Why breast reduction surgery?
I think that it is important to start out this series by explaining why I have decided to have breast reduction surgery (or reduction mammoplasty if you like correct terminology). I started developing breasts around 5th-6th grade, and they didn't stop growing until well after I reached adulthood. I remember getting comments when I was younger that I mostly just let roll off. (Yup, I have big boobs. How clever of you for noticing.) I also experienced some minor back pain and headaches. I remember when others would look wistfully at me and say how much they wished they had big breasts like mine, my reply was always "You can take the back pain and headaches along with them". Throughout high school and college I was also an avid dancer and they tended to get in the way a lot. When I went to college for theatre it was incredibly frustrating trying on costumes. Everything would zip up to about my mid back and then just stop. I can't even tell you the number of times that I had this exact exchange:
Them: Suck in!
Me: I am sucking in!
Them: The zipper still won't go up, suck in more!
Me: (smooshing my breasts as flat as I could) I can't suck those in!
Around my junior year of college I started experiencing a searing pain along the inferior (lower) angle of my right scapula (shoulder blade), that would radiate throughout the area. I was a dance minor and assumed that I had injured myself. After seeking treatment with the school trainers for months it was not any better. I decided that it was just something I was going to have to live with. Eventually the pain would stop searing so much and be more of an ever present dull ache that would get worse with certain activities like sewing for long periods of time.
They continued to be an annoyance whenever I was shopping. Nothing looked right. Certain styles would make me look pregnant, I always had weird lumps from where my breasts were spilling out of the cups (the lady at Victoria's Secret said I was a 32DDD), and bathing suit shopping was a nightmare. I couldn't buy a 1 piece because if it fit in the body I was pouring out of the top, and if it fit in the top the body was far too baggy. I couldn't even get the larger tops with 2 piece suits because in order for it to fit around my ribcage without being in danger of flying up, there would be a lot of spillage. When I got married in 2015 we went to Puerto Rico on our honeymoon and I wound up making all of my bathing suit tops and buying some bottoms.
Shortly after my marriage I started reading about bra sizing and discovered that about 80% of women are wearing the wrong size. How can this be? Either people guess and go with the wrong size, stick with a size they have outgrown, or get badly fitted at a store (NEVER get your bra fitting at Victoria's Secret... actually, never shop there period.) I wrote this blog post about how to shop for the correct bras. I measured myself, and it turns out I am a 34H. I, like many others, didn't realize that cup sizes went up that high. Sure enough, when I tried on a 34H, it fit! The gore (center part) was against my sternum (breast bone), there was no squeezing around the band, and there was no spillage from the cups. Clothes also fit better. No more weird lumps from spillage or bra muffin top. Fantastic right? Well, turns out, there is only 1 store that I am aware of in Chicago that sells my size, so it is either go there (Bras Galore is wonderful, but I need to have the time to make it down there) or order online and hope that things fit right and don't need to be returned/exchanged. Also, my size NEVER goes on sale. The online stores run sales all the time... on bras that are a D or lower. People would try to be helpful and recommend stores that sell "all sizes". I would skeptically check them out and sure enough, the most "inclusive" of stores carried up to size G. Is it too much to ask that I can just go to Target and buy a bra that isn't at least $60-80? Apparently.
Now that I was wearing the correct size bra, things were a bit better. I'm not going to say that my bras are comfortable, but they are much better when they are properly fitted. Remember that spot on my back where I was having that pain? It was still there. And it was spreading. The pain started making its way all the way up the medial border (inner edge) of my scapula (shoulder blade), and I was now experiencing similar pain on the left side. Then the pain started moving into my neck and causing headaches that sit in the occipitals (at the base of the skull). Then the pain started arcing over the top of my head to my eye brows or temples. I was also getting tightness in my jaw that would sometimes turn into pain. I used my charting software to draw the patterns to show to my doctor. The blue is tension, the red is pain. The pain was getting extreme and was occurring on a daily basis.
