Many doctors assume a woman will need to reconstruct after a mastectomy in order to feel whole … and they speak to her accordingly. Why is this? I mean it sincerely. Why the assumption that a woman will need fake breasts in order to feel whole? Why the assumption that a woman will feel less than whole without fake breasts?
I write this for myself, and the many women I know who are walking the flat path. Bucking society’s expectations. Choosing function over form.
Reconstruction is no small undertaking. It often requires multiple (sometimes numerous) surgeries, involves pain and discomfort, and sometimes many infections and complications. It has the potential to permanently compromise strength and range of motion. Reconstructed breasts are frequently numb, and rarely look as good as the original. (If you think it’s a “free boob job,” you are sadly mistaken. Please go do some research, then come back.) I have no issue with women who choose to reconstruct – we each need to make the choice that is best for us, and I support all women in their choices. My issue is with doctors, and society as a whole, and how women’s bodies are viewed.
At best, most doctors do not mention going flat as an option to their patients. Why not? I know women where it was assumed they would reconstruct, and they went along because they thought it was just what you did. And some came to deeply regret that choice. But can you even call it a choice, if you weren’t presented an alternative?
Some doctors say downright horrific things, tell a woman she’s making a mistake or following a “fad,” refuse to make her flat unless she sees a psychiatrist, or tell her they need her husband to indicate he’s “okay” with her decision.
When a woman goes flat, that IS her reconstruction.
There are doctors who agree to make their patient flat, but just don’t do a very good job. Is it lack of skill? Time? Care? I’ve seen plenty of beautiful results, so I know it’s possible. When a woman goes flat, that IS her reconstruction, and many of us choose this because we want to be done and get on with our lives … not a round robin of more surgeries. It needs to be treated with the same thoughtfulness, care and attention as a woman who reconstructs. This is the body we live in. Just because it doesn’t have breasts doesn’t make it matter less. Doesn’t mean we don’t care how we look.
Then there are surgeons who decide in the operating room that a woman will “change her mind,” and leave extra skin to facilitate reconstruction. (Which, by the way, is completely unnecessary. It’s possible to reconstruct from flat, should one actually change their mind.) It is already incredibly difficult to lose your breasts … hard enough to take off the bandages and see what has happened to your body. Waking up with loose, extra, puckered skin makes a difficult situation even more painful, and requires additional surgeries to fix (should one have the health, time, finances, health insurance, and wherewithal to do so).
This is just one more manifestation of a culture that believes a woman’s body is public property … that believes we do not have agency over ourselves … that believes we are incapable of choosing, deciding, knowing.
I am not an object. I am a person. Whole, multi-faceted, complex, smart, capable, and so, so much more than just my body. But because breasts are a “sexual object,” our culture believes their most important job is to please the eye of whomever is looking at them, or the hand of whomever is touching them. The person they are attached to is often the least important part of the equation.
This makes my blood boil.
Most of my doctors assumed I would reconstruct because I’m “so young.” They said it would help me feel “normal.” Why? Why this belief that a woman without breasts is somehow less than? Why not present ALL the options, pros and cons to each, and support me in choosing what is best for ME? Thankfully, my doctors did not question or judge my decision to go flat, or require me to see a psychiatrist, or go against my wishes in the operating room. Not all women are so lucky, but it should have nothing to do with luck, and I shouldn’t have to put “thankfully” at the beginning of that sentence.
At five weeks out, I am happy with my decision. I have almost full sensation in my chest, and – aside from some intermittent shoulder pain – any lingering discomfort is due almost entirely to the 13 lymph nodes that were removed, and a small area of swelling that my arm rests against, which makes it bothersome.
Believe her when she tells you what she needs.
When I look in the mirror, I do not feel less than. I see a fierce, courageous woman who can’t wait to be healthy and strong again. Who knows that her worth has absolutely nothing to do with whether she has breasts or not. Who misses her feminine curves, but is not willing to do what it takes to restore a pale imitation. Who wants to recover and get back to living life as quickly as she can.
The women who are making these decisions are going through some off the hardest, scariest times of their lives. For god’s sake, don’t make things harder. Doctors need to stop making assumptions. They need to stop ignoring the option to go flat. They need to stop treating a woman’s body like public property. They need to stop thinking we are incapable of making this choice, that we will have regrets, that they know better than us.
Actually … people need to stop doing this. People, partners, friends, strangers. I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who love me fiercely, and believe in my ability to choose what is best for me. And the one who didn’t was shown the door. If you undercut my worth, or question my beauty, femininity or sexuality because I no longer have breasts … you don’t get to be in my life.
A woman’s body belongs to her and her alone. She gets to decide. Believe her when she tells you what she needs in order to be healthy, happy and whole – and then support that choice, whatever it might be. Know it was likely born from hurt and pain and fear and rage and sadness, and it was made with her back against the wall and a knife at her throat, while staring death in the eyes. So accept her, support her, and love her. Love the hell out of her.
*this post was originally shared by Shana on Facebook on January 02, 2018.
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