OFF HER CHEST

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Samantha Saunders had 32 DDD breasts, an aching back and all eyes on her chest. She then gave society her pound of flesh and had breast surgery. She’s never looked back.

I lie on the operation table, naked from the waist up. My arms are spread and strapped down tightly. There are scalpels to my left and an anesthesiologist stands on my right. Suddenly, I realize that this operation thing is for real.

“It’s going to be okay, honey,” the anesthesiologist says in a soft voice She senses my increasing apprehension. I sense my sudden urge to bolt out of the room.

“That’s right. It will be done so quickly you won’t even notice,” the doctor says with a smirk. I say nothing. I am practicing pursed-lip breathing, something I’ve seen pregnant woman do on television before giving birth.

“How old are you?” the doctor asks, trying to distract me from the situation.

“I’m tw-tw- 20,” I stutter.

“Are you in school?”

“Yes, I go to Ryerson,” I blurt in an annoyed tone. I am painfully aware of his tactics. He can’t get me, I think to myself. None of them can get me to relax.

“Okay, I want you to count backwards starting from 10,” the anesthesiologist orders. He puts a mask on my face and I start counting.

“Ten.” That’s a really bright light above me. “Nine.” Do they want me to think I’m going to heaven or something? “Eight.” These people are sick. “Seven.” Shouldn’t I be asleep by now? “Six …”

 

When the surgery was over, I was freed of the baggage that comes with being weighed-down by triple-D breasts. That’s right, 32 DDD. Some may call it a miracle; I called it a curse. And I’m not the only one. Close to 100,000 Canadian women undergo breast reduction surgery (known medically as Reduction Mammaplasty) each year. The procedure involves removing fat, glandular tissue and skin from the breast. The areola may also be repositioned and reduced in correspondence with the size of the breast. The purpose of the surgery is to leave the patient with smaller, lighter and firmer breasts.

Breast reduction candidates — like my former self — suffer from chronic neck and back pain, permanent shoulder straps marks (from their bra), inner arm numbness due to nerve compression, skin irritation due to constant friction, ill-fitting clothing and bras, inability to partake in certain physical activities, and extreme self-consciousness.

Self-consciousness you ask? It’s true. In a society that reveres the bouncy boob as the all-important insignia of femininity, there are women trying to cover it up. I would know. I have a closet full of slimming black tops and baggy sweaters to prove it.

 

The doctor is finished and I wake up seven hours later in recovery. When I open my eyes, I realize that I am on a small, raised bed. The curtains around me are a putrid yellow and orange. They clash with the sky-blue robe someone has put on me.

“She’s waking up,” I hear the nurse yell. My mother and sister burst through the curtain a second later.

“Okay Samantha, you have to stay awake this time. They won’t let you go home if they think you are still groggy,” she whispers.

“This time?” I ask, confused. “Yes. This is the third time you’ve waken up,” she says. She looks tired. I think she wants to go home.

“How does it feel?” asks my sister. “You don’t look any flatter.” I look down and notice the thick bandages poking out of the top of my robe. I really don’t look any flatter. I take in a deep breath. “Ahhh,” I scream, as pains shoot through my chest.

“What is the problem?” the nurse asks as she rips open the orange curtain.

“I was just trying to breathe,” I say.

“Yes I know, but breast reduction patients shouldn’t do that,” she says coyly as she turns on her heel and leaves.

 

My next-door neighbour knows about being self-conscious. As a teenager, she dealt with men constantly gawking at her voluptuous figure. I sat down with her the week before my surgery.We ate pretzels and spoke about her own experience with breast reduction surgery.

“They were always like: ‘That kid has got huge boobs,’” she said, adding that everyone (including her father’s male friends) would comment on her larger-than-normal chest. “I was tiny — size zero. My boobs were just too big for my body.”

Because of her inability to exercise (large breasts cause back, shoulder and neck pain during physical activity) and the unwanted attention, my neighbour also had her breasts reduced. She assures me that it was one of the best decisions of her life and that she didn’t experience any of the side effects my plastic surgeon warned me about.

On top of permanent scarring, the surgeon warned me that I might not be able to breastfeed, as he might have to remove milk ducts leading to the nipple. He added that I could lose the sensation in my nipples, which is rare but can occur as if nerves are severed. Patients may also experience partial or complete nipple loss, anesthetic reaction, asymmetrical breasts or bleeding infection. Like my neighbour, I was fortunate enough to not experience any of these side effects.

 

During the two weeks after my surgery I am bed-ridden. It is hard to speak, sit-up, walk, and of course, breathe. I am given as much Tylenol 3 as the body can handle.

I am fawned over. My boyfriend fluffs my pillow. My girlfriend brings me Sex and the City, season six on DVD. My mother’s friend makes me cannelloni stuffed with ricotta. Even my little sister brings me apple juice daily.

When I can finally stand up without someone’s support, I saunter over to the full-length mirror in the corner of my room. One glimpse tells me I look like hell. My face is puffy. I have dark circles under my eyes and the worst case of bed-head you have ever seen in your life. But my five-foot-one, 112-pound frame is no longer drowning in cleavage. My back and shoulders are no longer aching. And my 32 triple-Ds are gone.

My breasts are very sore, swollen and bruised for weeks after my surgery. I am not allowed to do any heavy lifting or vigorous work that would involve my arms or upper body. And it takes me three months to start swimming again and four months to start jogging.

But most importantly, it takes me almost six months to make my first post-surgery trip to La Senza. This was the store where salespeople used to apologetically say “We don’t carry that size.” Or they would give me the old heave-ho with “Maybe you should try a different store.” But when I asked for a particular bra in my new size — a very comfortable 34C — the salesperson simply turned to the rack grabbed a bunch of items and said “We have that bra in burgundy, light-blue and emerald green. Which one do you want?” I bought all three.


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