Breasts, and then no breasts. Year 2. Two years.


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Two years of soul searching, deep, personal work. I am healing. My body is changed. I have experienced a calyx of emotion, intellect and bodily presence.

Everything feels different. 

 Two years ago today, I had bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction due to breast cancer. I am now a flat chested woman. For the first half of my life I had breasts, now I do not. These last two years have been a lesson in bodily acceptance, body love and appreciation. It has been an interesting journey. 

IMG_1336When I made the decision to have bilateral mastectomy, I asked myself what I thought needed to occur in order to feel confident, strong and secure in my decision to be a flat chested woman, who does not see herself wearing prosthesis. The answer, exercise. Really, the week I was diagnosed, one of the first things I said to my breast surgeon was, ‘I guess I need to start exercising’. She laughed at me and replied, ‘You get diagnosed with breast cancer and the first thing you think about is exercise?’ Yes. Exactly. There are few things we actually have control of in our lives and physical activity, the ability to use the body we are given, is one of them. For the able bodied, that is.

 I have begun exercising consistently. For the first time in my life, I am aware of my body as a physical presence, not just a carrier of the brain, but a functioning participant in the process of living. Body. Mind. BodyMind (I made this up, it sounds appropriate). I have been stretching, working with kettlebells, experimenting with Jungle Gym. 45 minutes, 3 times a week. Easy. I am working with Marianne Kane, whom I adore. Marianne designs my workout programs and I purchase corrective skype sessions, so that I can be assured that I am using good form.

Then, I walk. I am eating more salad, cooking more vegetables  (we are members of a CSA) and I am experimenting with new and exciting recipes. I like to a try one new recipe a week which makes food exciting again. I have gained some weight, some muscle and some fat. I am alright with this. This seems like a good weight. I feel healthy. I am eating good food, learning what amount of activity feels right, and embracing a balanced approach to encouraging my body and mind to be as healthy as possible.

IMG_1348Being breastless and not wearing prosthesis, bucks the norms and societal expectation of even the breast cancer survivor. Most women who choose mastectomy without reconstruction wear prosthesis. This helps clothing fit better and alleviates the appearance of physical difference. I choose not to engage in presenting an appearance that is not true to my being, my self, the shape of my physical body.  I cannot honestly say that this choice has been easy, there are moments when the difference in my physical appearance has catapulted me into a roller coaster of emotion that felt overwhelming and dysfunctional. That roller coaster contains fear of judgement, fear that my gender presentation will be mistaken to negative consequence, fear of being different.

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On the flip side of this, opting out of reconstruction has made me appreciate that I am strong, mentally strong, it takes courage and strength to be different, to walk the streets as a flat chested woman. I know many women are small breasted. I know I present a female, feminine picture, and that my body, perhaps, appears slightly different than my small breasted sisters. But going from a 34DD size bra to no bra at all is, on a personal level, life changing. And it isn’t like there are many role models of well known women who have chosen not to reconstruct their bodies after cancer treatments. I mean heck, I used BreastCancer.org as my go to informational site while in active treatment and they are just now updating their content related to opting out of reconstruction after breast cancer treatment, and do you want to know why? Because -I- asked why this choice is not being acknowledged on their site.

IMG_1403I would not change a single aspect of my journey to rid my body of cancer and to embrace the beauty and stealth nature of my new shape. 

Two years ago today, I had bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction.

Cancer treatment showed me the resiliency of the human body, it has shown me that my body leans toward health and healing. Cancer has made me embark on a journey of fitness that serves to strengthen both my mind and my physical being. Cancer has helped me to accept that this is my body, my self, my one chance at living as fully as humanly possible. And most especially, that the only standards that I need to live up to are my own.

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I embrace my strong, independent spirit. I love this body, scarred, flat and stronger than it has ever been before. I celebrate my beauty. I am thankful to my body and glad to be connecting my bodily experience to my intellect.

This is a journey of a lifetime.

 


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Comments

  1. I do not say this easily, nor do I say it lightly. Melanie you are a hero in my life.

    Teri

  2. Tammy Murphy says:

    Melanie, I would like to say that you are amazing!
    I never had cancer, and I have lived my life the opposite of yours.
    I was born flat chested…. for my teens and early twenties I lived with an AA cup at best and always felt that I had to wear a bra to make it look like I had something. Without one, I was flat as a pancake. I always felt cheated and ripped off and as shallow as it sounds clothing never fit just right, I felt out of proportion and probably the worst of all…. less of a woman as I grew into my early twenties.
    I went from an AA to a C and have never looked back, I have what I always felt I should have.
    I couldn’t imagine now, having them taken away, even though they are not really a part of me.
    I say you are amazing because, many women as strong as some of them may be, could not cope with having part of them taken away and not try to replace it.
    I just wanted to let you know that even coming from me, someone who couldn’t live without something I never actually had in the first place…… I was touched to see your strength and positive self image even though you have had a piece of yourself taken away, somehow you have replaced it with a better, bigger, stronger piece.

