I ended my 35-hour per week pre-professional training the same week I turned sixteen thanks to a back injury. A year later I had been on and off to varying degrees, so I officially quit at the end of January 2013.
And that’s basically when I went through a very late burst of puberty, including but not limited to weight gain, a growth spurt, hip development and most importantly, my chest grew. Real big.
Here’s the thing with boobs. If you have little ones, you want big ones. You buy push up bras and low cut shirts and arch your back in photographs to show them off. If you have big ones, you want little ones. You wear regular bras and normal cut shirts and stand in a way that doesn’t accentuate the bulging shape of your chest.
And then if you’ve got mine, which were unusually large, you hate them. Well, I guess I can only speak from personal experience. At their largest, I was spending $130+ per bra at a specialty store an hour and a half away from where I lived. I was wearing 2-3 sports bras when participating in any sort of physical activity. I owned one singular bikini top in black from a plus-sized swim shop. And I came home from shopping excursions frustrated that I couldn’t find any shirts that fit my smaller frame but extra-extra-large chest.
Don’t even get me started on the deep red lines I would have by the time I was going to bed each night, or the back pains that would ensue, on top of the back injury I was already dealing with. And I can’t remember the last time I lay on my stomach comfortably.
So for me, a breast reduction was something I absolutely always wanted.
Back in July of last year, I was just about reaching my limit with them. I was hiking a lot and swimming a lot as it was the middle of summer, and I was getting more and more frustrated that I couldn’t find comfortable sports bras, swim suits and clothing to fit. I sought out one of the few female plastic surgeons in town and booked a consultation. Unfortunately, because she was a private doctor, she didn’t work via government funding, and wanted to charge upwards of $8000 for the procedure. So I kind of put the plans on the back burner.
Then in September, I was struggling with very severe back pains again, and even went for more x-rays and nuclear radiology scans to see if my back problems had returned (worst case scenario my fractures hadn’t healed – thank god that wasn’t the case).
Although my GP wasn’t able to give a quick fix to my back pains, she did ask if there was anything I wanted to be done. Immediately I mentioned the surgery. And right then and there, I was put on a wait list to get a completely covered-by-the-government breast reduction.
And then they said the wait time was at least a year. Great. I had plans to graduate in eleven months from then, and go traveling soon after. How was I meant to get surgery if I planned to be on the other side of the world!? Regardless, I took the slot.
Only a few weeks later, I got a call saying that there had been a cancellation for the consultation appointment, and if I wanted to come in, there was a time slot for early December. I was shocked.
Come December, I was so ready. The consultation happened at Vancouver General Hospital and I basically discussed with the doctor why I wanted the procedure and what size I ultimately wanted to be. We went through all the pros and cons and all potential complications and I left in a euphoric mood. The only downside? The surgery wait list was again, at least a year. And again, I wasn’t expecting to necessarily be in Vancouver.
Then, one rainy February afternoon, I got a call from the hospital, saying they had had a last minute cancellation for the procedure. And by last minute, I mean the available slot was 9 days away. I just about lost it in the middle of the main walkway of my university.
Of course, I took the slot. The timing couldn’t have been better. It was the day before my university reading week, meaning I had a full week to lie about at home recovering. It was scheduled the day before my 20th birthday, which was coincidentally the four-year anniversary of me breaking my spine.
The 6-week no exercise limit would end just as university would end, meaning I could still hike and swim all summer long. The 6-month post-op would happen at the end of August, just as I was finishing my final semester of my undergrad, giving me three full months before I planned to leave. In other words, it was fate.
They were a little non-communicative in terms of prepping, and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Thanks to my roommate I knew I couldn’t eat or drink anything after midnight the night before. On the day of the surgery, Mum picked me up from university at 5:00am for my 5:45am check-in time.
We headed upstairs to the Perioperative Care Centre where I was shown to my room (a corner suite at that) and had to put on the hospital gown and do a bunch of antibacterial things to reduce chance of infection – including a really weird bright blue dye that was put in my nose.
The nurses came in to put the IV drip into my right hand. My surgeon Dr. Papp came in to draw lines in purple marker all over my chest where the incisions would be made. The anesthetist came in to explain how I would feel tipsy and then go completely under and wake up feeling like no time had passed.
At 7:20am I was wheeled down the hall to the operating room in my gown under a blanket and nothing else. I was a bit doozy from the IV going into my system. I was also terrified.
But at absolutely no time was I thinking “this is not something I want to do”. I felt like I had been waiting for this moment for so long.
In the operating room, along with my surgeon, was the anesthetist and two surgical assistants. I was moved off the stretcher onto the operating bed and then the anesthesia process began. I distinctly remember him saying “so, where did you use to dance?” to which I replied “a studio in Richmond” and then I remember absolutely nothing else. Complete blackness.
I woke up approximately two hours later, but it felt absolutely instant. As I was waking up, I had no idea where I was. But I was in a lot of pain. I was very high on codine and whatever else was in that IV drip, my head was pounding and my chest hurt. There were tubes coming out each side of my body and I couldn’t even move my arms without pain.
That was one thing that was really underestimated. The nurses said I would be uncomfortable after the surgery. Yeah, just a little. There were a number of other patients in the post-op room and approximately six nurses to look after us.
I was on the highest level of IV, which I apparently complained wasn’t enough…and my throat was dry and scratchy from the anesthesia tube that had been down it for the two hour operation. I fell in and out of sleep for about an hour, maybe longer; I couldn’t tell you to be honest. Once I was awake enough and correctly answering the nurses questions I was wheeled back to my original room for about noon.
Mum met me back there where they eventually removed the IV from my hand, got me dressed, cleaned up my dressings, showed me how to drain the tubes every couple of hours and loaded me up with Tylenol-3s. These are all things that apparently happened according to my mum, because all I remember is crying and then almost vomiting, being really hot and sweaty and then falling asleep. I must have been a right handful.
At around 2pm I was discharged, put into a temporary wheelchair to get back to the car and Mum wheeled me down to the parkade. I’m fairly certain that that wheelchair ride was the roughest experience I’ve ever had. I felt every single bump in the floor and every turn of the wheelchair felt like I was being flung across the room. My chest was under 12 layers of dressings and the medicine was making me need to throw up. The car ride was probably just as bad but I managed to sleep the whole way home thanks to the T3s.
I fell asleep on the couch the moment I got home and spent the rest of the evening in and out of sleep. I tried to eat an orange and a banana, both of which ended up in the sink (sorry for that visual) and I cried a lot. For the first couple of days, I couldn’t do anything independently. I needed help going to the bathroom, getting up and down the stairs, lying down, eating…I mean you name it.
I also spent my 20th birthday and Valentine’s Day in bed, eating cake and watching Harry Potter. Aside from the searing chest pain, I can’t complain:
It’s now been exactly a month since the surgery, I wear a mastectomy bra 24/7 and will continue to do so for another two weeks. I can begin exercising slowly and gently again at that time too and I can also begin to introduce under-wire bras into my life. Hello new wardrobe and NEW BIKINIS.
And even though most of that stuff sounds really gross and sucky, I don’t think I’ve ever loved myself more.