I am glad to be finishing up this series today. As I said in the last post, this is a topic that has not been easy to write about and I’ve wanted to hit delete a thousand times. When I started this series, I had intended it to be a series about bullying and body shaming in general. Somehow, it quickly turned into posts about my specific personal experiences over being bullied over my large breast size. I can only say plain and simply that I had not intended to write a series of four posts all about my breasts! After all, who does that? Apparently, I do. Because it’s the only experience I’ve had with both body shaming and bullying. And if Ann Voskamp has taught me anything, it’s that we can all learn from sharing our brokenness. So I’m telling my story and I hope and pray that it will maybe help others in some small way. If it helps just one woman or influences one person not to bully or to be more kind to someone else, then it was well worth it. If you want to catch up, you can go here to read Part One, here to read Part Two, and here to read Part Three.
My primary care doctor (who I really respect and downright adore) did not try to push me into having a breast reduction as he had seen first hand the complications patients went through with breast reduction surgeries. He almost scared me out of having the surgery when he told me about a patient of his who had a reduction and who would not heal. She ended up having to go to another surgeon who ended up doing a double mastectomy on her. That, my friends, was scary. But I’m grateful my doctor was honest and forthcoming with me and let me know what I was in for. He knew what others didn’t seem to understand, that a breast reduction is no easy surgery. At times, I almost felt he was trying to talk me out of having the surgery. But when he realized I wanted to go through with it, he ended up referring me to a cosmetic surgeon he thought I would like and one who he respected. He told me that this surgeon was very mathematically minded – sort of an engineer type thinker – and I needed to trust him with whatever size he thought I needed to be, because he would proportion me well. He was right. I really liked this doctor and knew right after meeting him that he would be the one doing my surgery. As with the first doctor, he told me there would be no problem with me getting approved by my insurance. One of the hardest things was having to pose for both pre-op and post-op photos (both for insurance reasons and their records). I hated getting those photos taken. It was both uncomfortable and weird.
Preoperatively, I was put in a room and met with the anesthesiologist. I was given preanesthetic drugs to help me relax and to prevent nausea. The surgeon came into the room I was in with a purple Sharpie permanent marker to mark each breast for surgery. He sent my husband outside the room for this “marking” and on the way out, my husband told him he hoped he had more than one marker as he would surely run out of ink with just the one. The doctor let out a good laugh. There was much measuring and marking and about ten minutes of real awkwardness where I had to sit up straight and tall, drop my gown, and place my hands crossed behind my head. When he finished, my breasts looked like a Rand McNally road map. When it was over, the surgeon called my husband back in and tossed the marker to him telling hubby he could have it and that it still actually had ink left in it. Ha ha.
The surgeon took me from a K cup size to a D cup. He told me that with the average breast reduction, he usually removes 1-2 lbs. of tissue. He removed 6 lbs. of tissue during my reduction. Due to my extremely large size, he wasn’t sure if he would have to remove the entire areola/nipple and then reattach it. He hoped to do a pedicle flap where he would just make a flap but keep the blood vessels and ducts intact. He said that’s not always possible with very large breasted women but he would try his best. He did try and he was successful. When the nipples and areolas are removed and then reattached, the chance of tissue necrosis and delayed healing is higher.
The surgery ended up being a much harder surgery than I had thought it would be (even after all the research I had done) and I had many complications. My left breast started bleeding when I was in recovery and the recovery nurse had to get my doctor out of another surgery to tend to me. Despite the antinausea drugs, I dry heaved and wretched which hurt my incisions. I was the last one to leave the recovery ward that day. My breast reduction was done as an outpatient surgery, unlike my sister’s surgery back in the 70s when she got to stay in the hospital for a few days.
At home it was difficult to get up off the couch or out of the bed since you can’t use your arms to get yourself up. I stayed propped up on pillows. I experienced severe pain (despite being told this was not a painful surgery), tissue necrosis, sloughing and nonhealing on the undersides of both my right and left breast. I had to undergo multiple debridement procedures for the necrosis which was not fun. Debridement is where they cut the necrotic black tissue off. I was told that breast tissue just doesn’t have a very good blood supply, and therefore heals very very slowly. I was told this AFTER my surgery and that healing from breast reduction surgery is very slow going. I was told that most women who have an easy time with a breast reduction are women who have a small amount removed, like 400 grams. The surgeon reminded me I had 1200 grams removed from my left breast alone. He said the more tissue removed, the more trauma you cause to the breast and so women who have larger amounts removed are the ones who usually have the most complications. I don’t know about you, but I would have liked to have been told this BEFORE the surgery. I developed fat necrosis in my left breast which made that breast permanently lumpy. I lost most of the sensation and feeling in both breasts. I became very depressed at about the three week mark and wondered if I should perhaps just have both breasts removed. Some of the sensation returned in my right breast but not much at all in my left. It’s basically numb all over like it’s someone else’s breast and not my own. I have bad scarring but my scars have faded. My breasts ended up asymmetrical. But as my doctor pointed out, even women who DON’T have reductions are often asymmetrical by nature. Four weeks post op, I found myself still with significant pain and still with large sloughing breast wounds. In all honesty, I was thinking I had made a huge mistake having the surgery. I was depressed. My surgeon, being a little disappointed with the non-healing tissue wounds and scarring, discussed doing another surgery to “correct” these problems. I said NO. No one was coming near my breasts with a scalpel again. Of that I was sure.
