If you know me, it came as no surprise I would have a mastectomy without reconstruction. Oh, there’s Donna, that independent cuss. You would also know my favorite TV show is Chopped, hence the swag. The hat was a gift when I was on medical leave, and at the time, I didn’t think anything about it. In hindsight, it’s pretty funny, and wearing the hat today was just another twisted coincidence.
Getting chopped on the Food Network show or in real life is no fun. For those who face breast cancer treatment or may someday wrestle with this decision, I wanted to share my reasons for taking this path and how I have fared without breasts. It’s called going flat. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a viable option for many, including BRCA-positives who are considering prophylactic mastectomy to reduce risk.
First of all, I had some history. In 1999, I was diagnosed with advanced stage ovarian cancer. Two surgeries took a toll, and I had hoped to spend the rest of my life anywhere but in the operating room. Then in 2015, I was diagnosed with non-invasive breast cancer. Typical treatment for my diagnosis is lumpectomy and radiation, however, I tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation.
The doctor said with my history of ovarian cancer and now knowing I was BRCA-positive, we would have to be aggressive, since the cancer was more likely to come back and not play nice next time around. My treatment would be bilateral mastectomy.
I can’t remember how it occurred to me I might not need breasts, but here’s the executive summary:
- My overriding thought was to spend as little time as possible being down for the count.
- No reconstruction translated to less time in the hospital.
- I saw implants as something alien that wouldn’t feel like real breasts anyway.
- Would implants interfere with my golf swing?
- Implants don’t last forever, so that’s another hospital visit down the road.
- I didn’t like the image of my future 70-something body with 30-something breasts.
My husband and I discussed it. He was shocked but then got used to the idea and said he would support whatever I decided. He has always been a leg man, anyway. I found inspiring pictures of “Flat & Fabulous” women on the Internet. I saw beautiful chest tattoos and that little rebel in me said, hell, yeah, so I put that idea on the back burner for future consideration.
I’ve heard some doctors argue with a patient who doesn’t want reconstruction. They assume you will regret it, but my doctor had no concerns. He knew I already survived ovarian cancer against all odds, and he knew I wasn’t there to fool around. I said make me look like a 10-year-old boy – I don’t want a bunch of skin leftover in case I change my mind. He said OK.
Some women have parties to say farewell to their breasts, complete with boobie party favors and whatnot. But I was never one to celebrate breast-focused culture and loathed references to ta-tas or girls. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t such a big deal for me. I got the sleek look I was going for, and I’ve never looked back. I didn’t bother to get fitted for a prosthesis.
Aside from the lingering issues of post-mastectomy pain, I’m comfortable where I ended up. It’s fabulous not to wear bras or worry about buying bras, which is right up there with root canals. Clothes and swimsuits can be challenging but not a deal breaker. I favor close-fitting tops that don’t attempt to hide my flatness.
I’ve had a few looks, but honestly, people are self-absorbed and don’t notice. A woman on the golf course asked me if I was a breast cancer survivor because she noticed I was flat. That’s it. No one has said anything awful to me – though I’ve heard some people are horrified by breastlessness and angry with those of us who dare to appear in public. I hang with a different crowd.
The tattoo idea is still out there, but I’m not sure I need it. When I look in the mirror, I’m a scarred up mess, but I’m alive and already highly decorated.