The Flat ‘taboo’ debate on BBC 5 Live

That women who have had a mastectomy don’t have breasts is apparently newsworthy. Despite around 70% of women not having reconstruction, the topic of living without two breasts grabs people’s attention.

After some tweets by my fellow Flat Friend Juliet Fitzpatrick; Juliet and I found ourselves on BBC Radio 5 Live with presenter Nihal. Well, I was in a cupboard in The Forum at Norwich!

It’s was a well balanced discussion that focused on patient choice; but, being in a studio hundreds of miles away meant I could not get Nihal’s attention, and unfortunately he did not come back to me for me to comment on what had been said, or to clarify Flat Friends UK’s charitable position and aims.

So, here is what I would have said given the opportunity…

What do we mean by ‘flat’?

Flat Friends use ‘flat’ to describe ourselves whether we

* are living with one breast

* are living with no breasts

* want Contralateral Prophylactic Mastectomy (CPM) – the removal of an unaffected breast.

* don’t want CPM

* wear prostheses

* don’t wear prostheses

‘Flat’ refers to the space where our breast was, not our whole chest nor how we decide to dress. So for example, a woman who has had a single mastectomy without reconstruction who wears a knitted breast form is living flat.

Having breast reconstruction will mean you wake up with breasts like you had when you were 21.

Ok, so I wouldn’t have said anything about this out loud. But what I was thinking was arghhh! No you won’t. My breasts when I was 21 were warm to touch, had sensation, and nipples – no recon can do that (yet). And, I won’t write what I thought when Nihal cheered at the idea of your female partner who has breast cancer waking up after a mastectomy with ‘the breasts of a 21 year old’.

You need breasts to wear a bikini.

Please Nihal, come back to me…Juliet has reminded you that I’m here because I blog about clothes post-mastectomy…nope.

This idea is absolutely not true. But a breast care nurse tried to tell me the same: ‘you won’t be able to find nice clothes’. Luckily, you only need to spend 2 minutes looking around to see women living flat look great in everything from bikinis to ball gowns.

What was your husband/partner’s view about you not having reconstruction? How did they feel?

I didn’t ask him. It’s not his body. It’s not his diagnosis. It’s not him having the surgery. So he didn’t get a vote. And, this item is about women’s choices. We should be making decisions in our own right, not just to make others happy. If he’s only with me for my breasts then he will have no trouble finding another pair. But there’s only one of me, and people do not love people for their breasts.

Symmetry/Balancing Surgery should be available to everyone who has had a single mastectomy

Definitely. All I would have added is that we should not accept that women living flat who ask for symmetry surgery (reduction or CPM) need psychological assessments before surgeons consider it. Women who choose to live flat are no more in shock than women who choose to reconstruct. So why are we treated as though we don’t know our own minds, or are maki knee jerk decisions?

Immediate and delayed reconstruction, as well as all flat options should be on the table.

This would be fantastic! It’s only patient choice if it’s informed choice. And if you’re undecided then Flat Friends can support you and answer any questions you have about living flat. We support women who don’t want recon; can’t have recon; are waiting for recon; have had failed recon, or haven’t decided yet.

And lastly, ask your breast care nurse or surgeon for a copy of Flat Friends UK’s patient information booklet ‘Living without reconstruction’.

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