Before my explant surgery I trained my brain to view “flatties” (a breast cancer survivor term) as normal so that when I came out of surgery I wouldn’t feel shocked. I did this by looking at images on social media of women who did not choose reconstruction. They bravely pose without tops showing off scars where their fullness used to lay. Of course, now that I’m a flattie I think society should start to embrace the “breastless” body. However, that is difficult because society thinks I should have boobs. As I type, the word breastless doesn’t even register in Microsoft Word dictionary. Even a software program has a red underline and suggests I change the word to bristles.
People who hear my story assume I will buy a prosthetic bra. I tell them my plan to wear tight Fruit of the Loom tee shirts and risk people calling me sir. They bristle in their reaction. Microsoft would approve of my word choice. From the moment I made the decision to go flat I pictured myself wearing tight-fitting tops. For me it is a point of pride to show what I’ve endured. But, I ran into road blocks because society has its own ideas of what I should do with my body.
I assumed other women who chose to go flat would feel the same as me and want to show off a flat chest defying societal norms. I was wrong. Many other women are struggling with leaving the house in a tank top, or going on a date and revealing the truth. I read about a grade school teacher looking for tops with ruffles and pleats so her young students wouldn’t ask questions. Other women struggle with online dating, wondering if they should expose themselves with the truth in their profile or wait until they meet the guy. In my own online dating experience I talked with a man about my breast cancer. He asked if I was going to get implants. I explained that I had the implants removed. I never heard from him again.
Other women wake up from surgery to find the doctor left extra skin in case they weren’t in their right mind choosing the radical. That’s what docs call mastectomies without reconstruction – radical. Interesting, considering the brutal process of reconstruction. The women who had these monsters preform their surgeries didn’t know they would be left with hanging lumps of skin until they awoke from anesthesia. My own surgeon explained that she sees many women who had botched surgeries from other docs. Fortunately, my doc is an amazing woman who respected my decision about my own body.
Women can be amazing gifts lifting each other up when it is most needed. My mom and my daughters looked at my scars, tilted their heads with a smile and said I looked beautiful. It was amazing to see the reaction of typical teenage girls who I thought might tease me, as my family likes to do. No, their reaction was true and honest and brought tears to my eyes. My mother reacted in the same manner, telling me my skin looked pretty and she could tell I felt confident.
Breast cancer survivors need to support one another and surround themselves with people who support them because society won’t do that for us. Society has a different plan and it is up to us to teach people what is honest, raw and beautiful. Don’t let someone else define who they think you should be.