Parent Q&A: Helping a daughter through breast reduction surgery

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For her eighteenth birthday, Mackenzie Langan wanted people to know her as something other than the girl with the big breasts. The teenager from Cape Cod—whose experience was chronicled in a recent episode of Nightline—underwent a double breast reduction surgery to take her G-cup chest down to a C size. Now, you “can’t take the smile off her face,” says Mackenzie’s mother, Cindy Crawford, who shared with us a parent’s perspective on coping with macromastia and getting treatment from Brian Labow, MD, at the Boston Children’s Hospital Adolescent Breast Center.

When did you start to think that Mackenzie’s breast development was more than a cosmetic issue?

Her bra size kept going up and up. First she was a C cup, then she came to me and said “Mom, I’ve grown out of my bra again.” She went into a DDD and eventually couldn’t fit into regular bras, so I had to take her to a specialty store. When they measured her and we found out she was a G cup, I thought, “Wow, that’s really incredible.”

Then her breasts started causing her back pain, rib pain and sores. She got a lot of unwanted attention from boys on the bus ride to school. Mackenzie started to hate her body and I was worried as a parent about her developing an eating disorder. It was obviously a health issue.

Did the physical symptoms and unwanted attention affect Mackenzie socially and emotionally?

It was a parenting struggle. I would tell her to try to ignore the comments from boys. She wanted to wear what everyone else was wearing, but a normal t-shirt would show a lot of cleavage. She would get upset because there wasn’t anything she could do about it, and she didn’t want to wear turtlenecks all the time.

We saw a therapist a few times. We told her that everyone will love you for who you are inside—your personality.

When did you first start considering breast reduction surgery?

One of the salespeople at the specialty bra shop had had a breast reduction, which put the idea in the back of Mackenzie’s mind. When the problems developed under her ribs, we talked about it with her pediatrician, who was very supportive. We just knew that for her size—Mackenzie is petite and five feet tall—it was abnormal.

Was it hard to accept that your daughter might want to have a breast reduction?

No, but some other people didn’t understand. They asked why she would change her body with surgery. They told her she was crazy and that her large breasts were wonderful. Mackenzie worried that boys wouldn’t like her without such large breasts. She went back and forth a lot, and we talked a lot about it.

After you recognized the problem, did you seek medical help?

We went to a chiropractor a couple years back, which didn’t help. Then problems developed under her ribs and we talked to the pediatrician about it.

How did you end up at the Adolescent Breast Center?

I knew the reputation of Boston Children’s Hospital. The pediatrician said there was a group at Children’s that worked on breasts specifically. I was very intrigued because I didn’t realize there was such a thing.

What was the initial consultation like?

Instead of taking a seat like a normal doctor, Dr. Labow jumped up on the table and talked to her. It was so comfortable. It put Mackenzie at ease. He talked to her about the emotional side of things and her self-esteem. It was the best consultation ever.

How did you decide when the time was right for surgery?

We talked about how to fit the surgery into going off to college in the fall. We decided on April because of school vacation. The recovery process takes seven to 10 days and after that she was already back at work.

I think it was the right time. I don’t think emotionally she would have been ready before this. It may have changed her high school years, so I wish we had done it earlier, but it’s better than when she got to college. Now she can say, “This is the new me. I turned 18 and it’s the new me.”

How does Mackenzie feel about her body now?

You can’t take the smile off her face. She went shopping and bought some sundresses in size extra small and said, “Mom, they’re too big for me!” Her prom is at the end of May and she went shopping for a dress as soon as she could take off her surgical bra, and the dress zipped right up.

Running had been a problem because Mackenzie had had to wear two or three sports bras, and field hockey and cheerleading ended up being uncomfortable with her breasts. It was hard to do a lot of those things, but now she will be able to take control.

Do you have any advice for other parents on talking to their teens about breast health?

I’ve always tried to keep a door open, where I can listen and she knows I won’t get upset. I listen and even though I might not agree, I try to talk to her in a positive way.

We spoke about surgery at length. I tried to think about the future and have an open mind. She’s going to be able to live a better life in the future. A lot of people see it as changing your image, as plastic surgery, but we talked about it as a health issue for her future.

Learn more about the Boston Children’s Adolescent Breast Center.