After this surgery, I developed a newfound respect for women who undergo breast cancer surgery and especially the ones who undergo reconstruction. I saw and talked to plenty of those brave women in the waiting room as one of this doctor’s specialties was breast cancer reconstruction. I’ll never forget the day I was there in the waiting room for one of my post op debridement visits. The receptionist told me the doctor would be delayed as he was called into an emergency surgery and had to leave right away. One of his breast reconstruction patients was having a severe allergic reaction to her tissue expanders. I learned a lot about breast cancer reconstructive surgery in the many weeks I sat in that waiting room talking to patients and I have to be honest in telling you, I can’t imagine going through what they go through. I’m not really sure if I could do it. I don’t think I deal with surgical pain well. I guess you never know until it happens to you and what you would do, but knowing the pain I went through with just a reduction, I admired those women for enduring what they endured.
Having a med/surg nurse for a husband was a big advantage as he was a big help with the wound care after the surgery and did most of the daily dressing changes. I came home with two JP drain tubes which needed emptying daily. These drain tubes reminded me of hand grenades and that’s what we called them…. my hand grenades. My husband was very familiar with these drains and I was not, so he did all the emptying. They were removed around day 5 when they quit draining. I wore bandages and gauze around my chest for the first three weeks to a month, then started wearing sports bras (with dressings still). It was past the 6 week mark before I went to get fitted for my first store bought bra. I was a D cup. I did eventually get to the point that I was glad I had the surgery. Buying store bought bras again was nice. Exercising without my back and neck killing me was a plus, and finding tops to fit again brought me much joy. Strangers no longer gawked at me in public.
What would I do differently or tell another woman who was considering a breast reduction? I would tell her to do her research but not to make the mistake I made and only read information from plastic surgeon’s websites. Because they aren’t going to tell you the downside, only the plus side to having a reduction. They’re only going to show you the “success” photos, not the nonhealing photos. I would advise them to read blogs by women who have had breast reductions and learn what they’re in for! I didn’t do that until after my surgery and sure wish I would have done it before my surgery. Know what you’re getting into.
Someone once made the comment to me that they bet my husband must absolutely hate me for having a reduction! For the record, my husband was 100% supportive of my decision to have surgery. He said he would love me no matter what my breast size was. He knew the pain I was in both physically and especially emotionally with having large breasts. He knew the bullying I had endured. Not long ago I found my pre-op photos taken by the surgeon’s office. I showed them to hubby. His reply was, “Oh my God, you must have been so miserable…. I had forgotten how large you were.” I have to admit, I was appalled by those photos. My breasts were freakishly gigantic. The friend who I mentioned in part one who was constantly teased at school for being flat chested used to joke with me prior to my breast reduction that we could be the first to make record breaking history. We could be the first to go through a “breast transplant” and she joked that when I had my breast reduction, she wanted to be laying on an adjacent surgery table and have those doctors transplant some of what they took off of me onto her chest. Then we would both be happy. We had a good laugh over that. I guess in the end we learned to laugh at our situations.
I turned sixty years old this past year and I still have body image issues. I suspect I always will. I don’t think one ever recovers completely from long term body shaming and bullying, that there are lasting repercussions. I realize some people won’t agree with that and it is just my own personal opinion. I endured bullying and body shaming from classmates, acquaintances, strangers, teenagers, adults, men, women, my own mother, and yes, even doctors for most of my life. It did something to me. I felt a lot of anger and grew to resent the fact that large breasted women are just about always sexualized. I did undergo some therapy but in hindsight probably needed more.
I hope my story helps someone, somewhere, especially any woman who is bullied and body shamed for her breast size. I believe the problem of large breasted women who get bullied and body shamed is much more prevalent than people realize. I think social media has probably made bullying worse as bullies can sit boldly behind their screens with hidden faces and anonymity, and type cruel and harsh words that they normally wouldn’t say to someone’s face. It’s beyond sad that human beings can be so horrifyingly wicked to other human beings. It’s both horrific and tragic that many victims commit suicide over being bullied and body shamed. IT. NEEDS. TO. STOP.