It’s been over nine months since I had my double mastectomy and my life has changed in some subtle but also significant ways. My life without boobs is everything I’d dreamed it would be, but there were also some surprises along the way, as I imagined there would be when getting this major surgery.
So what is my life like without boobs? How have things changed? Is anything the same?
I’m More Confident
I actually feel like my body represents me now, at least much more than it did. I’m so much more confident in my appearance. Before, I would wear big flowy tops and dresses to hide my chest because I hated it so much. This summer, I actually bought my first form-fitting clothes in years.
I love wearing tight tops to show off my chest, and it feels so good to just be out there in the world without my boobs. My breasts always felt like a hindrance. There was never a time when they didn’t feel like a hindrance. Without them, I feel sexy, confident, and bold.
I’m still learning to be confident without a shirt on. This summer, I went for a run when it was hot outside, and after three miles into the run, I really just wanted to take my shirt off.
But something stopped me. I was worried about people seeing me and what they would think. Then I thought, “The whole point of you getting this surgery was so that you’d feel more like yourself and more confident—who cares what they see or say or think?”
So the shirt came off. About five minutes later, I ran into one of my aunts, who lives on the road I was running on. She didn’t know about my surgery and I self-consciously threw my tank top over one of my shoulders, which almost covered one of my scars. But the other one was still visible.
We chatted for a couple minutes and she didn’t say anything about the fact that I was topless and no longer had boobs. So it went ok. But, being one of my nicest and kindest aunts, even if she did say something, I doubt it would have been anything that made me feel bad.
Mostly I think it just feels weird to be walking (and running, ha) around completely topless after having breasts for nearly 20 years. I hope by next summer I won’t think twice about taking my shirt off!
I Can Actually Breathe When I Run
Speaking of running.
I’ve been a runner for the last 13 years and wore really tight sports bras to keep my chest from moving when I ran. Like, my breasts were DD’s and I would buy A-cup sports bras and wear them.
Yeah. Don’t ask me how I got those bras on.
It also affected my ability to take a deep breath when running. Over the last decade, I’ve probably run thousands of miles in tight-ass sports bras. I didn’t realize how much I couldn’t breathe until I ran without a bra on. WOW!
It’s incredible to be out there feel unhindered by my body and just moving comfortably and confidently in the world. I feel so much less weighed down by my boobs when exercising, not to mention I love the way my chest looks after doing upper-body workouts 🙂
I’m Insanely More Comfortable
Fuck bras. I can’t believe I lived wearing a bra for so long. I LOVE not having to worry about bras or how my breasts look in clothing. It’s like not having hair and not having to decide what to do with it. Freaking awesome.
It’s so comfortable to just put on whatever I want and leave the house feeling confident because there aren’t any boobs, there’s no bra, and it just my chest meets the world. I knew I’d be more comfortable without my breasts (mentally and physically), I just didn’t know how much more comfortable. The answer is INSANELY. I’m insanely more comfortable!
Sex Is Different
So I expected my sex life to be a little different after getting my breasts removed, and I’m still navigating this department of my post-boob life. Not having anything there to touch is just a little weird after having boobs for the last two decades.
That being said, I 100% feel like my sex life has improved since the boobs are gone. How could it not? I feel more comfortable, more confident, and unhindered. How’s that for sexy?
I occasionally ask my husband if he misses my boobs and he says “a little”, which is weird because sometimes I miss them a little too. For the most part, our sex life has been frickin hot since I got rid of those obscene lumps on my chest.
People Stare at My Chest
So this doesn’t happen all the time, but I have definitely been out several times and have full-on caught people staring at my chest when I’m wearing a tight shirt.
Instead of feeling self-conscious, I think it’s hilarious. In my head, I think, “You can look all you want, there’s nothing there!” and then I prance away giggling to myself. It doesn’t make me self-conscious at all. In fact, I feel like it makes me more confident since it’s a feature about myself that I love now.
I didn’t get nipple grafts with my mastectomy, so my chest is just two lines of scar tissue where my boobs used to be (and some gross spots where I got two moles removed that are still healing!). So I can imagine people staring at my chest in a skin-tight shirt and not seeing any nipples or anything and wondering what is going on. Tee hee.
I Can’t Wear Tube Tops Anymore
This might sound dumb, but I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be able to wear tube tops after my mastectomy. I truly didn’t realize that my breasts were what was holding up tube tops that whole time. Wow.
So when I got my mastectomy and healed up and summer came and I tried to wear some of my favorite dresses and tube tops, I couldn’t. I had to get rid of one of my favorite dresses that I got for free at Charlotte Russe like 15 years ago because it literally fell off of me.
I did buy a tube top that actually stays up on my chest and looks nice, but it’s an extra small and I have trouble (like, lots of trouble) getting it on and off. If anyone has any tips for wearing tube tops and dresses post-mastectomy, I’m all ears!
I knew getting my breasts removed would make me happier, but I didn’t realize how free and confident I would feel.
Making the decision to get this procedure wasn’t easy, and going through with it wasn’t easy, and healing wasn’t easy.
It wasn’t easy to know I’d never have boobs again, and to not know what that would be like.