    • Melanie says:

      Thank you for being candid, Tammy. I am glad that we live in a world where you, a born flat woman have the -option- to augment your form and become more comfortable in your own skin. I am glad too that women like me can break from historic conditioning and say no to breast construction and the use of prothesis.

  3. Mel, you are truly an inspiration, not just to breast cancer survivors, but to everyone who may have body issues. I am so grateful that I “met” you and can follow your amazing and uplifting words.

    • Melanie says:

      Thank you Lisa. So many of us have ‘body issues’, I am glad that I am able to contribute to a healthy perspective in this way. You take care!

  4. Congratulations for all that you’ve done for yourself and for women everywhere. You ARE the role model you were looking for. Now you’re that for other women. Hugs and love.

  5. “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Thank you for leaving a trail for the rest of us.

  6. Thank you for posting this beautiful essay. Last september I had both removed too. I opted out of chemo, but am taking the estrogen blocker. I am a lot older than you, and I’m fat. My large breasts gave some balance to my tummy that sticks out. Losing my breasts makes me look misshapen in the mirror.

    BUT, I am who i am, where I am, as I am. I’ve had some other issues that have kind of kept me down, but right now I feel better than I’ve felt in a couple of years, so am beginning to bounce back. Somewhat.

    I loved reading this, because I too chose not to get reconstruction, and I refused prothesis. I see a blessing in that part, I never have to wear a bra again! Why on earth would I want to wear a bra with protheses in it just so I’ll look what our society dictates as sociably acceptable? THIS, THIS RIGHT HERE, is ME. Take it or leave it, is my feeling.

    My husband is a true good guy in all this. I simply told him that I didn’t want either reconstruction or prostheses, and he didn’t even blink. His take is that I am who and what and how I am. He’s happy I’m here, to heck with the rest.

    Thank you again. I enjoyed reading this. It is inspiring. I hope many more women can find them SELVEs in their journey too.

    • Melanie says:

      I suggest you love your belly, love the food you eat, enjoy every morsel, then love that belly because you enjoyed eating the foods that move through it. Be strong being YOU!

  7. Melanie, I became aware of you shortly after having my double mastectomy with no reconstruction last August. Even though I was sure and firm in my choice, you’ve been my role model for forging ahead to accept and to present myself to the world “as I am.” Thank you for sharing your journey, thank you for being strong, thank you for being you.
    Hugs!

  8. Melly my sweet fellow sister, this deeply touched my heart and every fiber of my being. I understand so much of what you have gracefully put into words. You are a strong, beautiful and inspirational woman that I am proud to know you…even though we haven’t met in person. I celebrate for and with you.
    ♥Rocki

  9. Thank you for your honest sharing these past two years. Thank you for opening up a dialogue for “flatties”. I have grown because of what you have shared and I admire all you have done. Best wishes for many strong and healthy years to follow!

  10. Vivika DeNegre says:

    Melanie,
    I am almost at month 3, bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. I am encouraged and strengthened by your words, your example, and your acceptance. Throughout my journey I have looked at each day starting with a choice – some of the choices, like “should I have reconstruction” and “should I cut off a perfectly healthy part of my body because the matching breast has cancer” were extremely difficult, and other choices have been easy. But they were all made with a clear head and measured by the information that was available. We are the lucky ones: we had treatment, we had choices, and we are now cancer free. I am so glad that you can say you love your body as it is now- and I am on my way to be able to do the same.

    • Melanie says:

      Vivika, shower your body with love and acceptance. Embrace the changes as much as you are able. Our bodies listen to our thoughts, our bodies are our thoughts and everything we can do to encourage healing and health is taken into consideration. I am glad to be on this journey with you too.

  11. Cheers, love, namaste… my stealthy not to mention aerofreakingdynamic sister<3

  12. Melly,
    You write so beautifully about your decisions and your choice to be healthy. Exercise is a huge part of that. But mostly your decision to live authentically on the outside as well as in the inside is just totally beautiful.

    MORE POWER TO YOU LADY!! I hope you are enjoying this glorious weather!

    • Melanie says:

      Thank you, Sharon. I am happy to have been able to embrace exercise, to change my perception of it from one of resistance to do any physical activity at all, to wanting to exercise as a loving connection of both body and mind. This is a huge leap, and having been diagnosed with cancer was the impetus for this change.

