Women’s Health


Recently, I participated in an article in Women's Health magazine called How my Body Changed… And How it Changed Me. This is the September issue, whose theme is Strong, Sexy and Naked. For this article, the magazine interviewed three women in total, myself, Sarah Lee Strobel, an amputee and a Lindsay Washburn who has Crohn's disease and an ostomy.

Later in the magazine, the editors asked several women to complete the sentence, 'My naked body is…' to which I would respond, 'the best and most beautiful it has ever been.' Breast cancer facilitated my need to invest in body positivity and body love. And although I would not choose to be diagnosed with cancer, there is grace, there are blessings and there is beauty here.

I did not always think this way. Rather, I adopted these ideals. I faked it for a while, until it became my reality. I invested in finding beauty in all body types, fat and thin, black, white, yellow and red, female, male and everything in between. Prior to breast cancer my ideals were much more narrowly defined, less questioned; I made a conscious choice to embrace body positivity and body love, because my body would forever be changed. This is the blessing.

If you have found me through the Women's Health magazine article, welcome. I help run a support group called My Flat Friends. We don't care what type reconstruction you choose, but you must either know your BRCA status or have been diagnosed with breast cancer. You are welcome to join.

And as always, remember: Stage 4 NEEDS More. If you are inclined, please donate to Metavivor to ensure responsible use of money for breast cancer research that benefits those who need it most.

Flat-Out Fabulous, the New York Post

Today, an article about my breast cancer journey appeared in the New York Post. The hard copy version is named Flat-Out Fabulous, which is, of course, my preferred headline. 🙂 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And just to brag? The quilt pictured in the article is my latest! I printed the dot fabric and combined it with commercial prints and it is slated for a feature article in a fabulous quilting magazine. You have seen it first, here!

All of this aside, I would like to say, it is important to me to tell my story. I do it for myself, it helps me heal. But I also do it for those who come after me. I am glad to be strong enough to withstand what I did during my diagnosis and time of need. But no reconstructive option should be weighted more heavily than any other. Bias should not play a role in the options a doctor presents.

I want the words, ‘flat reconstruction’ to be part of the breast cancer lexicon.

If we start using this term, doctors will use it, if doctors use it, insurance companies will use it-and pay for it.

Also? Flat is reconstruction, it takes skill to deconstruct breasts and create a flat surface. When we ask to forego (breasted) reconstruction, we do not mean that we want skin sparing mastectomy, we mean ‘Flat Reconstruction’. Flat. Too many of my friends have asked for ‘flat’ and gotten skin sparing mastectomy (which, in my estimation, is unethical). Neither do we want ‘dog ears’, or flaps of skin under of arms or in the center of our chest. We want flat.

It’s hard enough to come to terms with a changed body, chemo brain, medications and the effects cancer treatment takes on a person. Struggling to accept surgical results should be the least of this equation.

Between the Post article and the CBS Sunday Morning piece, ‘my secret’ was revealed (I hadn’t intended to maintain a support group, but CBS caught on. So there you have it! ).

I have begun a group called, My Flat Friends. This group is intended to support women (we are LGBTQ inclusive) who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, or have been made aware of their BRCA status and are also artists-whatever that means to them. Although the name of the group references ‘flat’, ALL reconstructive options are welcome in the group, because we all have flat friends. 

If you need or want support and you fit these criteria, friend me on Facebook and Private Message me through FB, and I will add you to the group.

Check out the My Flat Friends Pinterest Board

And thank you for standing present to my needs and wishes for the breast cancer community at large.

 

Great big thanks to Bethany Kandel, the reporter who worked doggedly to present my story in such a great light.

 

CBS Sunday Morning +


This week on CBS Sunday Morning they presented a themed show on the topic of cancer. A group of women, myself included were interviewed for a subsegment named, “The flat movement”. Read the CBS article related to the segment, A Matter of choice: Mastectomies without Reconstruction.

And watch the individual segment here.