It wasn’t easy to know I was unconscious for two and half hours while a stranger sliced off parts of my body in a room full of people I didn’t know.
It wasn’t easy to know that my life would be different, and I didn’t know exactly how.
It wasn’t easy to pay so much money to not know exactly what the outcome would be, or exactly how I would look.
But I will say this: It was ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT. And I’d take that leap again in a heartbeat.
I’m currently pursuing a hysterectomy, which I hope to have by the end of this year, to complete my journey of removing body parts that I have always hated and wanted gone. I will definitely give an update about my process for pursuing this procedure as a gender-neutral person as well as my healing process when the time comes!
Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me on my journey of making my body a more comfortable place for me to live!
What It Was Like Recovering From a Double Mastectomy (My Top Surgery Healing Journey)
Disclaimer: This article is written from my personal experience getting an elective double mastectomy. I do not, nor have I ever, had breast cancer and did not get my breasts removed because of cancer or the BRCA gene. I simply wanted my breasts removed and got them removed with a plastic surgeon (you can read more about my decision to get this surgery here).
While cancer patients may be interested in this article for healing purposes, please be aware that this article is written more with people who want their breasts removed for gender reasons in mind. I say this simply because I don’t want to offend anyone with the language I use in this article to describe my journey or my desire to get my breasts removed, so please keep this in mind when reading.
That being said, I am also not transgender and so transgender individuals reading this article, please also keep in mind that I didn’t get top surgery because I changed genders.
I am also not any type of health professional and am not recommending my personal healing protocol, including herbs or supplements, to anyone. I would always advise following your surgeon’s instructions for healing and following up with an herbalist or another natural health professional as you see fit.
There will be photos of surgical incisions, scars, blood, and bruises in this article. Please be mindful of any triggers you may have in regards to trauma, body dysmorphia, etc. before continuing to read this post.
Also, this post is going to be long!
So here we finally are! I’m almost 13 weeks post-op as I’m writing this. I got my breasts removed via a double mastectomy with a plastic surgeon on November 23, 2020.
I wanted to post a longer, more detailed article about my recovery journey because when I was looking for information about top surgery it was hard to find all the details I needed to feel “prepared” for my surgery (put that in quotes because I feel like you can’t ever really be prepared for something you haven’t experienced).
Don’t get me wrong—some of the videos and articles I saw were super helpful. I’m just posting my experience in the hopes that it could also be helpful to someone else recovering from this procedure!
While this article won’t be a day-to-day guide, it will be a week-by-week guide up until week eight post-op. I will also continue to update this post as I heal throughout this year with photos and any other information I feel belongs here.
Before I begin with my week-by-week process, I have to say one thing: I am SO happy that I got my surgery at the time of year that I did. There are a few important reasons for this:
I got my surgery at the end of November, and it’s cold where I live in November. I could not imagine having gotten this surgery done in the summer when it’s nice outside and I would have been moping about all the things I couldn’t do. It was the perfect time of year to cozy up on the couch with my husband, watch movies, and eat toast. I’m convinced would have been miserable if I had gotten this surgery done during warmer weather.
My binder after surgery was super tight and itchy and horrible and I felt that if it was warm outside, I would have been more sweaty and irritable with that thing on. As it was, I was already so irritable with it that when I texted my husband after my post-op appointment to tell him that they had taken the binder off and the drains out, he sent me an emoji of a sweaty face (like he was nervous about what would happen if I came out with my drains still in and that binder still on, ha).
I got my surgery done the week of Thanksgiving, which gave me a perfect excuse to not see anybody for that holiday (I wouldn’t have seen anyone anyway, but still, it was nice to have an excuse).
So now that you know why I’m happy I got my double mastectomy done in November, here’s my healing journey (there is also a scar salve recipe and some FAQs at the end!).
There will be other pictures in this post, but here are my before and after pictures:
Before (taken in a parking lot sometime in 2010, don’t ask):
Don’t let this too-small neon purple push-up bra fool you—my boobs didn’t actually look like this. In fact, my surgeon used the word “deflated” in my case notes when he described my breasts (thanks, doc!). They were between a 34 D-DD size.
After (taken February 2021):
Now I have about 14 inches of scar tissue where my breasts used to be. It may sound weird to some, but I am so much happier without my breasts and feel like this is “me”.
Herbs and Supplements I Took to Help My Healing
Before we get into my week-by-week journey I want to start with what I took to heal so that my week-by-week healing journey will have more context for you.
I worked with my herbalist to incorporate some herbs into my usual herbal routine to help me better heal after my procedure. Although I can’t recommend specific dosing or what herbs would be best for you, this is what I took:
Arnica. My herbalist recommended homeopathic arnica tablets taken just before and after the surgery (I took them for about four days after the surgery).
Calendula. I added one tablespoon of organic calendula flowers to my herbal broth that I drink every day for about two months post-op.
Comfrey. I added one tablespoon of organic comfrey to my herbal broth that I drink for three weeks following the procedure.
Horsetail. I added one tablespoon of organic horsetail to my herbal broth that I drink every day for about two months post-op.
Violet. I added one tablespoon of organic violet leaf to my herbal broth that I drink for about two months post-op.
