I have a background in social work. Although I no longer work in that field, it continues to serve as a backbone to my passions. Social justice is, and always has been, a core value of mine. Outside of activism, I love to travel, I’m a coffee and wine enthusiast, I’m a vegan, and I love to find creative projects to do for fun and laughter. I have a son who is 13 years old, and I love spending time with him. We are very close.
How did you find your surgeon? What were the specific reasons you chose him or her over other providers?
Finding Dr. Kyllo was a mix of Googling, as well as recommendations I got from a top surgery group on Facebook. I didn’t feel confident enough in any of the other surgeons in the area. In fact, Dr. Kyllo was the only surgeon I even scheduled a consultation with. Some surgeons felt to me like they were after a “celebrity status” goal in their clinic. I didn’t like the idea of being someone they just wanted to add to the numbers of top surgeries they had done. I also didn’t love the results I had seen from other surgeons. A surgeon’s bedside manner is also very important to me, and fortunately, Dr. Kyllo’s was wonderful. So many of those wanting top surgery have had to compromise on that aspect just to get good results. I didn’t want anyone this close to my body that I didn’t feel like also listened to and respected me.
I was so nervous about the initial consultation appointment. Almost everyone I had spoken to warned me about how rushed and non-personable many surgeons are during consults. I did not experience any of that when I met Dr. Kyllo. He walked into the room and I immediately felt welcomed. He asked me some questions, and then when I told him I also had my own questions, he sat back and gave me the room. I felt like I was his only patient while he was with me. And I felt like he cared about his work, that he took pride in what he did beyond just some level of status achievement. Never once did I feel like he was questioning or invalidating my gender identity either.
What type of procedure did you have and why did you decide to have this procedure?
I had top surgery (bilateral mastectomy) with free nipple grafts. I am non-binary (my pronouns are they/them). Even before I realized that I was non-binary, I did not want my breasts. As far back as my early twenties, I remember wishing I could find a reason to convince a surgeon to remove them. I had no idea that this option even existed for me. I thought I had to be a trans binary man in order to have this done. I never thought I was “allowed” to be approved for top surgery as a non-binary person. My breasts had always caused me both physical and emotional pain, as well as gender dysphoria. The physical pain was not due to their size, as I did not have large breasts. The issue was that they were incredibly dense/fibrocystic, and I was prone to painful cyst growths. To top it off, breast cancer runs in my family – just another reason why I did not want them. I hated bras, and everything about having breasts always felt upsetting and inconvenient to me. I just wanted to be flat.
Describe your surgical experience and recovery.
This was my first major surgery, so I really didn’t know what to expect. But from start to finish, my experience and recovery were so much more positive and easier than I expected. On the morning of surgery, everyone had their own roles and questions to ask and each person made me feel calm and cared for. It could have felt chaotic and scary, but every single person who walked in to talk to me and prep me was so warm.
As soon as I saw Dr. Kyllo he immediately put me at ease. He gave me just the pep talk I needed at that moment. Before he walked out of the room he looked me in the eyes and told me with such confidence that I was going to do great.
Walking into the surgery room almost felt like I was going in for a spa treatment. Before opening the door to the OR, I was told I’d have the room with the view of Lake Union and was invited to go to the window to look at it before getting on the table. This helped ease my anxiety because nothing felt urgent or sterile about these interactions. I got onto the surgical table and couldn’t BELIEVE it was heated! My previous thoughts of feeling like I was being walked into my spa treatment had me giggling now -I asked the team if I was here for my massage. Everyone prepping me was warm and kind, explaining everything they were doing to me. It was all very fast, but they took the time to get to know me while they were doing what had to be done. I never just felt like a body.
I had virtually no pain post-op. I never even needed a Tylenol. The drains were never uncomfortable. My incisions felt tight, but not painful. I had some itching, but it was so much more tolerable than I anticipated. I didn’t experience any complications.
What were your fears about having this procedure and how did your surgeon help you overcome them?
Oddly enough, my first fear was vomiting. I have emetophobia and will do anything to avoid vomiting. I was terrified of anesthesia making me sick. Dr. Kyllo assured me during our consultation how rarely he sees this happen with his patients. On the day of the surgery, the anesthesiologist even offered me a scopolamine patch for extra measure. Fortunately, I never ended up getting sick from the anesthesia.
My other fears were more related to wondering if I would like my results and worrying about whether or not my nipples would survive. Societal pressure came into play a bit and led me to wonder if I might regret the surgery later. Dr. Kyllo’s gallery of results spoke for themselves as did other photos I had seen elsewhere of people who had top surgery with him. I had never seen an “after” photo of his top surgery results that I didn’t like. He told me that he has never had a patient lose a nipple. He went over in great detail with me how he predicted my nipple size would end up and his default scar shapes were the exact ones I would have requested.
Describe why you are happy you chose this procedure. How has it positively impacted your life? Your self-esteem?
I can’t even begin to tell you how the word “regret” was the furthest from my vocabulary after top surgery. Even I was not prepared for just how happy this was going to make me. I had no idea how much emotional space having breasts was taking up in my head. My mental health skyrocketed in a positive direction. I had no idea just how much having breasts had impacted me mentally until I had them removed. I finally felt free, and able to be fully, authentically me. All I could see was an easier future ahead of me. I was giddy and on cloud 9.
