This is the part II follow up to my original post, The One Thing I couldn’t Change: Satisfaction Through Surgery.
Last month got pretty nuts for me, what with finishing my masters, and vacation, and all, but I had a mini-celebration during that time as well: officially, my boobs turned one year old. Happy birthday, boobs!
We celebrated by going to the same music festival in Atlanta that we had the year previous. The one that I specifically scheduled my surgery three weeks prior to so that I would be cleared to dance in time. At my one-year follow-up appointment, my surgeon was astounded that I had been able to accomplish so much in the year prior, and asked me if I’d be willing to do a write-up about my experience for her website, as well as allow her to use my photos (both surgical and stage) when she gave talks about the type of implant I chose. Apparently, my chesticles are model citizens. Awesome!
My post regarding surgery itself is still by far my most read and most linked-to post, and I thought it would be helpful to share a bit more about the time since I wrote that, in terms of what that means for healing, for training, and for me as a person, until now.
I was wiggly, wiggly, wiggly in the weeks following surgery, absolutely itching to get back in the gym. When you dedicate a large portion of your life to something, and then are told that it’s absolutely 100% off limits for a few weeks, you start to get just a little bit batty. BUT, as Zack so kindly repeated to me, over, and over, and over, I had invested thousands of dollars into this surgery, and if I took care of things properly right away, I’d reap the benefits for many years. The gym would always be there. So, wiggly as I was, I followed the instructions (mostly) and only did what I was allowed to, even if that meant multiple phone calls to the nurses at the surgeon’s office to clarify what that meant I could and could not do. I must’ve been the most annoying patient for a few weeks, and asked questions they’d never heard before.
“Hi, it’s Stephanie again…so I was wondering, what about if I did kneeling squats at the Smith, so I didn’t need to actually hold and balance any weight? My butt is feeling floppy.”
Yeah, like that.
But I did what I was told, and didn’t do what i was told not to, and, against my normal inclination to push through push through, I was patient, and I chose healing over power, over proving my abilities to myself and others. I will say it was a test of my willpower, to simply be a little bit passive, to allow myself to relax a bit, but it paid off marvelously.
At this, my last appointment with the surgeon, she couldn’t believe how well I’d healed, especially after I told her all the things I’m back to doing in the gym at this point. My implants are precisely where they ought to be- no migration, no tearing, I had allowed them plenty of time to heal exactly as they needed to, largely as a result of listening when my body told me something wasn’t ready- like bench pressing. In fact, I’d healed so well, not only internally, but externally as well- she couldn’t even FIND my scars to check them! She was absolutely amazed. It pays to protect your investment, particularly when that investment is your body. Paying attention to what my body said was absolutely key, I think, in the healing process.
Recall that my pecs, according to my doc, were some of the strongest she’d ever encountered during surgery. I mean, of course they were- how many women, in the general population, bench at or above their body weight? My pecs were busy putting in work, not just lazing about under my nipples, right? When I wrote my initial post, I had been cleared to return to pec exercises by my doc, but my body had other ideas. Flat bench was absolutely impossible, without feeling like I was tearing something, so I had begun incorporating light dumbbell incline bench as a way to build up tolerance and strength again.
I’m happy to report that I am back to regular benching, complete with powerlifting arch, not just my body weight, but slightly above even. My goal after surgery was actually to “someday” reach a body weight bench again, as in, that was my ultimate goal. When I reintroduced bench press into my training in June, a little over 9 months post-surgery, I calculated my 1RM to be quite light to ease back in, at 95 pounds (82% BW). I was shocked at how quickly my body was ready to jump back in, having taken the time to heal properly and build those stabilizer muscles around back up. I think it helped a lot that I had replaced all bench-type movements with overhead pressing motions during that time, so my upper body didn’t atrophy as a whole, and those delts I grew, and the smaller muscles in the area, helped my to jump right back in. Within 12 weeks- two cycles of Candito– my 1RM had rocketed up to 120, officially back above body weight again. Of course, this led to a reassessment of goals- how on earth was my lifetime goal going to be accomplished in less than three months?! Clearly I’m capable of much, much more! So: let’s go for the full plate bench- 135, baby!
Dr. Saltz was hugely impressed with this, when she asked how my gym performance had been at my one-year appointment. She said she hadn’t heard anything like that before from any of her patients, and that I was a true testament to the utility and quality of the textured implant, putting them through so much stress. Had I chosen the more standard smooth implant- the one you are probably familiar with, my boobs would be sliding all over the place. When I flex my pecs, they do move slightly, but, that’s the deal when you flex something, right? I flex my bicep, it better move. My implants do not slide out of their assigned pocket, though, which is what she was saying. A textured implant heals locked in to the surrounding tissue- think of Velcro- the texture holds it together. You can talk to any number of competitors with implants, and ask them to show you what happens when they hit the pec deck… things get a bit alien-looking. Mine don’t do that.
Pull-ups were the other training issue that I encountered following surgery. I’ll admit that for a long while I was really, really upset about this one, mostly because I simply didn’t see it coming. I’m not so upset by it anymore. I still don’t train unassisted pull-ups. I know my lats can do it, strength is not the issue, but there’s still just an indescribably feeling in my pecs if I do more than 2 or 3, a terrible, weird, unnecessary feeling that I simply don’t need to have, so, I don’t. I just do my pull-ups on the assist machine with somewhere between 5 and 30 pounds of assist, and really, really focus in on my lats. I think this might have actually aided in their development! By being able to hone in on the back muscles I’m really aiming to grow, and not worry about stabilizing myself and, you know ripping my boobs off, I get a really incredible pump, to the point where by my second set my lats my sports bra is painfully digging in to my swollen lats. So, it takes maybe a little poke to my ego, but, it’s hard to be mad about a sick lat pump.
In summary, I’m training as hard as ever, a year after surgery. All of my lifts are progressing according to my programming, and I do not feel limited in my abilities whatsoever, in or outside of the gym, as a result of having had surgery.
So Now What?
So now, I find myself at 100% back to normal, both in life and in the gym. I’m definitely more confident with my body than I was before surgery- I mean hell, I wore pasties and body paint at EDC this year, because these boobs are incredible. I can’t describe to you how much of a relief it is to me that my lifts have returned to normal, and how quickly that happened, too. I don’t view the time I took off from benching as a setback to my progress, even. That time away from just powerlifting afforded me the time to pursue something else- bodybuilding- that I’d likely not have otherwise done. I learned so much through that process, and through recovering from surgery, about nutrition, about how my body reacts to various stimuli, about training for aesthetics, and I fell in love with being on stage. Would my bench max be a few pounds heavier had I not taken 9 months off of training it? Maybe so. But what I gained in the time off, I would never trade.
Recently, my surgeon has been asking me to speak to patients for her- particularly, athletic ladies worried about how surgery would impact their performance. I’ve been happy to help these ladies out, as I remember feeling that worry, that uncertainty. If I can help some ladies feel more confident in their decision, if I can serve as a model of what you can accomplish after surgery, I am so, so happy to do that. It sounds so cliche, but truly having surgery is probably the single best decision I’ve made for myself in terms of learning experiences and cumulative benefits in how I view myself and how I feel in my own body every single day.
I am looking at doing my first powerlifting competition within the next few months here, something I, in the months following surgery, I told my husband I “wished I had done before surgery made it impossible.” How amazing is that? I thought that competing was over before it had ever begun, and now I’m stronger than ever- a 350 Wilks score! I am also researching drug-tested bodybuilding federations as a potential alternative to the NPC for next year, as they continue to grow around the country.
So what now? EVERYTHING. No limits.