I love the women I am surrounded by in this piece. Rebecca Pine of the Breast and the Sea is a gentle giant. Read this New York Times article, ‘Going Flat’ After Breast Cancer, where Rebecca is pictured. Thedra Cullar-Ledford is an amazing artist!  Samantha Tiger West is a local friend as well as audio and visual artist. Marianne DuQuette Cuozzo is an artist whose big heart can be seen alongside Debbie Sue (here is her FB page, no website) in this video:

 

I took this photo, last month, after filming for this segment. Samantha West had to cut out before we took this photo in front of the Equinox ad which is featured in the CBS Segment. The ad features Samantha Paige, of Last Cut, whom I follow through social media. This ad is epic! It is an epic contribution to the ‘flat narrative’.

If you have arrived here due to the CBS Sunday Morning show interview. Welcome. Poke around. Check out my art galleries and my breast cancer advocacy resume. Soon, I will resume my regular program of art making here on my artist’s blog. 🙂 Until then…

 

 

Threads, Resistance and being an art blogger

I am really happy to be a member of the group calling themselves, The Artist Circle.  We are concerned people, also artists, who think civic duty is admirable. At the same time, being artists, we often depict our experience visually.

These two ideas merged in this Call For Art on the topic of resistance.

Threads of Resistance <——- Click it!

We have a Facebook page too.

I consider myself an art blogger. I have recently come out with a book. And, I am a political person. I am also an outspoken person; I post nude photos of my body and I challenge societal norms by doing so. I do all of these things through my blog and web site, melanietesta.com. Briefly, I considered refraining from putting my name in the footer of  this Call For. I wondered if, because I have just published a book, perhaps I should remain neutral. But ultimately, I decided, art is a perfect medium to explore ideas of resistance, and Procion MX dye is the perfect media to do that, and well, I am an artist in need of goals.

After thinking all of this through, I placed my name on the list of organizers.

It is frightening to live out loud, to express our opinions and then remain present to the experience of having done so. Cancer in particular has shown me, it is time to live, out-loud-proud. In-all-respects. In light of this, I would like to say, let us please find the means and the self restraint to speak to one another and express our views without reacting to our fellows, so much as seeking to find common ground, learning to laugh together and trusting that full understanding will unfold. 

Let’s all be civil, and have discourse.

And please, let us all make art, like our lives depend on it. It does.

 

 

Breast Cancer And Taco Shots

It has been five and a half years since my breast cancer diagnosis. Little did I understand the impact and changes that would occur within my person and my life because of this. In many ways, it has made me into a better person, fortified my beliefs, made me stronger and more confident. It has also challenged me to my core, stirring uncomfortable emotions that can be difficult to reconcile.

There are the physical changes to my person, my breastlessness. But there is also the side effects of the ongoing drug treatment, depression and anxiety that do not abate. As I have stepped away from acute treatment, and begun to resume life with cancer as one aspect in the over all picture of who Melanie Testa is, I learn to manage these ‘side effects’. Even if I wish I didn’t need to experience them.

My choices related to breast cancer have an effect in my primary relationship too.

In the last few years, I have embraced my overarching goal to help create space for women like myself, who choose not to reconstruct by participating in awareness raising campaigns and photo shoots. I did it because I believe that visual representation for all body types is important.

Melanie Testa photographed by Esther Hasse for perfektUNperfekt

And I have done this while my Man, beautiful person that he is, has floundered to understand and grasp his place in this story. To grasp -his loss- of my breasts. Breast cancer and the effects of treatment are long lasting and far reaching, you see.

Last September, I traveled and met up with 13 other breastless women, people, all seeking to participate in a photoshoot highlighting the diverse beauty and sexuality that we continue to possess, no matter the bodily changes breast cancer has forced upon us. I allowed myself to be the sexy, beautiful person that I am, while striving to take back my own sexual prowess after breast cancer treatment. 

Photography by Esther Haase

We had individual portraits taken, small group photos, and we took to the streets of Berlin, smoke machines, photographers and video cameras in tow, as we made a scene. We dressed as gang members, we didn’t smile, we embodied our toughest persona. We were and are a gang!

Photography by Esther Haase

It was empowering and exciting, to say the least. I balled my eyes out, it was such a huge experience. I met awesome people too. We got some gorgeous photos out of it. Me, in nothing but thigh high leather boots. Never in my life would I have thought I would do anything the like.

So, as we are diagnosed at a younger age, sex and sexuality-post breast cancer treatment, is becoming a necessary field to explore. Our mates and partners need a pathway into this discussion too. They need visuals. Visibility is key in every respect. For the survivor-of course, for our partners and mates, for all of us, really. 

