"Sayonara, Sugar Tits" is a photo story series documenting the motivation and healing process of one woman's breast reduction surgery By Sarah Miller and Caitlin Little
Caitlin first met Dr. David Finkle in August. Now, on Jan. 11, 2019 -- almost half a year later -- she’s finally about to see the results of what they discussed during that very first appointment.
Caitlin and her boyfriend, Ali, wait in the lobby. She seems chipper; you almost wouldn’t be able to tell that she just had surgery the day before. “It feels like I just did a bunch of push-ups,” she says.
A nurse calls Caitlin back and she follows the nurse back to an exam room. The nurse leaves to grab the doctor. While she waits, Caitlin removes her bright, red jacket and denim button-up to reveal a post-surgery compression bra -- a white bra with thick bands and a zipper up the front. Stuffed underneath the bra are multiple squares of gauze. As she looks down at her pants, she says, “It’s weird to even see my fly,” and smiles.
Ali and Caitlin wait for Dr. Finkle and the nurse to see the results of the surgery.
When the nurse returns, Caitlin lies back on a pink, vinyl exam table while the nurse turns on a bright light overhead. Dr. Finkle walks in the room. He’s a bright and contagiously joyful man. The nurse unzips Caitlin’s compression bra and begins delicately removing the bloody gauze to reveal the sewn up cuts from surgery. The stitches and skin almost look like a rope, while steri-strips reinforce the stitches that run underneath the breasts. Caitlin looks down with a furrowed brow, but relaxes as the nurse continues to replace pus-filled gauze with clean ones. Dr. Finkle takes Caitlin and Ali through the process they should follow whenever they’re cleaning the healing scars. After adding clean gauze and zipping her bra back up, the surgeon reveals how much weight he removed from each breast during the three-hour surgery: 1200 grams from the right, 1040 grams from the left. In total, it comes out to 4.94 pounds — about the same as a bag of flour or a two-liter soda.
The first reveal! The surgeon and nurse remove the bloody gauze and examine the stitches.
Dr. Finkle. He was cool.
Side boob: hardcore version.
Dr. Finkle says it’s not uncommon for women’s husbands or boyfriends to simply dismiss the pain and discomfort that come with larger breasts. Five pounds isn’t that much, right? He tells each of those men that the next time they go grocery shopping, before they grab anything else, to grab a five-pound bag of potatoes and hold it against their chest until they get to the checkout. While Caitlin's surgery took her all the way down to a size B from a size H, the most dramatic breast reduction Dr. Finkle ever performed was on a woman in her 70s. Her breasts were so large, the only way she could get a bra on was by hooking it and then laying it down around her feet and pulling it up. He removed 14.5 pounds from her chest. Dr. Finkle ends the appointment by handing Caitlin a list of places to get good bras for the healing process. Almost all of them are available at any department store — something that most women don't even think twice about being able to do, but has been a distant dream for Caitlin. She walks out of the clinic looking happy and lighter, both literally and figuratively.
Despite the gnarly bandages and stitches, Caitlin is happy with the results.
Ten days later, Caitlin is a bit less chipper. She's not one to take it easy, but she’s been stuck at home mostly since the surgery, with a lingering cold that hurts her sutures with every cough. Even when she does go outside, the weather has been bitterly cold and gloomy. The whole process, she says, is surreal. “I haven’t looked in the mirror yet without crying,” she admits. “I know things are healing well, and the bruising is minimal, but it’s a guttural heart reaction.” The image she's seen of herself every day for years has suddenly changed, and for her it’s been hard to reconcile that change in her mind. Caitlin says it's like changing your hair color — it doesn't feel like you. At least, not yet. As for the physical healing process, Caitlin felt minimal pain right after the surgery, but as the nerves have begun to heal, she’s felt more sensations -- everything from pins, tickling, and the pressing of a bruise, to the feeling of “water whooshing” through her breasts. “It’s like a wave of water rushing over your foot,” she said.
About ten days out: time to replace gauze.
The yellowing is a result of fat necrosis, the tissue that died following surgery.
Caitlin makes coffee while her cat, Lewis, looks adorable.
Despite the uncomfortable moments of healing and recovering from a cold, Caitlin continues to go out with friends, to radio theatre practices, to open mic nights around town, and to meetings for Benson First Friday, an Omaha nonprofit focused on building up the arts community. “I pretty much have to be dying to not do stuff,” she says with a smirk. When she was growing up, her mother had two jobs and couldn’t afford to miss work. Caitlin adopted this stamina and determination and strives to be involved in as many things as possible in order to soak up every opportunity. Even when she was sick on a trip to Florida, she didn’t take it easy or cancel any plans -- she went out every day. “I don’t believe in resting vacations, because I don’t know if I’ll ever be here again,” she said. Unfortunately for Caitlin, the post-surgery healing process requires some slowing down...and gross moments.
About two months out: removing bandages from the nipples.
Yes, it's gross.
Free the nipples!
Even after getting stitches taken out, she says, “the skin is vulnerable; it’s sensitive.” Caitlin’s breasts take on a sunset of colors, everything from purple and dusty pink bruising to yellow, necrotic fat tissue that didn’t survive the surgery. To help things heal, she has to massage her breasts to move fluids and tissue. The stress of healing even caused her chest to break out in acne, something she’s never dealt with before. “I just want to slap some witch hazel on it and have it clear up by tomorrow,” she said.
Just under three months of healing and things are starting to look normal again
Caitlin will just have to wait for her body to heal in its own time, but on a brighter note, this experience is opening her up to the possibilities ahead of her. “I’ve been cut open and I’m still alive,” she said. “Now that I’ve done this, what else is there?”