I had to stop taking my ginger infusion, stop eating any garlic, and stop taking fish oil supplements before the procedure and had to avoid them for two weeks following the procedure (I didn’t avoid garlic for that long, that just wouldn’t have been humanly possible for me).
As I likely have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), my body is also pretty bad about healing and I scar easily, so I was taking hyaluronic acid (40-60 mg a day) and collagen supplements for my skin and for healing. I’m currently still taking these. Please keep my potential EDS diagnosis in mind when looking at my scars 🙂
I also drink an herbal broth every day that contains burdock, chaga, astragalus, dandelion root, codonopsis, reishi, shitake, and garlic, so I’m not sure if all these babes helped me heal or not (this was the broth that I added my calendula, comfrey, violet, and horsetail to).
Medications I Took
I HATE taking medication and will avoid it at pretty much all costs. However, I did take the medication my surgeon prescribed because I wanted everything to go smoothly after the procedure.
I know this sounds weird but I don’t know if I really NEEDED these medications, it was just hard to tell how much of a difference they made. But these are the ones I took:
Celecoxib. This is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug. I took this for one week following my surgery.
Gabapentin. This is an anticonvulsant drug that also can treat nerve pain. I took this for one week following my surgery.
Tylenol. I took OTC generic Tylenol for one week following my surgery.
Zofran. HOLY SHIT I would never want to take this anti-nausea medication again! I’m pretty sure this medication, in combination with the drugs they used in my IV, made me constipated.
Nausea patch thing. I don’t know what this is called but I had to put it behind my ear 12 hours before the surgery and took it off later that night. It made me nauseous.
I think what surprised me about these meds is that a) I’m not sure if they really helped and b) THOSE NAUSEA MEDS MADE ME FRICKIN NAUSEOUS! The only thing the nausea meds did that was helpful was prevent me from actually throwing up (I did not throw up once).
I did not have to take any narcotic medication because my surgeon injected some sort of numbing stuff into my chest after the surgery, which we agreed on prior to the procedure. I paid extra for this. I really wasn’t in any pain which was surprising!
So now my week-by-week healing!
That first week was the worst. This is what my binder and drains looked like (this picture was taken as we were leaving for the plastic surgeon’s office to get the binder and drains removed one week after my surgery):
I was crazy nauseous and panicked when waking up from the anesthesia. My anesthesiologist never told me I was going to fall asleep while I was in the operating room, so it felt like I was awake and conscious one second and the next, I was waking up in a dream.
I don’t remember much of this but I remember telling the nurses “I can’t breathe!” over and over again, probably because my binder was so tight. I remember someone saying, “You are breathing”. This was after the procedure.
Later, my husband told me that the nurses told him they gave me Valium to calm me down, which was awful. I don’t remember hardly anything of leaving the hospital outside of flashes of nurses dressing me and feeling the cold air of the parking garage.
At home, I slept most of that day and was super out of it. I was nauseous for three days following the surgery (with the first two days being the worst). I was able to type and start working the day after the procedure (I freelance write full-time), but I only did a little work and mostly rested and slept.
I wasn’t able to reach anything or do much of anything at all. I wasn’t able to bathe or take care of my bunnies. Getting out of bed by myself was almost impossible. I was upset and didn’t want to see people, I felt gross and weird and not like myself. I slept propped up on pillows to help my chest drain better. Sleeping was surprisingly easy; I was knocked out every night.
A few days after the procedure I began having strange buzzing sensations and sensations of almost stabbing in my chest. They were brief but still felt really weird. My chest was mostly numb and I wasn’t in any pain really, but I was uncomfortable because the binder was so tight and the drains became sore and itchy by the end of the week.
I was also constipated from all the drugs they put in my IV which was frickin awful! I wish I started taking flaxseed or chia seeds a couple days before my procedure, but I thought since I wasn’t taking narcotics that I wouldn’t be constipated. That was a mistake!
After getting my drains out one week after the procedure, I felt so much better. I was much less nauseous, able to reach more, and began taking care of my bunnies (although I wasn’t able to fully care for them and so relied on my husband to help).
This is what my chest looked like after the binder came off (it’s gross, sorry, at this point I hadn’t bathed yet):
Also, I love how my surgeon wrote L>R on my chest, because my left breast was bigger than my right one.
Reaching, lifting, and twisting were still difficult, although I was still able to type on the computer and work. I wasn’t able to cook or do much still. It was really weird seeing my new chest and feeling like the procedure was more real.
I still wasn’t able to wear regular shirts and so needed to wear capes and button-down shirts which was annoying. I really just wanted to wear a tight t-shirt and show off my new chest. I was able to sleep flat on my back and took the binder off halfway through the second week, as I felt I didn’t need it anymore (although my surgeon told me to wear it for at least one more week).
I also began having arm pain during my second week. Every morning when I woke up my arms were numb, but it went away as I moved around. This was a little alarming.
One surprising thing was how tight the skin on my chest was. I did tell my surgeon that I wanted everything to be tight, but every time I tried to stand up straight, it felt like my skin was pulling from my neck all the way to my abdomen. It was really weird and uncomfortable. I was a little alarmed by this, but fortunately, it got better as the weeks went on and now I don’t even really notice any pulling in that area.
