Grace

The images that follow may be considered too-much-information, which is a perspective I understand. If you feel this way, you should skip this post and come back another day. 

MellyIsisPortraitCropped

Breast cancer has changed me. It has changed me physically as well as mentally. It has made me question feminine behaviors and expectations, it has made me question what is important to me, it has reordered who I believe myself to be. 

I knew from the start that reconstruction was not for me. I did follow through and go to a plastic surgeon to discuss ‘my options’, and I did my best to remain open to the idea of reconstruction, so that -I could- reconstruct if I came around to feeling the need. But honestly, I did not like how that plastic surgeon touched my body, I don’t like the thought of inserting silicone under skin or muscle, do not want the multiple surgeries or ‘exchanges’- a euphemism for additional surgery to ‘swap out’ the silicone implants every 7 to 9 years, will not move muscle or fat from any other place on my body to form an insensate semblance of a breast.  

I won’t do that. I can’t. My body is enough.

Believe me when I say, I faced strong opposition to my decision to opt out of reconstructive surgery. I was asked to see a psychiatrist to make sure I was making a sound, well founded decision. I was told that just the month previously that my breast surgeon saw a woman who demanded testing for BRCA, which came up negative, and that she continued to want preventative mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, and that as a result, the hospital asked that all women wanting preventative or profilactic removal of a breast needed to see the psychiatrist. Being compared to a person who neither had cancer, tested negative for BRCA, and demanded preventative mastectomy does not help. Being questioned about wanting symmetry after being told you -need- a radical unilateral mastectomy, doesn’t help. Being told you will ‘suffer’ gender confusion, doesn’t help. Being told women who choose reconstruction settle back into life more quickly after breast cancer surgery, doesn’t help. Especially when the psychiatrist on staff is not covered by insurance and you will need to pay $500+ out of pocket to help your hospital perpetuate their disordered thinking on what is ‘right’ for the breast cancer survivor. 

I would not have been asked to see a psychiatrist had I chosen the ‘conventional, ‘acceptable’ path’ of reconstruction.

I have extracted a quote from this interesting article, which I hope you will read:

A study in the Psychology of Women Quarterly reported that sexual minority women face considerable pressure to have reconstruction, and those who decide not to have surgery often feel like they have to justify their choices to their doctors. The researchers argue that these women’s reasons for and against the surgeries highlight sexist and heterosexist assumptions within the medical management of breast cancer, and particularly mastectomy. As Naomi Wolf points out in The Beauty Myth such assumptions affect women in general. Wolf questions whether cosmetic surgery is really a choice in the context of a society that routinely reduces women to appearances and sexual usefulness. For women diagnosed with breast cancer, societal expectations to look and act the part of the thriving breast cancer survivor/fearless warrior (while appealing to some) may add to these pressures in ways that are just as disempowering as those from decades ago that forced women to keep breast cancer hidden beneath a veil of secrecy.

Ca-ching!

I would rather redefine femininity in the face of a diagnosis that is so closely tied to body image, a diagnosis that shoves societal expectations smack up against the individual woman and her one precious body, one that forces us to make decisions that are uncomfortable at best.

And, I would rather not keep quiet about it. 

When I heard about The Grace Project, I contacted Isis Charise, the photographer, quickly. I wanted my portrait taken. I feel compelled to ‘represent’ for all the women who opt out of reconstruction. I feel compelled to ‘represent’ a beautiful image of the female body, no matter how ‘unconventional’.  I feel compelled to help the women who are diagnosed after me, to understand that reconstruction isn’t for everyone, and for those who cannot or will not reconstruct, I feel compelled to simply live in my body as it is shaped without putting on breast forms or presenting an image that is not my own. 