  13. Jeannie says:

    As someone earlier said, YOU are the role model you were seeking. You have shown us all how to stand up to the challenges life throws at us with fierce determination and beauty. I truly believe that you are more beautiful now. You exude this grace, compassion, and love that is much deeper and more open than before. It is as though becoming a flattie as enabled your inner beauty take center stage. Through you, the world can learn so much. To look beyond the outer vessel and see the inner core that is truly where beauty lies.
    You are learning life lessons that most never learn or learn too late in life. If I have learned anything the past couple years, it is the body’s determination to heal itself. Even in death, the body is struggling to fight, to survive, to heal, to be.
    You have taught me so much outside of the art that you create. You have shown me how to be strong. To fight for ME and to be my authentic self. The gratitude I feel is immeasurable. Thank you.
    As you start your third year of gorgeousness, I wish you so much joy. The kind of joy that feels like you have a bubble machine inside of you sending out bubbles of hope, laughter, fun, creativity, and love.
    I love you so much, my Sister of the Big City. Thank you for being in my life.

    • Melanie says:

      Oh Jeannie. You know I love your comments and our connection. You too have had some struggle related to your body this year. I am so glad to have been a help and gladder still to be present to the love and care you have provided me.

  14. Marianne Kane says:

    Melly, You are an amazingly strong woman. You inspire me to look at what’s really important in terms of body image and even what exercise really is. The exercise doesn’t give you happiness, it draws joy out of you; joy that was already there, but dormant. You found a new value in yourself and found ways to express it and give back to yourself and those around you – me included 🙂 Thank you!

  15. Thank you for your frankness in all your posts about your health experiences. It gives strength to those who have to deal with tough and scary health issues. It makes them know they are not the only ones.

  16. Jeannie says:

    I forgot to say how beautiful Ms. Peach is. She looks so content and happy. Such a sweet, sweet face. xo

    • Melanie says:

      Jeannie. Peach is a gem. She is honest, respectful, loving, taking, giving, receiving. She is awesome.

  17. Oh, Melly! What a gorgeous post! Love all the smiling photos, especially you and David who must wonder at how he found this amazing woman beside him. Over the last couple of years of your healing I kept recalling the time I was fortunate to meet you at the Create retreat in Chicago and how out of the blue you brought up a story about going bra shopping for the “girls”. You kind of laughed off why you were telling us something so personal when you said you were usually a very modest person. This was several months before your diagnosis, and I kept thinking it was like a prescient moment, that you were practicing somehow sharing the journey that would follow. You have shared your journey and your growth as a person in such a beautiful and honest way, and even those of us fortunate to be well (for now) could learn so much from yours about honesty and acceptance and self-love and hope. Thank you.

  18. Congratulations on your anniversary … you have done good !

  19. Melanie, I started following your blog several months back after following in love with your books. Your personal story is amazing! Your courage is astounding! You make the world a better place, congratulations on your anniversary.

  20. Exactly! Every body is different and everybody is beautiful in their own unique way. Thanks for reminding us. Thank you for sharing your story.

  21. always inspired by your posts. you are strong. you have a wonderful support in your husband. be who you are. always

  22. Dearest Melly,
    I have been thinking about you, about this anniversary, since the first part of June. I realize that last year we spent time together in Dallas. You are looking kick-ass strong, and beautiful as always. I love you. I’m so glad you are feeling fierce.
    It astonishes me that the BreastCancer.org site didn’t have no reconstruction as an option until you brought it to their attention.

  23. Congratulations Melanie!
    Congratulations for 2 Years, and
    Congratulations for Growing/Learning/Accepting!

    And about that Mind/Body thing…
    You should check into Yoga, Ayurveda, Chakras and such. They all talk about the Mind/Body and the Body/Mind. It’s alllllll connected. Each effects the other, constantly. Sort of like a Merry-Go-Round; your on it, going ’round, coming back, seeing, re-seeing, touching, feeling, knowing, being.
    I love you Melanie!
    I love reading your posts, and watching you grow.
    Love and Light!
    =-)

  24. I read your amazing blog, and wish I could be more like you. I too have had breast cancer, had 4 surgeries on the cancerous breast since my surgeon was not willing to remove it (too much history on that to go into). What I had left was a scarred mess and very painful, so they have ‘repaired’ it and it looks better, but I still have scars. You my dear woman are strong and beautiful. There is nothing more beautiful than a person who loves themselves and radiate happiness and contentment. One thing I learned from the year plus of treatment is that we are resilient beings and you can either be positive or wallow in self pity. You took the bull by the horns and chose to LIVE! you are a true inspiration. I too chose to live, and exercise and work to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I just have to deal with the weight I’ve gained since being sick (20 pounds of stubborn fat) but I’m still here so I guess I shouldn’t complain. I too want to get more fit if only to have a strong healthy body like I used to. Please know that you are amazing and a true inspiration to anyone, to remember to love who we are, that we are not our outside body but beautiful people inside and out.