The surgery still doesn’t feel super real three weeks in. I was still processing it. I’ve shown friends my surgical scars, but my family didn’t want to see them (now I know why so many transgender individuals have wanted to show me their new chests—I really just wanted to show people my new chest!)
It hurt my feelings when my family didn’t want to see it. If someone wants to show you their new chest, just let them unless you feel it would do massive phycological damage to you.
This is what my chest looked like during the third week:
I was able to drive at the end of week three and became fully able to take care of my bunnies. Lifting and twisting were still difficult. My arm pain continued throughout week three, but I was able to lift heavier things like grocery bags. The Steri-Strips my surgeon put on at my post-op appointment have mostly come off at this point and I’ve begun using my scar salve (we’ll talk about that in a bit).
I was taking comfrey and horsetail in my herbal infusion but discontinued using them at the end of the third week. However, I did still take violet and calendula in my broth.
Emotionally, I was still coming to terms with the fact that I don’t have breasts. The surgery still doesn’t feel real in so many ways. During week four after my Steri-Strips came completely off, I noticed that there were still some stretch marks above my incisions from my breasts. I’m mad that the surgeon and I didn’t discuss this and mad that my drain holes appear to be scarring.
I’m using my scar salve nightly and putting Covidien bandages over my scars to keep the salve on overnight. I’m able to do everything I was doing before the surgery except for lifting weights, yoga, and running. I’ve been walking for exercise but that’s it.
I can vacuum and mostly get in and out of t-shirts. I’ve been sleeping well. I can sleep on my side for only a few minutes without it getting uncomfortable (not sure if this is because my incisions go so far into my armpit area). I’ve been mostly sleeping on my back during my healing process.
I’m still having arm pain in the mornings and my underarms are a little numb. I have had a couple days without this during this week. After researching online, it appears to be nerve pain from the surgery and should go away in time.
I’m feeling pretty good about things five weeks in, but I’m still getting used to my new chest. The scars are really visible and taking their shape. My arm numbness/pain has been much better, but I still have trouble lifting really heavy stuff.
I can get in and out of t-shirts fairly easily but I do have trouble getting in and out of tighter shirts by myself. Towards the end of this week, I did a really short jog and a few long walks, it felt great to be doing some of my normal stuff again. I could even sleep on my side for brief periods of time without my incisions hurting.
I feel optimistic about my scar salve but towards the end of this week, I started developing a bad rash around my incisions. I thought it was from the scar salve but I found out it was from the Covidien bandages I was using. I have discontinued them.
By week six I’m feeling pretty upset that my stretch marks are still there and that the surgeon and I didn’t talk about this. I’m still getting used to the way my chest looks and slowly feeling more and more like I don’t have breasts. That’s been one of the most surprising things about having this surgery—how it didn’t even feel like my breasts were gone afterward. I’m not sure how to explain that.
The rash took a turn for the better and is starting to look good. While the rash was healing I didn’t use anything on it except organic rosewater. By the end of this week, I’ve started using my scar salve again. Instead of using Covidien bandages, I instead sleep with a clean old t-shirt on to prevent the oils from the salve from ruining my sheets and comforter.
I can sleep on my side without it hurting much. The arm pain is mostly gone but returns intermittently. It’s a weird numb and aching feeling, mostly underneath my arms extending between my armpit and my elbow, and mostly on my left arm (my left breast was bigger so not quite sure if this had anything to do with it).
I went back to work at my job in DC (I work on-call at a women’s homeless shelter in addition to my freelancing work) during week seven. More people have been finding out about my surgery; it feels weird to share what used to be my deepest secret (that I hated my breasts) with people. Upon hearing that I’d gotten my breasts removed, most peoples’ initial reactions were horror.
“Oh my God, do you have cancer?”
“Are you ok?”
It was, I have to admit, pretty entertaining to watch my coworkers’ expressions change from horror to confusion to the realization that I didn’t have cancer, I just hated my breasts. The ending line was always “As long as you’re happy.”
Thank you, Mary, Allison, and Jaynada, I am happy!
Anyway, during week seven, I’m still feeling weird about my stretch marks. I just wish I had been prepared for the fact that they would still be there. My rash is completely gone, which is good, but there are still some purple marks on my skin where it was. It takes my skin forever to heal!
I’m using my scar salve every night with just a t-shirt to go to bed. I can sleep on my side without much pain, and my arm pain is completely gone. I even went for a 1.5-mile run this week and I’m feeling good. I can get in and out of t-shirts easily, but tight clothes are still a little difficult for me to manage.
So week eight, there’s not much to note. My rash is gone but still some marks where it was. I have no arm pain. I’m continuing to exercise more, although I still have a little trouble getting out of tight shirts.
I’m feeling better about my chest in general and starting to accept my stretch marks. I’m feeling a little more each day like I don’t have boobs.
I’ve been lifting heavier things and have some mild pain when doing so. Sometimes when I wake up, my incisions feel sore. Twisting my body is difficult. At the end of week eight, I began doing yoga and weights again. Surprisingly, the hardest part has been lifting my arms over my head. I can feel the skin stretching in a weird way, almost like my incisions are pulling apart (this is the sensation I talked about in Week Two). It’s not painful, it just feels uncomfortable. I’m guessing this will go away with time.