Since my diagnosis, a sea change has begun, we flatties have begun to band together to support one another. Had I not stumbled upon Sentenced2Live‘s portrait, and seen the ease and confidence with which she used her body, I would not have thought I could opt out of reconstructive surgery in the first place. The strength that Barbie exhibits in her Scar Project photograph has been a balm to me-and to be a Marine too? Barbie has a strength and hutzpah that I admire deeply. Seeing Margaret Smith in Fitness magazine a few years back strengthened me beyond measure. Reading about Jodi Jaecks fight to swim topless in a public swimming pool helped me normalize my flat and beautiful chest and to experience and evaluate the battle we women face when we make decisions related to our bodies that goes against the mainstream.

And I assume that, at least in part, all of these women did this work for people like me.

So when the opportunity to participate in an awareness raising project like The Grace Project came around, it was an easy decision. I opted in! I am committed to helping improve my own sense of body image while helping to normalize a simple, beautiful, less invasive form of reconstruction. This option makes me (and us) no less female, no less beautiful, and I see no need to ‘make like’ I have the shape of breasts. Societal expectations be damned (I am sorry to swear, but I mean it).

I prefer to be the role model I needed when I started my ‘breast cancer journey’.  

And I choose to do it while remaining in alignment with my own values, needs and standards.

If ever you find yourself being told you have breast cancer, know that you can choose what is right for you, regardless of what you may be told. Flat is an option, as is reconstruction. Not wearing forms is an option. Switching out your breast forms every day with a new size is an option (yowza!)! Just don’t allow yourself to be talked into reconstruction if you know it isn’t right for you. 

MellyIsisPortrait

And remember, your body is beautiful, no matter what.


Back to gallery

Comments

  1. Flat and fabulous, indeed! You go, Melly! XO

  2. Kudos to you Miss Melly and you look BEAUTIFUL! 🙂 I am so very glad that you and those like you are coming out to education women about an alternative that they may not have known was an option (which seems completely ridiculous when you think about that.) If I ever had to make these decisions (and I hope that I never do) I’m not sure what choice I would make but I am glad to know ALL of my options.

    As per the needing a psychologist, is seems bizarre to me that 1. Insurance does not cover it, and 2. That ANYONE who has cancer of any type isn’t suggested to see a psychologist to help them deal with the stress and trauma of finding out that you have cancer. Another symptom of what’s wrong with our medical community I guess.

    I love you Melly, and I love you for being brave and doing these things.

  3. Thank you! For sharing your intelligent, graceful journey…..you are truly inspiring….I am glad to know you!

  4. Helen Eckard says:

    You are beautiful Melly! And brave!

  5. Roz Stendahl says:

    Melly, I’m glad you’re speaking out about your experience and your choice. You look beautiful and strong!

  6. Marysu Bennett says:

    Melly, you are one beautiful soul and I feel honored to know you. I love you dearly for your courage, your art, your fabulous pioneering spirit in every arena you enter. One amazing lady!

  7. Melly, beautifully and powerfully written. The truth of the matter is that you look like you, to me. I do not find anything shocking in the image above. You look like Melly. You look like a lion. You look like the strength and directness you exude, that anyone who’s met you has witnessed. You look like the boss of you, and you have done a phenomenal job managing your body and your life.

  8. Thank you Melly.

  9. Melly, you are a warrior and a poet. I’m in awe. Thank you.

  10. Melanie, it was such an honor spending time with you and photographing your beautiful body and your incredibly brave soul! Thank you for these incredible words of wisdom and strength. You are an inspiration not only to women with Breast Cancer… but all women.

  11. You are so beautiful, Melly, just the way you are. More beautiful, actually, than you were before. More real = more beautiful. Breast cancer gave you yourself. You GOT IT (the lesson, if you will, or the gift). I’m so proud of you and so glad to know you, even if only online. You’re truly a warrior woman. xo

  12. I’ve always known you were heroic. Now, everyone else does, too. You are a Hardcore Warrior Woman.

  13. Marianne Kane says:

    Your courage gives me courage for an up-coming event. Thank you x

  14. Heidi Koenig says:

    Congratuöations for beeing so strong and following “YOUR” path, its your body and you look beautiful!! In my family an aunt had reconstructed one of her breasts with parts of her stomach. The wounded part of her stomach never ever recovered the last years anf she would not do it any more. She suffers a lot…anf thinks it was not worthwhile. Thanks for your article.