Surgery is a big deal and not something that I think anyone should jump into without a lot of thought. I have been considering having breast reduction surgery for about 4 years, and it is time. I have tried many different things to try and alleviate or at least manage the pain such as:
- Massage. Big shock here I'm sure. I have tried several different types of bodywork and manual therapies. At first they would help for a day or two, but at this point I only see about 15 minutes of relief or so, and start experiencing pain again on the way back to the car.
- Chiropractic. I have been working with a chiropractor on and off since high school, but most recently have been working with Drs. Meggie and Will at Chiropractic First since 2012. Since working with them, I am happy to report that my migraines have gotten fewer and farther apart and are much less severe, but the back pain mentioned above... not so much.
- Exercise. I have done various types of exercise over the years. Yoga, dance, Zumba... Most recently I have been working with personal trainer Sarah Laspas at TruFit Personal Training Studios. I love the environment there and have enjoyed our work. Since I started doing strength training with Sarah, I am happy to report that my joint pain has decreased greatly. It has been a long time since I felt like I had an ice pick jammed in my knee, and my hips are doing much better. I have more energy and just feel better overall. But the back pain mentioned above... not so much.
- Foam rolling. I am not a big advocate of foam rolling. I feel that it has its place, but is often misused or overused. I see people who have tissue damage caused by foam rolling because they ignored the pain signals that their bodies were sending them. However, used appropriately, it can be a good tool. I have been using a foam roller several times a day for the past few months. The pain will lessen for about 5-10 minutes and then start to build again.
- Corsets. You read that right. I have been wearing steel boned corsets on the very worst days. The corsets provide extra back support and lift my breasts from underneath so there are no straps pulling down. The corsets seem to be one of the most effective ways of decreasing my back and neck pain. They also take a lot of the strain off my jaw. What's the problem? Well, I can't wear them 24/7, they are a bit restricting, and I can't find one off the rack that fits me properly. All of the off the rack corsets I have found accommodate cup sizes up through, you guessed it, F or G at most. That means that we are back to spillage. My clothes look a mess with my breast tissue shoved up under my chin and spilling over the top of the cup. It can also be a bit hard to breathe with my breasts shoved up like that. The compression on my ribcage actually doesn't have too much of an effect on my breathing, but I probably wouldn't want to try running in one. I could get one that is properly fitted to my body, but that starts costing in the $600 range which, for me, is too much to spend on something that isn't going to be a permanent solution.
- Heat. Lying on a hot pack can make things feel a bit better while I am doing it, but the pain is back the moment I stand up. Hot showers help a bit in the moment as well, but again, hardly a permanent solution.
- Over the Counter Pain Meds. I try to do this sparingly. My doctor told me to try taking some Tylenol or ibuprofen when I felt like it was needed, but I found myself taking it daily, sometimes multiple times, with little to no effect. If this isn't making me feel better, why am I doing it? I have stopped taking those at this point.
- Just going to sleep. There are some nights were I just go to bed early because I can't stand it anymore. Being awake is just too painful by the end of the day.
I have been toying with the idea of breast reduction surgery for a few years now, and there is no reason to keep putting it off. If this is something that will make me feel better long term, why haven't I done it? So how does one go about getting a breast reduction?
- I asked my doctor for a referral to a plastic surgeon.
- I went in for a consultation with said surgeon where he listened to my description of what was wrong and told me that it is pretty standard for people seeking breast reduction surgery to feel the same or similar pain patterns. He looked at my breasts to determine how much tissue should be removed, his assistant took several photographs, and his recommendations and the photos were submitted to my insurance company for review.
- I scheduled my surgery. I was still waiting to hear back about whether or not insurance would cover it since we definitely could not afford to pay for the procedure out of pocket, but I wanted to have something on the schedule in the event that they would cover it.
- The insurance company declined to cover my procedure. Turns out this happens frequently. They decided that based on my BMI (what is this, the 1980's?!) I didn't have enough tissue to be removed for them to feel it was appropriate. BMI is a completely outdated system that should pretty much never be used to determine anything.
- I called the insurance company and found out that I could appeal their decision. My doctor talked to someone at the insurance company and got them to reconsider.
- The insurance company approved my procedure.