Historically speaking, our sickness has been kept secret, prothesis and reconstruction replace our loss, wigs cover our bald heads until our hair grows back, we move on quietly. This is an acceptable way to go about it, of course. 

But thankfully, in recent years, we have begun to break down this barrier of silence by embracing our changed bodies as simply, the vessels that they are. Intrinsically beautiful. We are questioning and removing the ‘binds’ that stop us from talking about our changed bodies, while we adamantly refuse to be ‘quiet and move on’, because cancer is serious, and we need to find a cure.

And we become good friends as we reach deeply into the wealth of our very person, the beauty of who we really are, while a camera catches it all. Thank you good people, thank you for being my flat friends. Thank you for helping me find my sexy.

photography by Esther Haase

This is perfektUNperfekt, photography by Esther Haase.

P.S. I named this post provocatively, using the slang ‘Taco Shot’ because I don’t seem to shy away from full body nudity. You may remember my Grace portrait. 🙂


One more thing, the larger picture to the above body-positive-post-cancer-treatment essay? Stage four needs more attention. Our stage four sisters and brothers need our help in turning the tide from ‘pink profiteering’ (Komen) to funding research that saves lives.

Check out METAvivor, if you want to donate to breast cancer research.

#dontignorestageiv

LESS, a documentary and help with funding it

Hello Good People, Friends and Family.

Many of you know that just over 5 years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I chose to forego reconstruction and to embrace my body as it is, without wearing breast forms or presenting a shape that is not my own.

Since my diagnosis and much to my chagrin, I have learned that almost 58% of women diagnosed with breast cancer, like me, choose -not- to reconstruct their bodies. Where many find comfort in reconstruction or the use of breast forms as a means to resume life after breast cancer treatment, many do not. I am happy to be a part of a growing group of women have chosen to embrace their bodies as the beautiful vessels that they are, simply and without the need or societal pressure to present an hourglass shape.

In the last two years, I have worked to increase visibility for the breastless female body. I have written articles on my own blog, worked with Play Out underwear and FlatTopper Pride to create editorial content that went viral twice, I have also posed for HuffPO and Women’s Health magazine. I was filmed by CNN and the Great Big Story, telling my story in video format.

I have done this in an effort to reach as many women as possible and to make space for those who, like myself, chose not to reconstruct their bodies after breast cancer treatment.

LESS

Last September, in Berlin, I participated in a fantastic photoshoot with Esther Haase, a high fashion photographer, where footage for a documentary called LESS was also shot. Myself and 13 other women were interviewed, we poured out our souls, made bonds of friendship and created a tellingly beautiful array of images to help us embrace our own bodies while also giving us imagery for editorial content to be used in our social circles, countries and web sites.

LESS Trailer from Nondual Productions on Vimeo.

LESS, the documentary, needs funding in order to make it to the big screen.

PLEASE HELP US AND SUPPORT OUR DOCUMENTARY(!) and the Crowdfunding Campaign for the documentary LESS that features breast cancer survivors on the photoshoot of Esther Haase. LESS is not really about cancer so much as about these brave and beautiful women who – with the absence of breasts, quietly question society’s presumptions about what a woman should be and are calling for something all of us desire – an accepting and compassionate society where we can all be ourselves, no matter what.

Click here to donate, please.

Check out our LESS trailers and PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD & SHARE the Crowdfunding Campaign for this important project on fb, twitter and with your email contacts. Every little bit helps.

PLUS! I have donated three pieces of artwork to this fundraiser, I would love to see my work on your wall!

 😛 THANK YOU!
Melly

#breastlessbeauty

If you are coming here after watching the Great Big Story piece about me, welcome.

Check out the Great Big Story video here.

 I am an artist and an activist for Flat Re/Construction due to breast cancer treatment. Going flat, not wearing breast forms, is a beautiful and vibrant option, one option among many-due to breast cancer diagnosis. Some women relate to and need reconstruction, some do not. All of us could benefit by investing in body positivity, love and respect for the one-beautiful-body you own.

Welcome to my blog and web site.