  15. Great message Melly! I’m glad you are able to help women, like my friend, who have so many choices ahead of them. You are a great advocate!!!

  16. you rule, girl !

  17. Thanks for such an inspirational post. I think that while you wrote it
    about breast cancer it women and girls can apply your way of thinking to
    any number of other events where others think they know what is best for somebody.
    We all need to bevassertive. What a great role model you are.

  18. You are such a powerful woman, I love ya Melly Mels! xo

  19. Not everyone has such a terrible experience with options relating to breast cancers. I’m currently pre-surgery and all along I have been given lots of information to inform my options. It’s been made clear to me that recommendations are just that, recommendations. I have an invasive cancer in one breast and, due to familial cancer history, it’s being recommended that I have a full mastectomy. If I have that, I’ve been informed about options for breast reconstruction if I want that and information about not having reconstruction. At no time have I had any judgmental coercion to take a particular route. As it stands, it’s likely I will opt for just the lumpectomy (the cancer, though invasive, has not spread beyond the one breast). I will ensure that from now on my health care includes regular diagnostic mammograms. I haven’t advertised my current condition on FB etc. , I won’t be taking pictures of my body ( I wouldn’t any other time, so why now ) and I won’t suddenly be a campaigner for cancer research/treatment etc. For those who have done these things, I am grateful for the insights provided. But I don’t feel the need to join the throng/crowd/club. I’d really rather just get on with the surgery, follow-up treatment, getting back to good health and getting on with my life.

  20. Susan Wolf Swartz says:

    You are fabulous Mel, and you know who you are…cancer can’t change that! Bravo! Brava!

  21. Randi Eggen says:

    Thank you Melly

  22. Mel you are a strong personality! I would like to praise your courage to post in such a fantastic way about something like that – this is helpful and encouraging for sure for many women !
    Thank you!
    All the best for you!

  23. tamara ellington says:

    Melly, that had to take so much courage to share your story and your pictures with everyone. You are one strong and beautiful woman and an inspiration to all.

  24. Okay, I think I have the tears under control and I can now see to type. Words cannot express how proud I am of you. It isn’t the photo (which is beyond brave). It is the fact that you care about others who are facing the same decisions and being brave enough to say “this is what I did and why AND isn’t my body gorgeous?”. To raise awarness to the options available, to show how BEAUTIFUL the human form is, to say that it is okay to follow your own intuition and heart. You have always been a heroine in my eyes, and this post shows others what I have known all along. You are FIERCE!!! As someone else said, the photos are beautiful and I saw the Melly Mels that I love. I cannot get over how incredibly beautiful you are. Love you, Melly!!! xoxo

  25. Melly, you show your beauty inside and out always! You write and live with beauty and poetry. Thank you for being an advocate for those not strong enough to say what you have said. Thank you for being a role model of true beauty, not the commercial sexification of women that we are faced with daily. Thank you for sharing your beauty and strength.

  26. When I opened your post today, the first thing I saw was your photo and I thought WHAT ARE YOU DOING? and I was just going to delete this post. Then I thought I should read what you had to say. It’s shocking that you had to visit a psychiatrist to justify your choice. A person should always be informed of all sides of medical issues and then allowed to choose. And then respected for their choice. Thinking about cancer… it would be nice if all patients with cancer were given a certain number of visits with a psychiatrist (optional), though (covered by insurance) to discuss emotional aspects of dealing with their disease, treatments, and recovery.
    Your post was awesome. Glad I stayed to read it.

    • I have to wonder how many men, facing the loss of their testicles, who opt to not have artificial ones inserted in their scrotums (a very simple, low risk procedure, especially compared to reconstruction and the potential problems) are forced to speak to a psychiatrists….much less on their own dime…..This smacks of “oh little lady….you do not understand….here, let us explain it to you and help you make the “correct” decision.” I am glad that I was not pressured in any way. I was given my options and allowed to make an informed, adult, very personal decision.