When I go out in the world now, I don’t have to worry about how certain clothes will fall on me anymore because of having breasts. I don’t have to think about bras or binders, or how to try to hide my breasts. Putting on every single shirt post-op was mind-blowing. I had never felt so good in clothes before. I just wanted the world to see! I would stare in the mirror just smiling. This surgery made me blossom in ways I was not expecting. Yes, I know I was the one who wanted this – but wow, I had no idea just HOW much I wanted (and NEEDED) this. My posture improved because I was standing so tall from confidence. I AM FREE! All I could do for weeks was talk about how overwhelmingly happy I was, and how this was the best decision I have ever made for my body.
Dr. Kyllo sends breast tissue to pathology as a default. This is how we discovered I was living with breast cancer. Even my mammogram and ultrasound just months before surgery did not pick up the cancer. This was very shocking to both me and Dr. Kyllo. I am lucky that the cancer is very early stage and non-invasive and is a type that is often treated via mastectomy. That being said, because we didn’t know I had cancer before top surgery, and because some tissue is left behind, I may have to undergo surgery again to remove the remaining tissue to be CERTAIN that we get all of the cancer out.
As much as this has been such a setback from how incredibly euphoric I was initially feeling after surgery, I am so extra grateful that I chose to have top surgery. If I hadn’t, who knows how much longer it would have taken to discover I was living with breast cancer. Dr. Kyllo saved my life in more ways than one. I am forever grateful for him.
Tell us specifically about why you are happy you chose the surgeon you did? Describe his/her most outstanding qualities.
I could go on forever about how wonderful my experience was with Dr. Kyllo from start to finish. He is a surgeon who is always improving and perfecting his craft and his results are outstanding. He’s a true artist and a highly skilled surgeon. He knows exactly how to to keep his patients as physically comfortable as possible during and after surgery. Everyone I know of who has had surgery with him, including myself, has benefited from his skills.
With Dr. Kyllo, you get both a phenomenal surgeon and one with great bedside manner. He is kind, warm, respectful, and truly cares about his patients’ well-being, comfort, and happiness. I also don’t feel like I would have continued to get this level of care with many other surgeons after receiving my cancer diagnosis. Dr. Kyllo had no reason to offer that to me once I reached my 6-week post-op milestone. His job was done and he is not an oncologist. Yet he still continued to check in on me and help me get the best care possible moving forward with cancer treatment. He understands what a disappointment it is that I might have to undergo surgery again. I truly feel he is doing all he can to help ensure that we can maintain my results even if I do need surgery again. Dr. Kyllo truly cares!
How did our staff support you in your surgical experience?
Every single person in the clinic was incredible to work with. Everyone is so kind, and it always feels warm and inviting to be there. The women at the front desk are amazing (and even asked my pronouns on day one). Everyone that is a part of Dr. Kyllo’s surgical team seemed to truly care and put me at ease. They spoke to me with confidence and I never felt like it was annoying to them to have to explain all of the procedures to me that I know they have to explain day in and out to patients over and over again.
The phone calls from both Dr. Kyllo and the anesthesiologist after my surgery to make sure I was continuing to improve and feel good made me feel so supported and cared for. The aftercare in the recovery room was so nurturing, and the man that wheeled me to the car after surgery was also so warm and caring. I also want to give a special shoutout to Jennifer Solheim. She has been so incredible as a liaison between me and Dr. Kyllo. She is very responsive and also goes out of her way to make sure all of my questions are answered. She is a rockstar and deserves recognition for it.
I never expected to have such an emotional connection and response to a surgical team. I figured I would just go in, get the procedure, recover and move on with my life. But the experience I had with Dr. Kyllo and the staff has left me feeling like I went through a major life event WITH them, and not SEPARATE from them. Making the decision to move forward with this life-changing surgery was a profound very layered one. I never felt like a number with this team. My experience was above and beyond what I ever could have imagined for something medical-related. Being the empathetic and emotive person I am, I truly chose the perfect surgical team to be by my side. And I feel so lucky that I did.
Do you have any advice for others who may be considering this procedure?
Every time I see someone in the top surgery Facebook group writing about their anxiety the day before going in for top surgery, I immediately see Dr. Kyllo in my head saying to me “you’re going to do great!” This was the last thing I remember him saying to me while looking me straight in the eyes before I went into the OR. He had such confidence when he said it that I felt it and took it with me. Not only was it just the pep talk I needed, but I felt so seen. Now it’s something I often say to others. I know it seems so simple, but it was very impactful to me.
This surgery has an extremely high satisfaction rate. People in society will continually warn us of “regret.” In all honesty, regretting top surgery is incredibly uncommon. This surgery is life-saving. You just need to work on tuning out those voices in your head telling you that you are not valid. imposter syndrome is so common in the trans community and is a direct result of growing up in such a binary world, feeling like we are “supposed” to be and look a certain way, that our bodies exist for others and not ourselves.
You are valid, and if you are seeking out something as major as undergoing surgery, then chances are you probably REALLY want and need this. Just because something doesn’t seem “normal” to others, doesn’t mean it isn’t normal to us. This is your life and your body and you deserve to feel good in it and to live authentically.