Health at Every Size: Breast Reconstruction, Weight Training, and Rock Climbing

If you’ve been lucky enough to never deal with it, you would be amazed at the options and choices there are when it comes to breast reconstruction.  

In 2006, I had latissimus dorsi (LD) flap reconstruction with implants.  Here is a good description of it.  It may seem strange (even Frankenstein-ish) to deliberately take perfectly good skin and muscle from your back and stitch it to the front, but when you’ve existed without breasts at all for a year, the surgery is miraculous.

But there are drawbacks.  I remember reading before the surgery that, if you do rock climbing, an LD flap might not be right for you.  Maybe in the back of my mind I took this bit of information as a challenge.

in 2011, a new YMCA opened near our house.  I had been wanting to get back to weight training–I had done it consistently in my 20’s, but then life got in the way and I was lucky to do some water aerobics or walking on a semi-regular basis.  I remembered how good it made me feel, and I wanted to feel that way again.

I emailed my plastic surgeon to ask whether I had any limitations on weight training because of the surgery.  He told me that because the LD muscle was completely detached, there was no need to exercise it specifically, but that it would be a good idea to strengthen my shoulders.  He said that I had no limitations.

So off I went to meet with a fitness counselor and get back to it.  I found that once a week was barely enough to maintain whatever muscular strength I was building, but if I went twice a week, I could improve slowly.

A year passed, and I was still going–weight training and some cardio.  I loved it.  I was doing 11 stations, and lifting a total of 15,000 pounds, then 16,000, and more and more. (I’m now up to about 20,500 pounds each time.)

There’s a climbing wall at our Y, so I started asking my daughter if she wanted to rock climb, as a reward for going to the child watch while I worked out.  She liked it, but seemed to get stuck at the same spot about 2/3 of the way up the wall.  I had tried rock climbing with her a couple of years before, when I wasn’t working out, and I could hardly pull myself up onto the first peg.  It was a humbling experience.  But I started thinking that maybe if I tried it too, she would be pushed to go further so that she could beat mama at something.

The wellness center with the cardio machines shares a window with the rock wall, and one day, while I was on the treadmill, I saw that no one was on the wall.  My heart raced–here was my chance!  My daughter was in child watch, so she couldn’t laugh at me if I couldn’t do it, and no one else would be looking.  Now would be the perfect time to try it!  I even finished my treadmill workout without a cooldown because I wanted to make sure no one got in front of me, and rushed to the rock wall.

I told Ryan, the belay-er, that I wanted to try it.  (He’s the person on the ground who also wears a harness, pulls the slack in the rope as the climber climbs, and then lets them down slowly when they’re ready to come down.)  He showed me how to put on the harness, and told me that I was just like every other parent who tries rock climbing–most are walking really fast and have big smiles on their faces when they try it when their kids aren’t watching.  He told me that I shouldn’t worry about other people being there and should try it if I wanted to.

I made sure he knew how much I weighed, in case he needed to hook onto the stabilizer ring on the floor, because I was certain I weighed more than him.  The last thing I wanted was for me to fall and pull him up off of the ground!  He assured me that “he could handle me.”

He showed me how to hold my foot to climb onto the lowest peg, and up I went.  I could actually do it!  Amazing! I didn’t get very far that first time–only 4 or 5 feet.

I realized that the hardest part wasn’t climbing up.  For me, it was letting go, dangling way above everyone’s heads.  That’s a metaphor for another post.   Watch the video–no matter how many times I do it, I still don’t want to let go of that wall!

We go rock climbing most Saturdays now.  Neither of us has made it to the top yet, but we’re about three-fourths of the way up, and we keep trying.  As I expected, my daughter has pushed past the place she used to get stuck so that she stays ahead of me.

it’s often crowded, with tiny kids (who regularly get to the top) waiting for their turn, and I do feel a little funny trying to ease the harness over my belly (the harnesses are one size, of course) and knowing everyone on the ground is watching.  But I remind myself that I have just as much a right to rock climb as they do, and who knows, maybe someone walking by in the hallway, or a parent waiting with their child will think–wow, I’ve never seen someone her size rock climb before.  If she can do it, maybe I can do it too.  I refuse to let the thought of what anyone else thinks limit something I want to do.

And when I come down, no matter how far I’ve climbed, I still feel like I can do anything.  it’s addictive.  How often do you do something that makes you feel that way?



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