my body shrank and tightened, yet my boobs grew. My boyfriend, loved my big boobs. He loved telling his friends how giant they were, that they didn’t fit in button up shirts, and that they were his. I loved that my boyfriend loved my body, but I didn’t love mine. My shoulders would hurt if I walked down stairs, if I ran, or even when I took my bra off at night.

For a period of time I didn’t wear a bra, unaware that my boobs would grow even larger. On a visit to my doctor, after seeing that Brette had gotten a breast reduction and has never felt better, I asked if I could have the same procedure done: a Breast Reduction. To my excitement, it was approved so in six months, I will be flying home to have my life changed.

In one sense, I am excited, to say hello to a new part of my life, a part where my body is proportionate, and I can wear lacy bralettes and get bathing suits that match.

Alternatively, I am afraid. Of surgery, and the process of recovery that comes with it. I am afraid of the pain, the scars, and ultimately something going wrong.

I do know that I have an overwhelming amount of support. And if anything were to go wrong, I would be well taken care of. So I am confident and excited.

I plan to do a post-procedure blog, and a post-recovering one as well, so keep an eye peeled!

Brette’s experience:  This is long, so buckle down. There is an equally long post explaining the things that moved me to the decision to get a breast reduction.

I developed breasts at age nine and rapidly developed from there. I was harassed and (in retrospect) molested by peers between the ages of 12 and 18. I hated my body, couldn’t buy clothes that fit, it hurt to exercise, peers commented on or touched my body, and didn’t feel like I was respected for being me. I was a walking pair of tits.

I started watching breast reduction videos on YouTube (eek) and researching them thoroughly; learning every possible thing I could. I was primarily focused on hearing from people who had gone through with the procedure and seeing their results (I looked at a lot of boobs). I would say 99% of the things I read were overwhelmingly positive. The ones who were displeased with their reductions were only so because they got shit from other people about their choice to have a reduction. I have to say that your body is yours only and no one but you has the right to an opinion about your body. Your breasts do not belong to anyone but you, and if you want to alter them to improve your quality of life (please do so safely), no one should shame you or have an opinion about it.

At 18, I went to a private plastic surgeon that I had been begrudgingly referred to by my then, (soon to retire) primary care physician. The plastic surgeon determined that a reduction would not be covered by my insurance without ever looking at my breasts outside of my bra.

After almost half a year and a traumatic experience in the St. Vincent Hospital breast center (AKA where women go for radiation and chemo), a fibrocystic breasts diagnosis, and antibiotics; I decided to try for a reduction again. My new primary care physician was supportive and referred me to an OHSU teaching surgeon. After being naked in front of my mother and two strangers for what was actually a short visit, insurance had my reduction request from my surgeon before I left the parking garage. There was no turning back at this point, and I was finally in charge of my body.

The entire process went like this:

My surgeon felt the weight of my breasts, and then explained to her student that my breasts were dense and full of cysts. She then taught me and her student how to feel for cysts. She ran her fingers lightly over my nipples, areolas, and breasts and asked if I could feel her touching me. I could not. She explained to everyone present that I had lost feeling because of nerve damage that was also evident in the deep grooves in my shoulders from wearing bras for 10 years. My areolas had been stretched from rapid growth and I had lost sensation and sensitivity in my breasts all together.

My doctor was incredibly sympathetic and let me know that my misery was valid and that she would help me. They took photographs and she said we would schedule a surgery consultation after insurance approves the reduction. This was in May.

Fast forward to the middle of June. My reduction had been approved and I was back at OHSU with my surgeon. We went through the same poking and prodding to check for any changes, this time with a different student. Having the students present made me feel more comfortable with the process because they were there to learn and I, in turn, was learning alongside them. My surgeon asked me what size I preferred and I told her the closest to flat would make me happiest. She told me something like this:

They are working with what I was given and that they would take no more than what was proportional. Proportionate breasts have nipples’ that sit halfway between the forearm. My breasts also would not be identical because no breasts are. I should expect more symmetrical breasts after surgery, but that they would not be perfect. She warned me that the sensation I had lost in my breasts may not come back because of the damage. In addition, they would try to preserve the parts of my breasts needed for breastfeeding, but there was a chance that I would lose that ability regardless. She said that if I have children I should try, but that it is normal, even in women who have unaltered breasts, to struggle with breastfeeding. My surgery was scheduled for July.

Before surgery I had to do a mammogram- which was incredibly painful, I don’t know if this is normal or not. The day of surgery, I showed up at the plastic surgery center in my pajamas, was marked up with the medical equivalent of a sharpie, and went into surgery at 7:30 am. I was checked out and on the way home by lunchtime. They removed 450 grams of tissue, cysts, and fat from one breast and 475 from the other. They used the anchor, or inverted T, technique. I was prescribed oxycontin, but used it for one night. I primarily relied on aleve (naproxen sodium) for pain relief.

My stitches were internal. There were no drains involved. The hardest parts of recovery were being mindful of the 10 pound weight restriction and not being allowed to lift my arms more than 90 degrees to my body. I didn’t mind that my mom and grandma took turns helping me bathe.

My family was incredibly supportive and grandma wanted everyone to see my new pretty boobies (much to many family members’ embarrassment). She was so happy for me that it was borderline surreal. I also struggled with sleeping. I had to sleep elevated and the position was incredibly uncomfortable and I could feel the bed sores forming (I’m being melodramatic). I normally sleep on my stomach and sides with my body wrapped around a large pillow, so we had to wedge pillows around me to keep me from flopping around. Four weeks later, I still had weight and movement restrictions, but I could pretty much “move” on with my life.

My post surgery appointment was to talk about scar treatment and my best options. I was given a silicone paste that cost about $40. I needed a total of two bottles for scar treatment and it was worth every penny.

The surgery cost around $11,000. Insurance covered most of it as it was a medically necessary procedure and my family paid $2,073 out of pocket.

My new breasts are perfect (subjectively speaking). I actually gained sensitivity in my breasts and nipples. I look normal. I can buy clothing that fits. I’m not banished to the ugly neutral bras section of the specialty lingerie store where I would have to spend hundreds of dollars on one bra. Bras are ridiculously expensive as it is.

It’s been two years now, my scars are beautiful and barely noticeable. The only pain I feel is from my existing cysts. My breasts have settled and look natural. I sometimes forget that these breasts weren’t the ones I was born with. My reduction was the best decision I ever made. My advice to people who are considering a reduction is to read about other people’s experiences, find an advocate if you are still on your parent’s insurance (a family member or a p.c doctor), and always remember that your body is exclusively owned by you.

 

 

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