I’m close to 60 years old. If I were to post a picture on social media of any part of my naked body I would be considered brave. If the picture showed that I had grey pubes and a face devoid of Botox, I might well be in line for an MBE or at the very least a Pride of Britain Award. Even young female celebrities appearing online with the hint of a tummy roll or cellulite are picked up by news outlets marvelling at their honesty and bravery. And most of them are on the slim side or of average build. But a woman’s body without filters or the “benefits” of Photoshop seems to be such an extraordinary sight that it has to be remarked upon. Imagine then how brave one must be to be photographed when one only has one or no tits after a mastectomy.
I’m not usually one to brag – well maybe the odd humble brag – but I had a fine pair of tits. Now I only have one and that’s busy pointing so far downhill it won’t be long before I have to take care not to trap a nipple in my belt buckle. My other tit can often be found stored in my bathroom on the cistern on days spent at home when I can’t be bothered to stick it on. Like my car and house keys it’s important to have its place in the house so I don’t forget to pop it on when heading out – especially if I’m going “out, out”. Unlike my keys, I seldom keep it by the front door in case it startles any visiting tradesmen. The discovery of a boob by the door is not the stuff of a soft porn movie – “Penelope’s prosthesis prompts Pete the Plumber to give her a thorough Poking”.
I gaily post pictures of my prosthesis for all to see. I take it on camping trips, mini-breaks abroad, daytrips to the coast. It goes with me everywhere. And when not attached to my body it can feature amongst my holiday snaps. Yet, when I’m wearing it I can be self-conscious about it peeking out of a top or sliding under an armpit. Who wants a “bubo” – especially now mid-pandemic? The thing is, before my own mastectomy I had never seen a prosthesis. I may well have been the person who would have taken a second look and a tiny snigger if I spied that a woman’s breast had sneaked out of their bra and made an appearance as a “dowager’s hump”. I have always been a little uneasy around children, how much more difficult it would be if one of them were to point and call out my roaming softie. So, I’m a bit of a coward. But I feel very strongly that we should talk more about “going flat” after breast cancer. When a breast reconstruction was not an option for me at the time of my mastectomy I felt very much alone. In fact I felt like a failure. I had mistakenly thought that everybody had reconstruction. And indeed, at the same appointment with the surgeon who told me I had cancer I had barely drawn breath before he started to outline the surgery I might have to reconstruct my breast.
And so, when opening a copy of Woman & Home a couple of months ago, I was looking forward to reading an article entitled “We learned to love our bodies again” with four women breast cancer survivors posing for a photo shoot in their swimwear. And then I realised that each and every one of them had had a breast reconstruction. Once again the impression was given that reconstruction is the only option. And yet I know that not be true. Around half of women who have a mastectomy do not have a reconstruction – be that a choice, the result of a failed reconstruction or not an option due to their particular diagnosis. But why are women like me still invisible?
I was annoyed and upset by the article and couldn’t stop thinking about it. So I wrote to the Editor to complain. The result, an article in the October edition of Women & Home redressing the balance (literally when it comes to photos of me fully clothed wearing my prosthesis) and interviewing just three of us women who have not had a breast reconstruction after breast cancer.
Woman & Home – available at your local newsagent!
For support and advice about going flat after breast cancer visit: www.flatfriends.org.uk