For many years, people made fun of her, being mocked for something beyond her control, the cause of the ridicule was simply because her breasts were so large to the extent of wearing size 36K bras tailor-made specifically for her.
But today, Nompilo “Ntathu” Zungu, is happy to have had been given a new lease of life, with a breast-reduction surgery.
Her condition had attracted unwanted attention. “Guys would approach me, and I’d say, ‘Hi’, but they would say, ‘Hi’ to my boobs. I felt sexualised and my cleavage was always in the way – even shopping was a hassle,” Ntathu said.
She used to grin and tolerate, but a time came when she could stand it anymore, and finally she decided to take action.
But when she told her family she was going to have a medical operation to reduce the size of her breasts, they were not supportive.
“The feedback from my family was around how it might affect being in a relationship. They said things like, ‘ No guy is going to want you with scars’ and ‘ You’re going to be scared of undressing in the presence of others because of the scars’,” she recalled.
“All the reasons had nothing to do with me. It was about other people and I was like, ‘Do you guys realise your reasons have nothing to do with my health?’” She said.
Brushing aside their reservations, she took the bold move and in late November had 4kg of breast tissue removed during a four-hour surgery at Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg.
When the magazine met up with the 24-year-old weeks after the session, her breasts were still in bandages, and she was in a lot of pain.
She had no regrets after all.
“My mom was incredibly happy for me. She could not believe I took the initiative, especially because I’m the third born in the family. She thought it was brave,” she said with a broad smile.
“I obviously thought about [the risks
of] having the procedure, including my reduced chance to breastfeed if I have a baby. A friend’s mom had the procedure and gave me advice. I realised I could get rid of something that was making me insecure,” she added.
However, undergoing breast-reduction operation is not as easy as it sounds. When she had her first consultation with doctors in January 2015, her medical aid authorised the surgery three times.
However, the authorisation kept expiring because Ntathu couldn’t afford the R10 000 co-payment as she was a student at the time.
“That’s when I opted for pro bono surgery in a public hospital. In 2018, I went to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. Everything there is reasonable.
“I consulted with the doctor and he confirmed I needed a reduction. He also recommended I see a dietician at the hospital.
“I went there for food lessons and attended classes that were meant to help me get on the right side of the BMI scale. They wanted to see if the size of my boobs was because of my weight or not. I was asked to lose 30kg.
“It was a very dark period because I changed my diet and lost weight, but my boobs just kept getting bigger and heavier. So I stopped,” she said.
Ntathu, who has three sisters, said she is the only one in her family with oversized breasts, which started growing before she was in her teens.
“Puberty did not let me breathe. I got my boobs in Grade 2, I was eight,” she said.
Her fast developing body made her a target for bullies, as some guys started chasing after her. “I was the joke of the school, the girl with the biggest boobs. I was bullied from primary school at the boarding school I attended. They would say, ‘ If you have Cornflakes with no milk, SMS Ntathu to 31515’ or ‘ You make [American talk-show host] Wendy Williams look like she has peas’,” she added.
She tried to put herself on diet, but her breasts still continued to grow. “People would say, ‘Lose weight and your boobs will get smaller’.
“I’ve always been a big girl, I tried losing weight, but the growth was hormonal – it’s not genetic in any way. My sister has big boobs, but nothing like mine,” she said.
At 19, she knew she wanted smaller breasts, but it took her five years to get the help she needed.
After discontinuing treatment at Bara, she went back to private consultations and struggled to get the R10 000 for the co-payment. “I pushed. You know how they say things in Johannesburg happen faster? That’s what happened,” said Ntathu, who has a Bachelor of Science degree in physiology and anatomy
from the University of Cape Town.
Ntathu, also completed her honours degree in health sciences at Wits University, now works at a company that manufactures advanced wound management products.
“I got a loan and saved from my salary to afford it. The procedure was approved after three days, and the operation happened five days later,” she said.
On 28 November last year, surgeons removed 4kg from her breasts during the mammoplasty, as breast-reduction surgery is called. The cost of the procedure, including co-payment, was around R91 000.
The surgery was a success, but Ntathu suffers from post-surgery trauma, which is common in the first few weeks after surgery.
“I wake up crying every night, I have nightmares and panic attacks.”
She’s yet to go for counselling as she is still recovering from the surgery, but luckily the company she works for developed a new product for advanced wound therapy.
“They gave me a sample free of charge, so I market the product for them when I go to follow-up appointments. It is supposed to speed up the healing process. Once the inflammation has gone down, I will be a C or D cup. I will only know for certain after I’ve healed.”
Ntathu always felt weighed down by her breasts but now she’s feeling light as a feather. “I have lived in Cape Town for four years, but I haven’t been to Table Mountain because of back pain. I’d feel as if I’m suffocating sometimes because I would wear two bras for support. Imagine carrying a 2kg bag of mielie meal on each boob – that is what it felt like.
“I’m in a better space now. I think I can achieve more now than when I had bigger boobs.
“It’s something I had been wanting for so long. One day I will look back and be like, ‘I did that’. Within a week I was able to change my life,” she said.