This is a topic I have thought long and hard about writing. It’s deeply personal, and one about which I am struggling to not feel stigmatized.
But it turns out it also is a topic that many women are interested in and feel somewhat hesitant to discuss because of fears of how society will react and judge.
So, in an effort at sisterhood solidarity, I’m just going to put it all out there.
This past fall, after years of mulling it over and suffering largely in silence, I underwent breast reduction surgery.
Right off the bat, let me say this — three months later, my only regret is waiting so long to do it.
As a somewhat active individual — distance cycling, running and mushing — I had started having issues some years back with shoulder, neck and back pain because of my body type. And, for a very long time, I believed it was just something I had to live with.
About a year ago it began to get really bad, and I went from being able to ride my bicycle 40 or so miles before the pain became too much to being lucky if I could get in 10 miles.
That’s when I worked up the nerve to actually bring the subject up with a good friend who right away encouraged me to look into surgical, body modification options.
I began by doing some online research and quickly learned, in medical terms, I was looking at undergoing “cosmetic” surgery.
Really? Plastic surgery? That was something only Kardashians and over-the-hill starlets did, right?
Not so, as I was told by my regular doctor, who was fully on board with the idea, how it would improve my quality of life and was happy to refer me to Bangor Plastic and Hand Surgery.
This was last July, and a month later, I was meeting with Dr. David Branch and his medical assistant Sheri Norwood who spent as much time as I needed discussing the pros and cons — both physical and emotional — of breast reduction.
Measurements were recorded — not fun — and images taken — less fun — as Dr. Branch explained the procedure and what results I could expect.
In his experience, the biggest concern women face with breast reduction is the possibility of too drastic a change.
I also was looking at a three- to four-hour procedure under general anesthesia and a weeks-long recovery period.
It was a lot of information to process, and I gave it some good long consideration. In the end, I decided the pros far outweighed the cons and scheduled the surgery, which could be done on an outpatient basis in Bangor.
As with so many things in my life, it took a village.
I was told that I’d need someone to come and get me once the procedure was done and to stay with me for at least 24 hours. In no uncertain terms was I to even think about driving myself back to Fort Kent.
I ended up driving down to Bangor and leaving my car at the home of a Bangor Daily News colleague, and another co-worker picked me up and dropped me off at my hotel.
The morning of the surgery, my colleague Meg Haskell drove me to the medical center and sat with me as I filled out paperwork and waited somewhat nervously to be called in.
Once I was in the pre-op waiting area and sporting a lovely hospital gown, Dr. Branch came in for what pretty much everyone who has had breast reduction agrees is the least pleasant part.
I will spare the details, but it did involve a tape measure and several different color marking pens.
By the time Dr. Branch was done prepping me, I looked like the whiteboard from the Manhattan Project.
Four hours later, I was in recovery, feeling pretty fuzzy-headed and pounds — yes, pounds — lighter.
There my friend Kim Paradis was waiting for me. Thankfully she and Meg had thought to exchange contact information as the text with the address of the medical office I had sent to Kim the night before never went through.
After spending a fair amount of time searching in and around Eastern Maine Medical Center, she was able to contact Meg, and between the two of them — as Meg did not have the exact address of the surgical facility across the street from EMMC — they were able to track me down.
From there, Kim got me safely home and turned me over to our friend Penny McHatten who spent a couple of nights at Rusty Metal Farm to help out.
For the next two weeks I was not allowed to lift more than 5 pounds. Since feeding the sled dogs one kibble at a time seemed rather time consuming, I arranged for people to take on critter-duty as I sat inside recovering.
OK, recovering and sulking, as my recovery time coincided with some of the nicest fall cycling weather northern Maine has ever seen.
But, eyes on the prize, right?
Two weeks later, I was cleared by Dr. Branch to resume “normal” activity, which, of course, coincided with the first stretch of cold, rainy fall weather.
I didn’t care. I put on some base layers, bundled up and hopped on my bike for the first pain-free distance ride I’ve had in years.
Happy with the results? That would be a major understatement.
In addition to making cycling more enjoyable, for the first time I am looking forward to shopping for clothes and feeling confident with my body image.
As far as I am concerned, any woman who is dealing with the pain, inconvenience and body image issues that breast reduction surgery can negate should go for it.
Some women have told me they are “too old.”
I’ve spoken to women as young as 18 all the way into their 60s who have had breast reduction surgery. There is no age limit on improving quality of life.
Yes, it is elective surgery. Yes, it is “cosmetic” surgery.
But guess what? It’s not just for Kardashians.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.