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Going Flat

Going Flat

In our new portrait series, we capture the beauty of the New Cancer Community.

Written and Photographed by Sarah Bell

According to data from the 2014 American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program, 46 percent of people undergoing a mastectomy for invasive breast cancer opted out of reconstruction surgery. This choice is referred to as “going flat” or “living flat.” Post-treatment stigma may make many women desire implants, but going flat is a valid option and lessens the chances of further complications down the road. “Aesthetic flat closure,” is the post-mastectomy reconstruction of the chest wall. The women photo graphed for this project explained how it has been a challenge to learn to make peace and love their new bodies. For some, posing for this project has been part of that process.

LAURA ZENKER was diagnosed in 2018, and though she lives with pain, she is grateful to be alive. “Your breasts don’t make you feminine,” she says. “I am a woman, I will always be a woman.”

After her diagnosis and surgery, KATHY CONWAY started Complete Shaping for a more comfortable way to wear lightweight prosthetics after going flat.

I am only a couple years out from treatment so I am still making peace with my body,” admits RHONDA CAUDILL, who was diagnosed in 2017. “I need to do more to regain my self-esteem and feel free to live in my body again, as is.”

GINGER EUBANK was diagnosed in 2015 and is halfway through a tattoo chest piece she is getting to honor her scars.

See Also

KELLY CRAMER discovered she had breast cancer when breastfeeding her baby in 2016. “I want women to stick up for themselves more,” she says. “It is a matter of life and death.”

Diagnosed in 2018, AMANDA BARRETT wants to normalize living flat. Her doctor, Dr. Karen Tisinai at Union Hospital, only performs mastectomies, no reconstructions

View Comments (6)
  • Wonderful! I too am flat. I live in South Africa.
    When contemplating a Mastectomy, the option to have reconstruction of the chest with a flat outcome should have parity with the option to reconstruct the breasts.
    Why is this frowned on?
    Why is this option questioned?
    A knee jerk reaction you say? Bring your little hammer to tap on my kneecap while you stand there and I’ll give you a knee-jerk reaction.
    No woman has a knee-jerk reaction to amputate her breasts, NO woman.
    ……and yet while you think I am in shock and not in my right mind,  you still pursuade me that all sorts of circus tricks will be best to perform with my muscles and skin and fats, not to mention a few more surgeries.
    My femininity will not be secured by 2 mounds on my chest – as much as my newly tattooed nipples would not make me any more or less sexual.

    This flat choice comes with the added benefits of
    1. Quick recovery time
    2. Relatively painfree
    3. No foreign objects in the body
    4. Never have the cost of prosthetics
    5. Never wear a bra again

  • Beautiful. I am post- mastectomy to aesthetic flat closure 6 months and living life and my new body. Thanks to the people who have normalized this choice for me and paved the way to make my decisions around this easier. We still look beautiful and as feminine as we want to.

  • I am four months in my new flat body. Medical providers do not provide adequate information about the options with sufficient detail about what each entails, and the ramifications of each. You’re faced with a huge, life-changing decision while you’re still in shock of your cancer diagnosis, and don’t even know what to ask. That decision also impacts what surgeon(s) you select, or should, because your results are totally dependent on their skills and experience. Too many don’t get the objective of “one and done”. Some second-guess us and leave extra skin. Many plan on the fall back of additional surgeries for scar revision or fat-grafting. While in the FIRST surgery, they should treat our chests as they would our faces, taking whatever time and measures necessary to end up with a smooth contour, no “dog ears”, and an incision scar that is barely detectable after time has passed. If anyone in your life is diagnosed with breast cancer, suggest they google “aesthetic flat closure” and also to join mastectomy-related forums (Facebook has several). I devoured them, including the one on DIEP Flap reconstruction. Reading the latter one turned me away from reconstruction due to the countless surgeries and terrifying complications many endured just to get numb “breast mounds”. I’m not willing to give this disease any more time from my life than is absolutely necessary. Rant over. 🙂

  • I am exactly one year post op. It was truly an adjustment mentally, physically and emotionally. I like to keep busy and not think about the past year but look forward to the new life ahead of me. I have accepted my new look and just thank God for every new day.

  • Hi. I’ve had many surgeries. Done! Going flat next month, getting tattoos, and hopefully someone will take me a photo and publish it to share it with the world, specially with Hispanic on their 50’s!!

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