My surgeon also told me before my procedure that my chest wall (whatever that is) was extremely asymmetrical and that he couldn’t fix that, so my chest would have an unusual shape after the procedure. I’m certainly noticing it more as I heal, but I actually think it’s adorable and it makes my body really unique (if I can get a good picture of the asymmetry and its effect at some point, I’ll update this post with it!).
8 tablespoons herb-infused olive oil (I used a mix of organic violet flowers, arnica, comfrey, calendula, and yarrow)
5 tablespoons rosehip seed oil
2 tablespoons moringa oil
1 teaspoon sea buckthorn seed oil
2 teaspoon vitamin E oil
2 tablespoon beeswax
4 tablespoons cocoa butter
24 drops helichrysum essential oil
16 drops lavender essential oil
It was really fun (but also really expensive) to make this salve. I’ll post updates as I see how it’s working, right now, all is going well but it’s too early to tell if it’s helping my scars and stretch marks. It made enough salve for me to use for a long time, I’m expecting it will last me a year with daily use, if not longer.
For scar management, I’m exclusively using this salve and didn’t use the silicone strips my surgeon recommended. I just wanted to go this route; it’s a personal preference. I just massage the ointment into my chest scars every night and put a clean t-shirt on and hop into bed.
FAQs About My Top Surgery Experience
How Did You Choose Your Surgeon?
As a Cancer and an empath, my relationships with people are very important to me and I am easily affected by people’s attitudes and energy.
I chose my surgeon because he was very experienced and I had an initial positive experience with his practice. He has almost 20 years of experience doing breast surgeries, including mastectomies. I didn’t choose him because I loved his personality. But he did spend an hour with me during my initial consultation, and invited me to return for a second consultation just to be sure I still wanted to continue with the procedure and to answer follow-up questions.
I’ve seen a lot of transgender and non-binary individuals say they are embarrassed about showing their breasts to the surgeon. It is awkward! I mean, you’re exposing a part of your body that you hate to a complete stranger. Of course, I didn’t like that part of the consultation (or the part right before the surgery, when the surgeon draws on and around your breasts) but unfortunately, it’s part of getting top surgery.
For the most part, I had a positive experience with my surgeon although, in a perfect world, I would have chosen a surgeon I felt really connected with AND was super experienced.
What Questions Did You Ask During Your Consultation?
I asked so many questions! Here’s the list of the exact questions I asked:
Will all breast tissue be removed?
Do you have experience with aesthetic flat closure?
Can I see pictures of before/after with no nipples?
Will the surgery reduce my risk of breast cancer?
Will my breast tenderness with periods go away completely?
Will I get liposuction around breasts to prevent “dog ears”?
Will I have drains?
Are there any long-term effects, for example, I like to exercise, will I feel pain when running/lifting weights/yoga?
What happens to my breasts once they are removed? (do you keep them/use them for research, can I keep them, etc.?)
If I get pregnant, will there be any breast tissue left that would produce breastmilk, swell, or affect my chest/surgery results?
Do you offer financing?
Does the estimate (price) include follow-up appointments, post-op procedures such as drain removal?
Will I be able to go home the same day? How long will surgery take?
What type of anesthesia will be used?
How exactly will the surgery be done (incisions)?
Where will my scars be? What shape/size will they be?
What can I do to help scars heal?
Will I need revisions? What percentage of your patients ask for revisions? What is the pricing for revisions?
Am I at higher risk for seroma? What percentage of your patients experience this?
What needs to happen before the procedure? Bloodwork? Letter?
Here are the questions I did NOT ask but SHOULD have asked:
Will my stretch marks still be there after the surgery?
I didn’t ask this question and REALLY wish I did because I didn’t realize that I would still have some stretch marks around my scars and my surgeon and I never talked about this.
You REALLY have to be proactive and advocate for yourself and ask every single question you can think of. It really sucks, but you CANNOT expect your surgeon to tell you these things. You have to ask even if it seems like a stupid question. There are no stupid questions, especially not compared to how dumb you’ll feel after the procedure is over, and wham! There are your stretch marks.
Don’t feel like you’re bothering them with all your questions and if they make you feel like you’re bothering them, find another surgeon. You (or your insurance company) are paying this person thousands of dollars to do this very important and sensitive procedure—you deserve to know every detail and inform yourself of the process!
Will the drain holes leave scars?
Didn’t think to ask this but there were actual holes in my body where the drains were (one hole on each side just under my incisions). It’s still early on in my healing process but it looks like they will scar.
A pic of one of my drain holes taken a week after the surgery:
How long will my scars be?
This is a specific question and although my surgeon and I had several conversations about where exactly my scars would be as far as how far up they would be on my chest, we didn’t talk about how long they would be. My scars are pretty long and extend to the very end of each armpit. So I have two scars, one for each breast, that are seven inches long each, which is about 14 inches of scar tissue.
Can I purchase my own binder for after the procedure?
I didn’t know to ask this and ended up getting charged $200 for a binder that cost $28.50 online (from the same exact website the surgeon ordered it from). The surgeon’s office refused to refund me the difference (and they were rude about it).
