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The Beauty of Going Flat

Ten  years ago, when I bucked four surgeons’ advice and decided NOT to reconstruct, I didn’t know a single other cis-gendered breast cancer patient my age who’d made that choice. I couldn’t help wondering “What was wrong with me?” that I craved simplicity rather than reconstruction. To feel the softness of a well-worn tee shirt against my skin? To use my back muscles to support my spine rather than to buffer an implant? To be set free from extra surgeries and screenings?

Nothing was wrong with me.

Today, I’m in the company of thousands of women who are reclaiming their bodies and their lives from cancer. Emily Hopper, 32, is a force of nature. She is a breast cancer advocate, an artist, and a mother.

“Not having breasts gives me a sense of freedom I never knew I wanted. In some ways it feels like a new level of womanhood,” Emily Hopper. 

Emily is the owner-creator of EMPOWERHAUS, an online business whose mission is to embolden and inspire women, breast cancer patients, and supporters of all stripes. We met in an online community for “flatties” and became fast friends because she is wicked smart, hilarious, and ass-kicking.

Recently, we talked about living our best flat life for The Daily Beast. Take a peek and let me know what you think. And keep an eye on Emily cause this chick is going places!

 

1 in 3 Women Who Reconstruct Endure Complications

This week, JAMA Surgery published the final results of the Mastectomy Reconstruction Outcomes Consortium (MROC) — the first comprehensive look at how cancer patients fare (physically and emotionally) after breast reconstruction. The New York Times had excellent coverage (aside from the cringe-inducing ending).

Quick summary: MROC researchers looked at 8 different breast reconstructive procedures performed by 57 different surgeons at 11 sites across the US and Canada. They enrolled 2,224 patients and followed them for four years.

Last month, I spoke with Ed Wilkins, MD, MROC’s lead author and a plastic surgeon at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “We designed and conducted MROC because the decision to reconstruct isn’t just one decision, it’s a constellation of decisions,” he said. “And our patients were getting lost.”

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Flat and Proud

I have zero tolerance for hiding. I came out to my father when I was 22. His response? “This can be our secret.”

Don’t worry — he and I have worked through it (hi dad!) — but his first reaction was to ask me to hide myself (to buy into my shame) to spare himself and others the discomfort of seeing my true self.

Fifteen years later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I heard a hint of my father’s voice in the words of the plastic surgeon. He offered to reconstruct my breast by carving out a slab of my back muscle, wrapping it around my front, and tucking it over an implant, like a steak over a tennis ball. (Called a latissimus dorsi flap, the surgery is one of the most common reconstructive options after breast cancer.)

“Isn’t that back muscle doing something?” I asked.

“You’ll look normal in clothes,” he shrugged. “That’s all most women want.”

Really? Is that really ALL most women want?

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Runner Chooses “Boston Over Boobs”

Today is the annual running of the Boston Marathon, no small affair in my adopted hometown. Last night, I read a feature story in the News Sentinel about a marathoner and breast cancer patient who chose the Boston Marathon over her breast reconstruction.

Peg Hoffman. Photo credit: Reggie Hays of News Sentinel

According to the article, Peg Hoffman of Fort Wayne, Indiana, went through four grueling surgeries in an attempt to reconstruct her breasts after cancer. Here are the two sentences that stood out to me:

“She chose the surgeon’s option for immediate breast reconstruction.”

And then a quote from Peg:

“I went into it (the first surgery) very carefree…but it got scary. I had a number of issues, infections, skin dying, and I had to have three more surgeries to fix these.”

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FLAT Update

Yee-haw! FLAT has a cover! I hope you like it as much as I do. Hopefully, the title on the physical cover will be “debossed,” which is the opposite of embossed. That means it’ll have a sunken texture, just like me. (Am I hilarious or what?) Okay, so FLAT’s pub date is only 22 weeks away. But why wait when you can pre-order from your local bookseller, IndieBound, or here? Can’t wait to share this with the world. But the nerves are kicking in and they are no joke. Here’s to six more months of sleepless nights (clink).

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