I ended my 35-hour per week pre-professional dance training the same week I turned sixteen thanks to a back injury. A year later, I had been on-and-off training to varying degrees, and that inconsistency led me to officially quit at the end of January 2013, just before my seventeenth birthday. 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. Although, 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 healing back injury I was already dealing with. I couldn't remember the last time I lay on my stomach comfortably.
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 offer government subsidized surgeries and wanted to charge upwards of $8,000 for the procedure. After that, I put my plans on the back burner.
However, in September I was struggling with very severe back pains again, even going 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 breast surgery. Right then and there, I was put on a waiting list to get a completely paid-for-by-the-government breast reduction. Unfortunately, they said the wait time was at least a year. Frustratingly, I had plans to graduate in less than a year and go traveling abroad 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.
I was shocked when, just a few weeks later, I got a call saying that there had been a cancellation for a consultation appointment, and if I wanted to come in, there was a time slot for early December. I was thrilled and so ready. The consultation happened at Vancouver General Hospital where I 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.
Then, one rainy February afternoon, I got another call from the hospital saying they had had a last minute cancellation for the procedure. And by last minute, it was just nine days away. I cried in the middle of the main mall of my university campus.
I took the slot because really, the timing couldn't have been better. It was the day before my university reading week, meaning I had a full week at home to recover. The surgery was scheduled the day before my 20th birthday, the four-year anniversary to the day of me breaking my spine. The six weeks of no exercise post-surgery would mean I could still hike and swim all summer long. The six-month post-op was scheduled for the end of August, just as I was finishing my final semester of my undergrad. It was perfect.
They were a little non-communicative in terms of prepping so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect other than knowing I couldn't eat or drink anything after midnight the night before. On the day of the surgery, Mum picked me up from my university apartment at 5:00am for my 5:45am check-in time. At the Perioperative Care Centre, I was shown to my hospital bed where I put on the gown and underwent a host of antibacterial procedures to reduce chance of infection - including having a bright blue dye put in my nose.
Then the nurses came in to put the IV drip into my right hand, after which my surgeon 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 once injected: tipsy and then go blackness before waking 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 "I don't want to do this anymore". I felt like I had been waiting for this moment for so long.
In the operating room were my surgeon, 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, which felt absolutely instant. I was in a lot of pain as I woke up and even though I was high on codine, my head pounded and my chest hurt. There were tubes coming out both sides of my body and I couldn't even move my arms without rushing pain. I think that was one thing that was really underestimated.
I was in the post-operative room with a number of other patients and nurses where we had to wait until we were deemed ready to leave. 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. Once I was awake and correctly answering the nurses questions I was wheeled back to my original bed. It was noon by that point.
Mum met me there and the nurses removed the IV, helped me get dressed, cleaned up my dressings, showed me how to drain the tubes every couple of hours and loaded me up with Tylenol-3s. All I remember is crying, vomiting, sweating and then falling asleep. I must have been a handful!
Close to 2pm, I was discharged, helped into a temporary wheelchair to get back to the car and Mum wheeled me down. It was terrible - I felt every single bump in the floor and every turn of the wheelchair as if I was being flung across the room. My chest was under twelve layers of dressings and the medicine was making me nauseous. Thankfully, I managed to sleep the whole ride home under the influence of T-3s.
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 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...you name it. I spent my 20th birthday and Valentine's Day in bed, eating cake and watching Harry Potter. Aside from the searing chest pain, I couldn'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. At that six week mark, I can then also begin exercising slowly and gently again and I can reintroduce under-wire bras into my life. Hello new wardrobe and NEW BIKINIS!
And even though most of that stuff sounds pretty gross, painful and sucky, I don't think I've ever loved myself more.