Why I’m Skipping Reconstruction and Living Flat

I was what you might call a “late bloomer” in the breast development department. And when they finally did show up, there wasn’t a whole lot going on. My late brother used to taunt me unmercifully with, “Flatsie, flatsie, Mary’s flat and that’s that.” Turns out he was prescient, because living flat is now my choice.

When cancer smacked me, my head was spinning. I could barely grasp what lie ahead with surgery and subsequent chemo. My surgeon recommended that we wait on reconstructive surgery until after the chemo was completed. I had had all of the major life decisions I could stand by then and I happily kicked that can down the road. But I must admit, the thought entered my head that finally, finally, I’d have some substantial breasts and I could leave that childhood taunt behind.

Now that I’ve caught up with the can, I’ve decided that flat living is going to be just fine. My surgery was probably as textbook as they come, but nonetheless it was major surgery. There was pain, risk of infection, drains, compromised systems, and recovery time. I’m still trying to regain range of motion on my left side and I’m struggling with managing my lymphedema properly. I cannot imagine undergoing another surgery at this point.

And while I can have reconstructive surgery at any time, here’s the main reason I cannot envision it: I would feel horribly disloyal to my body if I did so. There has been so much inflicted on it – surgery, chemicals, fever, drugs, infection – and through it all, it did me proud. It fought back and it fought hard, so much so that after one of the worse times I promised my body I’d never voluntarily hurt it again. It had my back and now I would repay the favor. I’d pay more attention to what I ate, I’d go easy on the alcohol, I’d make sure I properly exercised. And I’d never never never have surgery that I didn’t absolutely need. My body earned that right.

Luckily for me, as my brother reminded me time and again, my breasts – may they rest in peace – were never a big deal. So the change has not been all that drastic. What I’ve found interesting was that in all of my reading about post-mastectomy life, there is an underlying assumption that I am going to do something to replace my breasts. Maybe it’s surgery or a special bra or a tattoo.  But nowhere on any of the major breast cancer sites did I see simply living flat as an option, and at no time did my doctor suggest it.

As I start this journey it will be interesting to see how a society that defines women’s bodies largely through their breasts will treat a breastless woman. As I’ve started to reconsider the clothes I wear, I already find myself making decisions to make other people feel comfortable (a well placed scarf or multiple layers) rather than going with a style that makes me feel comfortable (let’s hear it for a comfy white t-shirt). I’ve no doubt that at some point someone will do something or say something that will make me feel less than. And then I’ll be reminded of my brother’s taunt, now transformed into a battle cry.

“Mary’s flat and that’s that.”



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