Did You Need a Letter to Get Top Surgery?
No. For those who don’t know what this is, this is a letter from a therapist stating that you want the surgery for gender-related reasons and that you have documented gender or body dysphoria. Even though I’m not transgender, I was a little surprised that my surgeon didn’t require a letter prior to my surgery. All he asked was that I come in for a second consultation before actually scheduling the surgery. He also didn’t require any blood work prior to the procedure, which was a little surprising to me too. The whole thing was relatively easy as far as my feelings being validated and the surgeon being willing to do the procedure.
How Did You Pay for the Procedure? Did Insurance Cover It? How Much Did It Cost?
Since I am not transgender and it was an elective procedure, my insurance did not cover any of my surgery. I had to pay a facility fee, a surgeon’s fee, and an anesthesia fee out of pocket. The total cost of everything was $11,225.
I could have went through the process of finding a therapist and getting myself documented as non-binary, but this would have taken more time, and I’m still not sure if the insurance could have covered the procedure. I’m not sure how well that would have worked out since I don’t really consider myself a certain gender, and I present as female for the most part.
While I technically had the immediate funds to cover my procedure, I didn’t want to drain my disposable funds and so instead opened up two new lines of credit to pay for the procedure. I have good credit and got approved for two credit cards, one of which offered 15 months interest-free financing and the other 20 months.
So I paid for the anesthesiologist upfront (which was a little over $1,000) and my down payment for the surgeon (which was $1,000), but then put the rest on these two credit cards, so now I have 15 and 20 months to pay off the balances interest-free, which is great (I would highly recommend this option to people who have good credit and are looking for a way to pay off a large balance interest-free, I’m SO happy I found out that I could do this! Here’s an article about it in case you’re interested).
ALSO I had to pay for my breast tissue to be tested for breast cancer after removal. This was something my surgeon required. The cost of that was over $2,300, but fortunately, insurance covered a lot of it, so I ended up having to pay $650 in addition to the $11,225.
How Long Did You Have to Take Off Work?
So I took off seven weeks from my on-call job in DC at a women’s homeless shelter and I only took off one day of writing. I was writing in bed the day after the procedure: freelancing life! I probably didn’t need to take the full seven weeks off of my DC job, but I wanted to be safe and that job can be unpredictable as far as things happening on the job, so wanted to be sure I would be recovered enough to handle anything that might happen. If I had a standard office job, I would think taking off at least a week (more like 10 days) would be appropriate. If I could have, I would have taken a full week off of everything to do nothing but watch movies and eat toast.
How Long Until You Were Able to Drive?
I drove at the end of week three but felt like I was probably ok to drive at the three-week mark.
How Much Pain Were You In?
Not much pain at all! My surgeon used some type of numbing stuff (I don’t have the name for this, sorry) which prevented me from having to take narcotics at all. I only had to take Tylenol for about a week and that was it. Of course, my surgical site was sore, but as far as actual pain, there really wasn’t any.
What Was the Worst Part of the Surgery?
There were three parts of the surgery that I felt were “the worst”, but the primary one was the nausea. I was intensely nauseous for two whole days following the surgery, and it finally started getting better on the third day. However, I’m prone to motion sickness and nausea in general, and I found that my nausea was worse in general in the weeks following my surgery.
The other two horrible parts were:
The drains. My drains were in for seven days and as my chest slowly became less numb and was healing, the drain holes felt itchy and irritated and every time I sat down they just felt like they were tugging and it was awful. I was SO happy to get those out at my seven-day post-op visit!
The binder. I was really dreading wearing the binder. It was pretty awful. Fortunately, I only wore it for 10 days, and it was very tight for the seven days following the surgery until my post-op appointment. After that, I got to take it off to shower and only wore it for another few days after that. I really just felt like I didn’t need it after the 10 days. I’ve heard other people say they have to wear it for six weeks—I wonder if this just has to do with whether or not you get nipple grafts?
Why Didn’t You Get Nipple Grafts?
This is a really personal question but it has a simple answer: I didn’t want to. All the years I had envisioned my chest without breasts, I imagined it without nipples too. I didn’t even know nipple grafts were a thing until I got older and learned more about top surgery. My nipples weren’t important to me and I chose not to keep them.
Why Did You Get Straight Scars Rather Than Following the Pectoral Line?
My surgeon wanted to follow the pectoral line for the scars but I told him no. That wasn’t what I wanted. I felt that it would have given my chest a more masculine appearance, and since I’m not transgender and didn’t want to appear more masculine, I opted for straight scars. My surgeon said straight scars like mine are more of what cancer patients who get double mastectomies get. That’s not the reason why I wanted it, I just felt that aesthetically they were more pleasing to me. I’m very happy with my decision to do this!
How Long Did You Need Someone’s Help After the Surgery?
I’m sensitive to medication was extremely nauseous for two whole days following the surgery even with taking two kinds of anti-nausea medication (read that again). After that, I felt more capable and aware, but not enough to fully take care of myself. I’m also a bunny mom and was not able to fully care for my bunnies until about two weeks post-op.
