What happens when your breast can’t stop growing? Ruth Makena’s battle with gigantomastia

Ruth Makena founder of Gigantomastia Foundation Photo: Courtesy

Growing up, I do not remember anything odd about my breasts. However, while a student in campus, my breasts took on a life of their own and would not stop growing. Breasts are supposed to add to a woman's femininity but mine were threatening to get in the way. In very little time, I had shot from a 36C to a 40GG! They were a burden, literally, as they were too heavy. There was nothing sexy about them as even finding a bra to fit them into was a nightmare. I had to learn to live with constant neck and back pains not to mention the discomfort of my bra digging into my shoulders. My college mates started poking fun at me and I became the laughing stock due to my humongous bust, which I later learned was a medical condition called gigantomastia.

Being an outgoing person, I decided the only way I would defend myself from men's vile comments was to embrace an aggressive personality. I would tell off anyone who dared comment anything about my appearance.

It worked though, because the mean comments subsided. Unfortunately, as much as I would have wanted to, I could not join my friends during school activities. With my bust growing almost daily, I could not run and I could not lift my hands. The slightest activity would affect my breathing and my life became largely sedentary. The pressure my breasts were exerting on my shoulders was so immense that my shoulder dislocated twice. Incidentally, the first time it happened, the doctors did not draw the relationship between my dislocated shoulder and my heavy bust.

Fortunately, the second time it happened, my doctor figured that my bust was the culprit and referred me to a plastic surgeon. The thought of a breast reduction gave me a sense of relief as it would mean saying goodbye to prying eyes and curious men who wanted to touch my breasts and see if they were real. Once while on holiday abroad, I bumped into a guy who asked me if I had had implants.

The breast reduction however didn't come cheap. It was going to cost Sh500,000 and would be done locally by a leading plastic surgeon. Mum, only too familiar with the pains and the agony I'd been through, paid for my operation.

The reduction

After I regained consciousness and the anaesthesia wore off, my chest indeed felt lighter. The relief was immense. The doctor had removed 3.4kg from my right breast and 3.9kg from my left breast.

Though I was hospitalised for five days as I recuperated, I was excited about this new beautiful chapter in my life. I no longer walked with a slouch. I even dropped my aggressive behaviour that had been my defense mechanism.

Due to the size of my original boobs, there was no supply of blood to the nipples and unfortunately I lost my nipples in the surgery. I still have a reason to smile. I would like to have two children someday and I believe they will turn out great even without breastfeeding.

I am reaching out to other women and young girls suffering from gigantomastia. My doctor says that a bra size above cup D should be reason to be concerned. I would like to advise women to be keen and to listen to their bodies. Any signs of back aches or even when the bra starts digging into your shoulders should be a good time to consult a doctor.

I have a foundation, Gigantomastia Foundation, which I founded late last year to assist girls and women who have no funds to cater for the surgery, which is quite expensive. We have so far assisted 40 women and girls get the surgery. Though I trained as a lawyer, I run my foundation on a full time basis.

Expert’s view

Gigantomachia is a condition where there is excessive growth of the breast tissue to a size that is too big and heavy for the body. It is a rare condition, which occurs in puberty just after a girl has started having her monthly periods. It can also occur during pregnancy in some women. Certain medications used in treating rheumatoid arthritis like D-penicillamine or bucillamine have been linked to gigantomastia, especially the one related to pregnancy.

Effects

1. The weight of the breasts could cause back problems. Depending on the weight they are exerting on the backbone, some women are immobilised and their activities are limited.

2. It can also affect a woman's posture, resulting in the woman slouching her shoulders.

3. Due to the weight of the heavy breasts, the skin over the breasts can stretch so much that it causes wounds, requiring treatment. In such cases, antibiotics and proper wound care are administered.

An excess of certain gynaecological hormones are suspected to be part of the cause though scientists say there could be a possible genetic link.

Treatment

Treatment may include hormone treatment to suppress the excess gynaecological hormones. Sometimes, the only option is plastic and reconstructive surgery to reduce the size of the breasts. Though there are breast reduction surgery techniques that preserve the connection between the nipple and the ducts to the glandular tissues of the breast that produce milk, sometimes the nipple is compromised and has to be removed, which means that the woman is not able to breastfeed in future.

The condition though rare can also be found in men and is referred to as gynaecomastia. The causes are usually hormonal or genetic and can be a source of psychological distress, especially in adolescent males.

 

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