  27. Debra Stribley says:

    I dont often read lengthy posts on facebook but I have a sister in law with terminal cancer (not breast) and she is one of the strongest most inspiring women I have ever known. So when I was your post I was curious to see just what you had to say. Thank you for your story and your images. Thank you for choosing to be the person you are. Thank you for not bowing to society’s perception of what you “should” look like. Thank you for showing other breast cancer survivors that they dont have to undergo re-construction to be beautiful. You are an inspiration. Thank you.

  28. You are strong and strong for many others who don’t know how strong they will have to be. You have saved lives today. Thank you.

  29. I’m not as good with words as many of those who have already commented but still wanted to add my admiration at what you have written , have done and have accomplished. I’m not sure I’d have your courage. Actually in pretty sure I wouldn’t. Having undergone surgery for breast reduction though I’m thinking I might not opt for the reconstruction either.
    I too think you’re beautiful and strong in appearance and deed. Thank you!

  30. Thank you for standing up to the expectations & establishment of the present medical community. I have had several situations where family members needed support. Once when my mother in law was dying, she got gangrene in her foot. the surgeon wanted to amputate. My husband said no and the surgeon was so mad at him, he hung up! She died just a fees days later with out the torture of the operation.
    My daughter will not shave. Fine I say- women have been sold, literally, a bill of goods, of what is beauty.
    Kudo’s to you!! Keep on!

  31. There is a flat-chested sisterhood out there cheering you on . . . can you hear them? Be yourself, beautiful inside and out!

  32. Absolutely fabulous! Thank you for helping to blaze a trail for those that chose the path that is right for themselves–no matter what that path may be.

  33. Absolutely , amazingly, courageously beautiful!

  34. Dearest Melanie: You are such an inspiration, a brave and beautiful and strong inspiration to me and to so many! Thank you for sharing yourself so openly and honestly and having the courage to be your glorious, sexy, lovely self! I am truly honored to know you!

  35. You are truly amazing. And you should change the title to Flat, FIT, and fabulous, because you look healthy and strong. Keep on putting yourself out there for others, as you inspire so many of us!

  36. Great post Melanie! Thank you for being brave enough to do what is right for YOU and in the process helping all women to be better able to stand up for what they want!

  37. You are very courageous, Melanie, and I congratulate you !
    You are an example, a support for many women in distress.

    I also love what you are doing at the textile creation.
    And I take this opportunity to tell you. Bravo, bravo for all !

    Kind regards from Belgium

  38. You continue to inspire me with your courage and determination to do what is right for you, as opposed to do what is expected by others! If I am ever diagnosed with breast cancer – and there is a good chance of that happening – I believe I will be comfortable following your lead. Bless you for sharing your journey with us, and may you always be willing to do so!

  39. How brave and beautiful you are.

  40. joanell connolly says:

    we have never met but like so many, we are FB friends and share this world. Thank you for your amazing post. The sharing of your story and words will bring light to many. Thank you for your honestly. joanell

  41. Denise Johnson says:

    Oh Melly. You are so beautiful! I have thought about you a lot since QSDS last summer and followed your blog. I so enjoyed getting to know you and learning from you! This may sound strange, given the number of years I have over you, but you have become one of my main mentors – for art and for Life in general. You are one of the strongest, clearest, and “funnest” people I have ever met! Love and hugs to you, Denise Johnson

  42. How beautiful; the story, the choices, the journey, the images. If it’s right, it’s right. Thank you for sharing.

  43. Margo Jannuzi says:

    Rock on girl! From a lopsided surviving sister who opted out of right breast reconstruction in 2007. I don’t think I would be brave enough to get my pic taken like you though. No regrets here, Refuse to wear a prosthesis. Well, it’s gotta be a something big if I put it one.