In my experience, having someone there until you get your drains out (which is normally seven days following the procedure) is necessary. At least, this was the case for me. If you can’t get someone to stay with you for the full seven days, I would say for a minimum of three days following the surgery (just make sure you have clothes that are easy to put on and put all of your necessary things within easy reach!).
What Surprised You the Most About Having Top Surgery?
There were so many things!
How scary it was to be in the operating room as the nurses strapped me down to the operating table, hearing the anesthesiologist say he was giving me “the medication”, just waiting to be unconscious. It was literally like someone flicked a switch and it was lights out.
How sick (nauseous) I felt after the procedure.
I had some vaginal bleeding after the surgery, which I noticed after I got home. My husband called the surgeon and he said he wasn’t sure what it from, but could be from the trauma of the surgery. That freaked me out a little (has anyone else had this experience??).
How it didn’t even feel like I’d gotten my breasts removed.
Discovering days after the procedure that the surgeon (or someone) had cut my armpit hair.
How emotional and in need of emotional support I felt (I’m so grateful to everyone who checked in on me!).
How much I hated wearing button-down shirts (this is really weird but I would recommend having clothes you actually like to wear after the procedure. There was something about wearing powder-blue button-down shirts that just made me feel awful. I wish I had something fun to wear to make me feel better during this crappy time).
How much I enjoyed saying “my chest” instead of “my breasts”.
How I didn’t remember much after the anesthesia.
How I didn’t realize that after surgery, I thought my body would be perfect. It was NOT perfect. I had ugly, uneven scar tissue, stretch marks, and an asymmetrical chest wall. I think I thought that once my breasts were gone that my body would be perfect and beautiful. It’s still beautiful, but it’s definitely not perfect. The surgery didn’t magically make it perfect.
How I immediately began noticing boobs after my surgery. Did anyone else have this experience? It was super weird! I literally never paid attention to anyone else’s boobs before the surgery and now it’s like I’m seeing them everywhere. Not sure how to explain this.
What Were the Things That Helped You the Most?
Straws. I kept reading about these but felt like they were overrated. Turns out, I really needed them for the first few days after surgery!
Button-down shirts. I hate button-down shirts but unfortunately you just really need them following surgery.
Lemon and honey tea for my nausea, as well as smelling lemon essential oil. I wish I had a diffuser at the time; I didn’t know how good lemon was for nausea! Normally I would take ginger but I couldn’t take ginger because it thins the blood and can increase risk for bleeding following surgery.
V-neck shirts. This is a weird one, but I slept with a t-shirt on after my surgery for two reasons. The first is that I wanted to protect my scars from rubbing on my sheets and comforter, and the second is that I was using my scar salve which contained a bunch of oils and cocoa butter, which would have stained my bedding. The V-neck style was nice because I didn’t feel like I was getting choked while I was sleeping because I move around a lot and regular t-shirts were just too constricting.
Freezing food. I made smoothies, broth, and frozen lasagna and chili, all of which really helped when my husband and I didn’t feel like going to the store and I still needed nutrients, ha.
Is There Anything You Would Have Done Differently?
YES! Outside of asking my surgeon the questions I neglected to ask, there is one big thing I would have done differently. And that thing is—DO NOT eat pizza the night before your surgery!
I couldn’t eat or drink after midnight the night before my surgery and for some idiotic reason my husband and I still aren’t sure about we decided to get takeout (something we almost never do) and have a gluten-free dairy-free pizza the night before my surgery.
The result? I was INSANELY thirsty and couldn’t drink anything! By the time I arrived at the surgery center at 8:30 the next morning, I was practically dying of thirst. It was miserable. The nurse couldn’t even get a vein on me because I was so dehydrated, which is something that never happens to me (I have good veins, thank you very much!). The result was this:
So yeah next time… I would literally eat a fruit salad and lots of water the night before my surgery.
Do You Miss Your Breasts?
Honestly? It’s really weird but I do miss them sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I rarely feel this way. Sometimes I miss them during sex which is weird because I kinda hated doing anything with them during sex. Sometimes I miss how soft my chest used to be (it’s really hard now). Mostly I’m ecstatic that they’re gone but I think it’s to be expected to miss them sometimes, even if you hated them (it’s like missing an ex you don’t regret breaking up with, ha).
Finally! That Was a Long Post!
I had tried to prepare so much for my surgery, and I think I did a good job, but there are some things you really just can’t prepare for, and you just have to experience it.
If you have any questions about my journey or healing process, I’d love to hear from you! You can leave a comment below or reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d also love to hear from you (and I’m sure other readers would love to know too) if you’ve gotten top surgery and found something helpful or surprising about having the procedure!
I’d like to thank the transgender community and all the individuals who posted videos or articles about their experience, they helped me SO much and without them I would have been so lost with preparing for this procedure. Their information empowered me to advocate for myself as much as possible, and it’s part of the reason why I’m writing this article and sharing this information with you now. So THANK YOU!
I got plastic surgery five weeks ago. I was so excited about the surgery (I got an elective double mastectomy without nipple grafts—you can read the story here) that it didn’t seem to me that I could feel anything other than wildly excited about having my dream of not having breasts come true.
