Flat and Fabulous...Sometimes
Flat by Chance, Not Choice
I am flat. Flat as a board. Flat as a boy. There is nothing on my chest where my double Ds used to be. That's because when I had my double mastectomy, reconstruction wasn't an option for me. I'm not sure if it was a radiological error, a surgery issue, or if I'm just a bitter bitch looking for someone to blame, the fact remains that before my actual tumor was removed and sent to the lab to be tested, it was believed by countless doctors and radiologists that I would need radiation. My surgeon decided he didn't want to do reconstruction on me right away because often the radiated flesh cannot heal properly, which causes a lot of deformities, healing issues, and scars. It was only later, that he discovered that what everyone thought to be all tumor was actually partially calcified tissue, making my cancer look bigger and badder than it was. I would not be needing radiation after all.
You may think that no radiation was a cause of celebration, and after seeing so many of my fellow bresties go through it, I'm definitely blessed. But being the pessimist that I am, I immediately felt regret. There was nothing that I would have loved more than to be able to do reconstruction right away. I would have loved to have gotten it done and over with during my mastectomy and woken up whole again.
What confuses me to this day is that a lot of the women that I have talked to who did need radiation also got the first part of their reconstruction done during their mastectomy surgeries, the first part being putting in a tissue expander. The expander basically looks like what you would expect a breast implant to look like, only it comes with an injection port for the surgeon to slowly fill with fluid via needle, thus expanding the implant and your skin slowly.
As a poor person, I wasn't exactly at the best hospital, there wasn't a lot of hand-holding, there weren't a lot of discussions, and I wasn't given many options. I also wasn't the best advocate for myself. I walked through the entire process in a daze, basically being told what to do. I was too focused on my fear or what could go wrong and neglected to do a lot of research. Again, I am filled with regret. DO NOT be me. If you feel like you are going through too much shit to be a strong advocate for yourself, please bring someone with you to your appointments. They will ask the questions you might forget to ask.
I think the reason I was so complacent to the "going flat" idea was that part of me relished the idea of not having breasts anymore. I've had large breasts my entire life, and while I look back at them fondly in hindsight, I always envied smaller chested women. I have always wanted to be able to wear spaghetti strapped, slinky dresses and not look vulgar. I have also always imagined being able to go across the street to buy groceries without having to wrestle with an industrial strength bra. When I saw pictures of women who had chosen to become flat, I felt at peace with the fact that I wouldn't be getting reconstruction right away. They looked amazing and happy and perfect.
I'm not saying it was all a lie. What I am saying is that I'm a stupid, stupid girl. I completely underestimated what impact of something I used very little, such as my breasts, being gone would have on me. The negative effects were immediate. I was barely out of surgery and it was honestly like someone had turned a light switch off in my head, taking me from a slightly depressed but highly functional adult to disconsolate and barely making it.
Going out became a challenge. I felt hideous. I had broken out completely due to some adverse anesthesia effects, I was not in the best shape from not working out for the eight months of chemo, and now I had a concave chest to deal with. I didn't have a new wardrobe prepared because I honestly didn't think things through. In my head, I was going to be living a utopian boobless new life where I would always look skinny and never have to wear a bra, like so many super models and gorgeous women with not-so-ample chests that I had always wanted to be. Needless to say, when I wore certain things it became apparent something was up with me in the chest area. People looked. I felt horrible. I went home and swore to never leave the house again. Rinse and repeat.
Accepting Your Fate
It's probably not surprising from the apparent bitterness I still have around the subject that I am not completely on board for the whole flat thing. I can't say I'm out of the woods depression-wise, but I am doing a lot better. One thing that helped me was time: as the scars faded and swelling went down, I was better able to hide my situation. Another thing that helped was Facebook groups. If you look, you will find many Flat and Fabulous groups of women who not only chose to stay flat, but absolutely love the way they look. Some of these women even went through the reconstruction process to later decide that being flat was a preferable choice. The groups are filled with the support of people who can help with anything from styling your new body to talking about prosthetics and other coping mechanisms. Many have talked me off a ledge when I went to the darkest area of my mind, the one that believes no one will ever touch me or love me again.
There are days when I want to be this strong, brave person, giving my middle finger to a world that believes you have to look a certain way to feel beautiful. I follow body positive accounts religiously now. They make me feel better about myself and slowly give me the strength to accept my body, as flawed as it is. There are also amazing people around me to gas me up constantly, making me feel completely normal. As dark as social media can get, there is also so much of it that can be positive. I have made a lot of friends, both survivors and not, who are amazing support systems.
I also now favor off the shoulder clothes that have patterns, frills, or anything in the front that can be a distraction. Learning to style for my new body has definitely helped a lot with the self confidence. I'm faking it till I make it now.
Not Accepting Your Fate
Being flat is not for everyone. There are women who take to it easily and love the newfound freedom of never having to wear a bra. I have met so many wonderful ladies who really love being flat; unfortunately, I am not one of them. It's a lot harder for me to accept my new body. I've been faking it, and I've been sort of making, but not enough that I think I wand to stay this way forever. If you decide that being flat is not for you, that's okay too.
No one is saying you have to stay flat. If you try it out, and it's not working out, there is always the option of reconstruction. Just because you don't reconstruct right away, that doesn't mean it's not an option later in life. In fact, the one good thing about being flat is that i've had more than enough time to consider my options and what is best for me. Perhaps if I had gotten reconstruction right away I would have chosen a method that wasn't right for me.
My advice is to see your surgeon and discuss the options you have. More importantly, if you have access, see a social worker or therapist and talk about your options with them too. I am currently weighing my reconstruction options, and I will talk about those in a later post, but speaking with both my surgeon and my therapist has been extremely helpful.
Hopefully my story didn't scare you off if you are considering going flat. There are many women you can talk to who will tell you they love their new body. I am just one person. That being said, the real benefit in not getting reconstruction right away is that you will have the time to really think about what you want without fear or loss making the decision for you. It's probably the option with the least amount of consequences. Whatever you end up doing, just go with what feels best at the time and know there are always options for revisions later in life.