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I am working to bring 30 hand printed Breastless Beauties up to completion and hope to sell them directly from a gallery page, here on my site. I will be making a donation from the proceeds of the sales to a well researched breast cancer group, I will let you know the specifics soon.

The Beauty pictured above os Breastless Beauty 1, which you will see, by comparing the gallery image to the above image, has been stitched upon and appears different than the original. It is my hope that you might follow along, by reading posts here on the blog, as I finish hand stitching each of the Beauties in the gallery!

They are coming along quite nicely, I hope you agree.

If you would like to follow along and read some of the articles I have contributed to over the last year, please do. Huffington Post invited me to pose for an article called 24 Women Bare their Scars to Reveal the Beauty in Imperfections. Women’s Health magazine invited me to contribute to 4 Women Show the Reality of their Mastectomies in Stunning Photos. I participated in a Play Out underwear photoshoot with the essay called, Shirts Off, Underwear On: Play Out, Breast Cancer and Gender Expectations. And I participated in Grace, debuting that photos release with this essay called, The Grace to be Flat & Fabulous. I also participated in Jamie Courville‘s audio portrait called Squirrel Stories. I keep a Pinterest board specific to flat sightings across the web!

I would very much like for you to use the hashtag #breastlessbeauty. If you are a flattie, a uniboober, if you wear prosthesis or not, tag yourself with #breastlessbeauty. That way, we can find one another!

 

The Breastless Beauties

Breastless Beauty 1

You will soon find a sales gallery of what I am calling ‘Breastless Beauties’ on my website. I am very excited about this work as it integrates my advocacy work for body positivity and flat reconstruction due to breast cancer with my artistic, multicolor printing endeavors. I have not previously printed so many pieces in a single go, nor have I worked to bring so many pieces up to a salable point as a group. 

The Breastless Beauties are based on my 2007 Quilt National entry, Repose. Seen here:

Repose

I would like to tell the story of sharing one of the Beauties to a flat related peer support group of mine. The Beauty I showed them was what we fondly call in the breast cancer community, a uniboober, (or a single breasted woman). The first response I got after showing the piece was, ‘Wow. I never thought I would see my body in a piece of art!’

And I must say, I was touched beyond measure to hear this.

Throughout the last few years, I have worked to create visual representation within the media for the bilaterally flat chested women like myself. I have done this because I understand  the importance of having our bodies reflected back to us, and for those images to be positive, strong, fully embodied and filled with hope. Beauty is not the end all in life, but when we are forced to make bodily changes due to cancer diagnosis, self esteem can take a big hit. Seeing our changed bodies in the media and on the wall, reflecting our new reality, serves to heal the soul. 

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For the most part (there are still a few projects that will be released), I feel I have done enough breast cancer advocacy work. It is time for me to step away from the public eye and back into my artistic endeavors. Printing and stitching the Breastless Beauties has been a great segue in this respect.  I hope you will follow me in this more artistic form of visual representation.


 

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I will be teaching:

You Can’t Resist This, where we will use soy wax as a resist along with paint on cotton fabric.

Small Works, Big Impact, where we will make small works while exploring the use of the sewing machine and some pretty nifty techniques.

Journaling with Embroidery, where we will make a Gather your Sew-plies!! purse, so you can sew, wherever you go!

 

TV taping and Gathering your Sew-plies!!

 

Check out the blog post related to this video: http://melanietesta.com/2015/10/tv-taping-and-gathering-your-sew-plies/

A video posted by Melanie Testa (@mellytesta) on

This week, I found myself in the unique position of needing to Gather my Sew-plies!! on the quick! I was asked to tape a video segment for a major media outlet. The original idea was that they would come to my home and film me while I was printing the Breastless Beauties. But at the last minute, they had a change of plans. (I was excited that they would come film me printing!!! Their loss. Haha!!)

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So, 15 minutes before needing to leave to get to the meet up spot, I grabbed a Gather your Sew-plies purse, some thread and all of the printed Beauties I had made so far. Wow!! Talk about thinking quick on your feet! Talk about needing your supplies at a moments notice!!!

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It is strange, I can’t really talk about this project yet, but I can share vaguely.

So…

To be honest? I feel blessed to be able to have done this video shoot!! It seems I have made waves this year. My perspective and the narrative I am speaking to; body positivity in the face of breast cancer diagnosis and its treatment, or even more broadly, loving your body no matter if you had a cancer diagnosis, is being considered, discussion is occurring.