However, I had enough sense to know that I would likely experience many different emotions after the surgery—and not all of them would be positive.
As the surgery got closer, I became less excited and more anxious, despite knowing that I had made the right decision. Of course, I couldn’t anticipate the exact emotions that I would feel after the surgery. I was surprised by some of them. In the months before my surgery, I wondered: would I miss my breasts? Would I think I had made a huge mistake? What I went through was a little like the five stages of grief after my plastic surgery procedure.
It didn’t feel like my breasts were gone for a while after the procedure. It’s hard to explain this to people. I had two wounds on my chest after my surgery, two long incisions starting in the middle of my chest and extending to the end of each armpit. I had stitches. I didn’t feel “free” or unburdened by not having breasts anymore. Instead, I couldn’t lift my arms over my head and I had a bandage on that was wrapped so tight that I couldn’t take a deep breath.
For the first week, before the bandage came off and I got to see my new chest for the first time, I literally felt like I was wearing a corset and that my breasts were simply smushed underneath that white binder (it didn’t help that my chest was numb, so I couldn’t really feel anything).
In a way, it felt like I was in denial that I had just had major surgery and that both my breasts were gone. When the surgeon removed my bandages at my post-op appointment and I saw my new chest for the very first time, I finally realized that they weren’t there. They were gone forever.
Why did I do this to myself?
It was hard not to wonder this in the first week, where for two days, I was so nauseous from the anesthesia that I couldn’t walk to the bathroom by myself. Where I couldn’t even lift a glass to my mouth and had to drink from a straw. Where I cried and thought that it was stupid of me to have maxed out two new credit cards to pay for this elective procedure.
I felt mad simply at the fact that I wanted so badly to have my breasts removed that I had actually gone through with this expensive and life-changing procedure. It was hard not to feel like the whole thing had been a giant mistake. My husband was very reassuring and told me my feelings were normal. After all, I couldn’t take a deep breath, bathe, or take care of my beautiful bunnies. It was natural that I’d be pissed, but at the time, it was hard to not be hard on myself.
What if I had gotten a different procedure done? The surgeon had asked me if I considered a breast reduction or another surgery such as a breast lift to “correct” my breasts. But my desire to get my breasts removed wasn’t about the way they looked; it was about the way I felt, and I just wanted them completely gone.
Should I have gotten a double mastectomy? Maybe removing my breasts wasn’t the right decision. Maybe I would miss them one day. Maybe I would find that, years from now, I would want to live my life as a woman with boobs.
I know this isn’t quite like the traditional bargaining stage of grief, but it’s difficult not to wrestle with yourself and consider if you might have taken another path. What I was facing in that moment—a lifetime with a new body that I was still getting used to—felt unbearable in a weird way, and thinking about alternatives to my decision was a result of that.
This is the part where I cried and told Ian (my husband) that I was afraid he wouldn’t love me anymore. Ian has always been amazing and so reassuring. We had so many conversations about my decision to remove my breasts, and have talked a lot about my feelings about my breasts over our 10 years of knowing each other and our two years of marriage.
I think what got to me was that almost every single person I told about the surgery asked about Ian first.
“What does Ian think?”
“Is Ian ok with this?”
“Did Ian know you were thinking about doing this before you got married?”
“I feel bad for Ian.”
After the surgery, I was feeling very emotional and experiencing a lot of feelings and I think I didn’t allow myself the space to acknowledge how much it had affected me that so many people had asked about Ian’s feelings about my body. News flash: Ian didn’t marry me for my breasts, and it’s my body, not his.
But lying in bed on the third day after surgery, Ian held my hand while I cried and I told him that I was afraid he wouldn’t love me anymore or find me attractive. I finally gave myself space to process these feelings. He was reassuring and we talked about our feelings, but I still felt depressed that not only was I recovering from major surgery, but that I had made a decision that I couldn’t take back (not that I wanted to take it back, but there’s something very sobering about making a decision that you can’t change).
I saw my new chest for the first time a week after the surgery. I was lying back on the chair in the exam room at my plastic surgeon’s office while the surgeon and an assistant unwrapped my bandages. There was a part of me that felt like my breasts were going to pop out after they unwrapped the bandages. I watched, looking down as the last bandage was removed and my new chest felt the cold air for the first time. “Welcome to your new chest,” the surgeon said.
It was strange looking down and seeing how small my chest looked. My breasts were a DD cup, and I had some fat around them, so I had also had liposuction during the procedure to prevent “dog ears”—pockets of fat left in the armpit area after a double mastectomy, as they’re known in the transgender community.
When I saw my new chest, I was amazed at how good it looked. Like I’d been dreaming for the past 15 years. Yes, I had stitches and purple marker and some blood around the wounds, but this was how I had wanted to look for so long. When I saw my new chest, I felt acceptance blooming in my heart, a love for something I could have only imagined in my other life.
It’s only been a little over a month, but I love my new chest. I’m still processing all the feelings that I’m experiencing as a result of choosing to get my breasts removed at age 30. But as I navigate my new body and my new life, I’m grateful to be able to say that my surgeon did an excellent job, the people in my life have been mostly encouraging and supportive, and I’m very happy with my new body.