My breasts caused me awful back problems


MY HEALTH EXPERIENCE: JULIE KEELY: Breast reduction surgery has made a huge difference

I STARTED to look into having a breast reduction first about eight years ago. When I was about 23 or 24 they suddenly started to grow – before that, they had been B or C cups, but when I hit 23 or 24 they just started growing and growing . . . no matter how much weight I lost.

They made my life really uncomfortable – for one, I was having awful back problems. My neck and shoulders were constantly sore, and my GP had me on regular pain meds, but I noticed I was developing a hump between my shoulder blades – a small fat deposit, which, it turned out, was because of how I was carrying myself.

And I couldn’t exercise because my boobs just got in the way. I couldn’t even jog because of the weight. I’d wear two ultra-strong sports bras at a time, and it still felt like there was a huge weight hanging off me. I was being dragged down every time I took a step.

I’m really tall, and I was so conscious of the fact that, when I stood up straight with my shoulders back, it felt like I was pushing my boobs out. But when I first started looking into it, it would have cost about €10,000 and I was buying a house and . . . I just couldn’t have afforded it.

I went back to my doctor a while later to talk about it, and he said they were very pendulous – that was his word – for a woman of my age, one who hadn’t had children.

So he asked if I would be interested in being put on a public waiting list, to have a plastic surgeon look at them. Of course, I said yes.

After that, it took about three years – and I had my first appointment in St James’s Hospital in March this year. The surgeon was very matter of fact, which is fine because I don’t really do touchy-feely, but she basically told me that I’d have to lose weight before I could be considered. She said I was a candidate for it, and that the surgery would definitely improve my life but . . . that was really it. I was weighed, measured and photographed, then told to wait for six months, and “see what happens”.

At the same time, I was asked if I wanted to go on the National Treatment Purchase Fund list. If I did, I could get a quicker appointment, but it wouldn’t necessarily be with the surgeon I had seen. I said yes, absolutely, because I just wanted to have it done as soon as possible. That was on March 10th, and by June or July, I was told I had been accepted.

I had my first appointment with the surgeon in the Blackrock Clinic on September 6th. He was just amazing. He just made it really easy – he explained everything, and went through a list of questions I had prepared. He told me, after I’d been measured and examined, that I was a perfect candidate. He recommended having the surgery immediately, and I was back four weeks later.

At that stage, I wasn’t nervous or scared – I knew I was really lucky to go through the public service. If you don’t, it can cost up to €15,000, but I didn’t pay a penny.

When I went in for the procedure, I was fully prepared. I might have scared myself slightly by Googling and YouTubing procedures, and before I went in I started blogging about it (at because I realised there wasn’t that much information out there. I was looking for honest stories about what it was like, and in a way I wanted people to understand that it wasn’t a boob job; it’s not this tiny incision under your breast. During the operation, I was open from armpit to armpit, right around the front of my cleavage and up to my nipples, like an anchor shape. Afterwards, I had 60 internal stitches and 100 external – it’s not a little thing.

My surgery was at 1pm, and I think I woke up at about 5.30pm, totally woozy from the anaesthetic and completely out of it. Everything was bandaged and I was in this surgical support bra, with Velcro straps and a zip, and I just remember looking down and going, “Look at my new boobs!”

I was in and out in 24 hours, which was kind of strange because it’s such a huge procedure, but staying in means there’s a risk of MRSA and so on – and you’re more comfortable at home anyway.

But the recovery period was much more extensive than I thought it would be. I needed round-the-clock care for the first 10 days – I’m lucky that my parents, sisters and my boyfriend went above and beyond the call of duty to look after me.

Someone would stay over; there was someone there for me 24 hours a day. You can’t do anything physical – I couldn’t lift anything heavier than a cup and even getting up and out of a chair was difficult.

After the first week, I developed an infection around my right nipple – necrosis, where the flesh dies. I was back with the surgeon the next week, but we were lucky we caught it early, and I was with him every week after that for about five weeks. Since then, it’s pretty much cleared up – if it hadn’t, the next option would have been skin grafts.

It’s been nine weeks since the operation. I feel hugely different – last week I bought my first underwired bra, for example. I’ve gone from a 36-38H to a 38B – they removed three and a half pounds of flesh from my breasts, so there’s a big difference.

It takes six to eight months to heal completely, inside and out. They look great, although it’s uncomfortable at times, and I won’t be able to exercise for another four to six weeks, but I’m rearing to go. I don’t have any neck or back pain at all any more – nor do I have huge grooves on my shoulders, from where my bra straps used to be.

What’s most different is that now, I stand up straight. Friends of mine have said: “God, I never realised how tall you were!” I didn’t even know how much of a stoop I was standing at, all to cover up the fact that my breasts were so enormous.

I really love when people ask about it, especially if they’re considering it themselves. I’ll always be more than happy to talk about it to anyone who’s interested.

In conversation with Rosemary Mac Cabe