What more could an artist wish for in her lifetime?

Wear them close.

So, what do I carry in a Gather your Sew-plies!! purse? Embroidery/thread snips, thimble, thread, a hank of hand dyed embroidery flosses, needles and a few pins. That is all. The purse has a backpack styling, fits snuggly against the body. Does not swing or make its presence known, as you work about in the studio or wherever you may be. I have been known to wear them on the subway, it is a great sewing in transit purse! 

I will be teaching at Craft Napa January 7-9 2016 There is a stitch class where we will begin making a Gather your Sew-plies purse. I hope you will join me! I would love to work with you. Throw knowledge nuggets, share laughter and have fun with you. I need a teaching retreat and I am ready to teach again! Please join us.

craftnapa-color1

 

I will be teaching You can’t resist this, a soy wax class.

Small Works, Big Impact

and the Stitch Journaling class where we will make a Gather your Sew-plies!! purse. PLEASE Join US!

Melly

More updates to come!

 

The Cat Walk, Flattopper Pride and Play Out underwear

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This week has been such a fantastic experience. Emily Jensen, of FlatTopper Pride, came to town to walk the cat walk wearing Play Out underwear. FlatTopper Pride is a supportive space where gender presentation and cancer intersect. If you are queer, or an ally of the queer community and you have had breast cancer and want to discuss your path in a supportive environment, this is the group for you. 

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Since my diagnosis of breast cancer, I have been using the unique opportunities presented to me to open discussion on what it can mean to be a woman and be breastless without apology in a breast obsessed world. The show we walked in had a theme of Ken and Barbie, with the intention of using dolls or toys to speak to body ideals and body dysmorphia. So the stylists and make-up artists did their magic and turned us into dolls. 

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Seeing the two of us looking all plastic-y, walking confidently down the runway in nothing more than Play Out underwear , revealing our scars, helps to narrow the divide between how we are ‘supposed to look’ and how we actually look. The breast cancer closet, where we are supposed to quietly resume our lives as if nothing has happened, while maintaining the breasted and ‘known’ female shape is being redefined. Body confidence is where it is at.

 

Being visually represented in the media is important to all people, it acts to bolster our sense of person and humanity. Body image, acceptance and love can be challenged after breast cancer treatment and I hope these images help other, newly diagnosed women see that flat reconstruction is one beautiful option among many, breastless bodies are beautiful and that breasts do not define us.

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Please read the Hello Giggles article, written by Jackie Reeve, called: Meet two young breast cancer survivors who just revolutionized the runway.

Wow, a whirlwind.

These last few weeks have been amazing. Hectic crazy, fun, well worth it.

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My creative stand still came to an end, thank goodness.

I went to quilt market while visiting my Bestie. I learned a lot.

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And the Play Out (click this link to see a sexy, hip commercial for the undies) and Flattopper Pride underwear photoshoot went viral. It started with HuffPo, then it shifted and became a sprinkling of articles, then I started seeing my photograph under Japanese characters, in Norwegian online magazines, BuzzFeed, Mashable, People. I was interviewed for an article in Women’s Health (apologies to my husband, it just popped out.). I don’t know what, ‘in association with the New York Times means but, I think it got very close to being in the New York Times, if not officially in it.

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I was able to meet Barbara Rosenblat, the actress who played Ms. Rose in Orange is the New Black, a favorite show of mine. In season two she was in cancer treatment. I won’t tell the story, I just loved the character she played. Rain Dove, the androgynous model I am pictured beside in a few of the ad campaign and on the red carpet event at the New York Women in Film and Television, where I met Ms. Rosenblat.

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I was thrilled. I love the above scene. Just love it.

I experienced vile and bullying comments. That wasn’t a treat. But my self esteem is not tied to other people’s opinions of me, so that is that. I am thinking up a post about this, having to do with allowing love in, opening your heart to all body types, breasted, reconstructed, flat, fat, thin and differently abled.

Let me know if you are interested in this.

OH! And, I am printing the border for my next quilt top! Next up, green!! Photos to follow. Let me just say, I want this quilt top done by Saturday, Quilt Guild! I am very excited about it.

