“It seemed like the only way to find peace in my body,” she says. She thought about cosmetic plastic surgery, an operation which involves improving a person’s appearance which is not a common procedure in Uganda.
Besides the costs involved in having the surgery, many locals believe that one should not alter their natural or God-given body. In fact, there are those who will even say they embrace their body imperfections.
But even those who have gone under the knife for any kind of cosmetic surgery would prefer to keep it secret or tell only a few confidantes. A case in point, is a 29-year-old woman, who preferred to conceal her identity because some of her family members are not aware she had the surgery and for fear of getting stigmatised at her work place, who had a breast reduction last year. We shall call her Leah Byenkya. “My breasts were large, an E-cup size, often spilling out of my bra and making it impossible for me to wear certain clothes,” she says.
Throughout high school, Byenkya was popular because of her breasts.
“Everyone in the school knew me because of my big breasts. Rather than hide them by often wearing a sweater like other girls who faced the same issue, I wore a tight camisole under my school uniform which would create an illusion that they were not really large,” she says, adding, “and the guys (boys) would go crazy,” she says.
During school holidays, Byenkya says there were men who would give her lifts because of her busty cleavage. It was uncomfortable.
In Senior Four, her breasts started to grow larger and sag, Byenkya developed a dislike for them.
“I hated them because they were no longer that attractive,” she explains.
On whether the breasts were causing any complications such as chest pains, Byenkya replies that she was not feeling any sort of pain except for the fact that she loathed their size.
She got preoccupied by thoughts of the possibility of undergoing breast reduction surgery.
“I kept wishing for them to become smaller. I read different magazines and stories on the internet and learnt that this was achievable through an operation,” she says.
In 2014, Byenkya flew to South Africa to do consultations with different plastic surgeons only to learn that the surgery was very expensive. She therefore returned to Uganda to look for cheaper options.
“It was the same story here in Uganda. The procedure was costly. One of the facilities I visited requested for Shs19million, an amount I did not have,” she says.
However, Byenkya did not give up on her quest for a solution to her issue.
One day, in 2016 while perusing different Facebook posts, she came across one highlighting of an upcoming medical camp focusing on plastic surgery at Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services in Uganda (CoRSU), a private non-profit, non-government organisation on Entebbe Road.
She attended the medical camp and got an opportunity to meet a team of doctors [about nine], whom she consulted on the possibility of having breast reduction surgery.
“They gave me options of what was achievable and what was safe to do. Also, I had the chance to ask many questions and they were helpful enough to respond to them,” she says.
Besides proposing the idea of having a breast reduction, Byenkya also inquired if it was possible to have a liposuction, a cosmetic procedure where excess fat is drained from the body to look slim.
“I wanted the fat sucked from my abdomen but the team discouraged the idea. They stated that it was unnecessary as the fat could be reduced by exercising,” she recalls.
She therefore discarded the liposuction idea and embraced the breast reduction procedure, which the medical team was willing to perform.
From time to time, Byenkya visited CoRSU for counsel as she came up with a question daily before finally zeroing on the date of the operation.
Family perception, reaction
In their family, Byenkya, an orphan, is the last born of four girls who had their reservations on the surgery.
“They were sceptical about it. They could not understand why I was having the surgery after reasoning that my breasts were not as extremely large as I thought. Although they tried talking me out of it, I stood my ground and they let me be,” she says.
The idea remained within the confines of home and was not discussed with others. Byenkya thought the only other person worth sharing the information with was her boyfriend. “He was scared but supportive,” she says.
Her worries and fears
The surgery was scheduled for November 2016 at a cost of Shs3.9m at CoRSU. Byenkya saved money over time to accumulate the required amount. On the day of the surgery, Byenkya says she drove to the health facility and was later joined by one of her sisters. “I was very anxious and scared because I had earlier been requested to sign a piece of paper [consent form] that included a list of the possible risks and complications that could result from the procedure. I thought about my nipples falling off; the possibility of not being able to breastfeed when I have a baby, death, among other issues,” she says, adding, “ I was only able to calm down after the doctors reassured me that everything would be fine,” she says.
Surgery and recovery
She does not remember much of what transpired during the five-hour surgery as it was performed under full body anaesthesia, where one is numbed during an operation.
In the recovery room, she felt a lot of pain which was managed with painkillers. In addition, there was the vomiting and the unexpected swelling of the breasts whose size subsided over the next days.
“I looked at my breasts in the mirror and was happy about the results. They looked smaller and more beautiful than before. There was visible tape on the designated areas on both sides of the breasts where the cuts had been made,” she says.
Byenkya later learnt that about 700 grammes of breast tissue was taken from one breast and 500 grammes from another.
For the next two weeks, Byenkya was advised to stay at home to rest and recover.
“I was advised to keep the areas of the operation dry while bathing. I would pass a sponge or wet cloth over my upper body rather than take a shower,” she says.
Over the next few weeks, Byenkya had fully recovered and resumed her normal life.
Today, she is more confident in her body.
“I felt like a heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders. My breasts are more firm and I can wear all the clothes I could previously not, for instance, open tops,” she says.
Except for the scars from the surgery, Byenkya says she is happy about the results that she is considering another cosmetic surgery on a different part of her body, which she prefers not to reveal.