  44. I had reconstruction and one reason was that many women I met who did not have reconstruction had “caved in” chests. I was 64 when I had BC for the second time, same breast. So maybe it was that the women I meet were older. Before choosing to have a mastectomy I met with many women who had BC more than once and chose a mastectomy. Also after altering bras for a woman and seeing the physical problems she had I decided that was the option for me. 8 years later i have no regrets.

  45. Rock on!!! 🙂 You look gorgeous!!

  46. Thank you for putting a name and a face to your truth. You help many women be true to themselves.

  47. Linda Greiss says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and your love of your body!

  48. Barbara Persing says:

    You are amazing and your giving back shows such strength. Way to go for being yourself! It is not easy to hear your own thoughts when going through such a difficult experience and everyone around you is giving you party line. You have empowered many, I am sure.

  49. You are an excellent role model. I didn’t do a lot of research regarding my decision to be flat and fabulous, I just knew it was the right decision for me. Thank you for being a role model for those who come after us, may they never have to justify their decision to anyone..

  50. Thank you Melly for being so brave for all of us!

  51. Melanie, you make me proud to be a woman! FIERCE WARRIOR are YOU!

  52. Nancy Gill says:

    You are strong and beautiful. I hope I never have to face a battle with breast cancer, but know I know there are options.

  53. I am proud of myself for doing this.

  54. James A Dennison says:

    Brava, Melanie. Thank you for posting your story. you are entirely correct about gender/sexist driven hospital policies on reconstrucxtion.
    More women should say ” Hey, wait a minute! I’m the patient, and I have the right to say what happens to me”
    I’m proud of you. Keep on fighting for what YOU want.

  55. Clive Billenness says:

    Melanie
    Your article was put on Facebook by a relative of mine. I would just like to tell you how beautiful and brave that I think you are. A woman is not defined by two lumps of fatty tissue on her chest but by her essence, her soul, the light that shines in her eyes. I have only contempt for anyone who thinks less of you or even turns their heads away if you choose not to replace your breasts with articificial ones.
    I hope that you may now enjoy a long life free of disease, but filled with joy, and that your true friends will support you every day forever.
    Keep on being true to yourself – always
    All good wishes
    Clive

  56. I only had a lumpectomy on the left. However, that left me with a scar and deformity….one which I see every morning and night in the mirror and am grateful for. Because it reminds me, not of what I lost, but what I survived and what I discovered about myself. I went through my journey alone because my closest friend, who normally would have been there for me, was going through her own life-changing journey. She later apologized for not being there for me (I didn’t know about what she was going through but, she had been “too busy” for me for many years…something orchestrated by her now ex-husband so we are once again, BFF’s). What I discovered was a strength and a calmness I didn’t know I had. For that I will always be grateful.

    Yes, I could have relatively simple reconstructive surgery….but what for?? I’m perfect, just the way I am…..Thank you Melly. For being you. For being strong. For being perfect and beautiful.

  57. steve timms says:

    Hi there Melanie. Firstly I want to say that I am male and that you are the second flat and fabulous female that I have seen undressed. This is because my wonderful partener Kris had a bilaterel mastectomy 4 years ago. She saw this article and showed me. And do you know what?……….Isn’t it strange that you did not appear strange to my eyes! And the more girls that can find the strength to do what you have done the more the rest of the world will not require every woman to have breasts….. flesh, fat, silicon or otherwise because the more familiar an appearance is the less shocked we are by it.

    I say ‘good on you’ ….. continue to spread the word. You are iconic and think we will look back one day at the few women like you that changed life for the rest of women. Both those who are experiencing cancer or those who are scared of the what ifs if they ever had it.

    Hail …. Flat and Fabulous and full of life!!

  58. Bravo Mel!

    I can’t imagine having to make this decision, but I think, if I were in the position to have, I would make the same choice. I am shocked to hear that you were required to see a psych in order to affirm your personal choice. How utterly skewed that thinking is.

    You rock , you live, you inspire and you thrive!

  59. Judy Stadler says:

    A woman is more than breasts. You are not just flat and fabulous; you are full and fantastic. Thank you.