Editor’s Note: Early into Breast Cancer Awareness Month, “International Flat Day,” Oct. 7, is intended to bring awareness to the option of taking a pass on breast reconstruction after a mastectomy. In this article, contributing writer Courtney McGee details her experiences with the decision to “stay flat.”
I was diagnosed with breast cancer two days after my 44th birthday—blindsided for sure. In the days and weeks that followed, my focus was solely on getting the cancer out, and I couldn’t have cared less about the cosmetic implications of bilateral mastectomy. That said, as a young cancer patient, it seemed a foregone conclusion that I would choose to reconstruct my amputated breasts.
I rationalized that replacing them as quickly as possible would make it easier to return to “normal.” It didn’t occur to me at the time that staying flat was a viable option. I would love to see that choice normalized.
I had a great medical team and received top-notch care, but I was never fully convinced that reconstruction was right for me. The expanders were weirdly shaped, and fluid accumulated around them repeatedly, requiring draining. I got infections that required hospitalization. The pockets were scrubbed and expanders swapped for implants, which were cold, hard and totally numb. They were like tennis balls under my thin, scraped-out skin. I was continually aware of them and would have loved to pop them off and leave them on the dresser at night like other accessories, but no such luck.
While they were convincing breast substitutes to everyone who would never see me naked, these same folks could be equally fooled by a padded bra.
Four years later, I decided to explant the implants, deconstruct the reconstruction, revert to factory settings.
I had the foobs—that’s cancer-speak for “fake boobs”—removed in April of this year. It was my eighth surgery since diagnosis, and this time saying goodbye was easy. I feel free to move on without the constant physical reminder of cancer. They were perky, and I could hold a flashlight against my skin and light ’em up like a party trick if I was so inclined (strange but true). But probably a dozen times per day they’d be awkward, uncomfortable or get in my way, and I resented them.
I do not feel one bit self-conscious about being flat. I think it looks decent, actually. I haven’t felt the need to use external prosthetics. Heck, my body has been through a lot, and I am not ashamed of my scars, experience and decisions. My breasts may have had some fans in years past, but they did not define me. A couple of missing lumps on my chest doesn’t make me any less a woman, wife or mother.
Choosing not to replace them with bags of silicone is a big step toward feeling in control of my body again. If someone wants to stare or has the gall to make a rude comment, so be it. In my head, I’ve already planned how fast I will whip out my cancer card and put them in their em-effing place. Pew, pew.
My husband was awesomely supportive of my explanting as well, although if he had been like, “No, hon, keep the fake ones. They’re super fun,” can you imagine the wifely wrath?
Today, I feel healthier than I have been in several years, and my healing continues, physically and mentally. Hugs are better than ever. I can sleep on my belly. I can still rock a tank top. Plus, I gotta say, boobless running is the bomb! Besides, maybe my being visibly flat can help empower another woman to confidently make whatever choice is right for her—whatever feels good for her.
Cancer changed my life and body forever, but it didn’t get the best of me. For that I am flat-out happy.