And, hey wait!! Brave? Well, yeah. Determined. Willing. Beautiful. Brave is the least of it.

#BreastlessBeauty

Please comment. I miss you all. It has been a good few weeks and better to get back into the flow of creative living.

 

 

Shirts off, Underwear on: Play Out, Breast Cancer and Gender Expectations

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About a year and a half after my breast cancer diagnosis I was partaking in a pool program for survivors. We met at a local gym on the sixth floor where they had two pools, one for swimming laps, the other heated and used for rehabilitation purposes. The pool room was beautiful: light streamed in through large plate glass windows, and the quiet murmur of friends greeting one another and preparing for class filled the air. I stood in my Speedo one-piece bathing suit surrounded by my fellow sisters, some with a single breast, some wearing breast forms, others reconstructed. I noticed I was the only one who appeared bilaterally flat as I have chosen not to wear breast forms.

I had not been going to the class for long and did not know everyone by name yet. A spritely, lithe 70 plus year old woman ran up to me to say how brave she thought I was to go out flat and not wear breast forms. She then she went on to tell me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer thirty years previously and had a single breast. She told me she hated wearing the breast form but could not seem to stop doing so. Her daughter kept suggesting that she go without wearing it, even if only for a quick trip to the corner store. But my spry friend could not wrap her mind around presenting a single breasted image of herself to the world. Within the simple act of being true to myself, a fellow survivor was able to relate to me and my choice and share her experience too.

After the pool program was over that day I walked the streets of New York City picking up groceries and preparing to go home. I began to think about how many women choose not to reconstruct their bodies and who also wear prostheses. As many as 58% of women who have mastectomies after cancer either do not reconstruct or do reconstruct and then later deconstruct, either out of choice or because of failed reconstruction. I pondered just how many of those breastless women disliked wearing prosthesis and presenting an image of a woman with breasts. Prior to my diagnosis, I had never knowingly met a single-breasted or bilaterally flat-chested woman. I imagine there are many women who don breast forms with hesitation, annoyance, or even resentment. Why do we feel that we need to promote the false impression that all women have breasts?

My experience at the pool that day launched me into considering how beauty ideals affect us women, and as survivors of the body altering disease called breast cancer. When first diagnosed, an unreasonable amount of attention and time are spent on cosmetic issues. We are asked to see a plastic surgeon to consider our reconstructive options, we are given a prescription to acquire a wig, flyers promoting ‘Look Good, Feel Good’ cosmetics classes are often taped to the walls of the waiting rooms we inhabit. And then if we choose not to reconstruct our body, we are given prescriptions for prostheses too. All, while battling a potentially fatal disease.

At diagnosis, my breasts were size DD, I could not imagine living with a single breast. Keeping one breast would compel me to wear prosthesis, as symmetry is important to me, both physically and mentally. I don’t like the idea of manipulating my body through surgery by inserting silicone under muscle, nor would I move muscle or fat from one part of my body to recreate an insensate semblance of a breast. These paths are counter to my idea of what it means to be a woman and a human. So, I chose bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction. In the industry, this is also sometimes called Contralateral Prophylactic Mastectomy (CPM).

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To be completely honest, it took some care, compassion and acceptance to embrace my new and changed body. There are firsts of every kind, bathing suit shopping, using a locker room, wearing summer clothing that reveals so much more of the upper body. On the beneficial side, I love not wearing bras! Sometimes folks reveal their confusion in evaluating the shape of my body, especially if I am dressed in a mannish fashion, this is always interesting to watch and disturbed my deeply at first. But there are also moments of distinct connection, like when a legless drummer, playing music with his band in the subway, looked at me, gently allowed his eyes to dip to my chest and then smiled so deeply, I still bask in the memory of the moment. It is within these deeper moments of connection where healing and acceptance reside. These, like my experience at the pool, are the moments that provide a foundation for confidence and community.

Perhaps I am an anomaly in the world of breast cancer, having chosen against reconstruction while also choosing not to wear prosthesis. I was certainly made to feel as if my choice was abnormal by my doctors when I was asked to see a psychiatrist to make sure I was of sound mind in my ‘contralateral decision making process’. At that same office, my fellow sisters who chose reconstruction were not asked to justify their surgical choice to a psychiatrist, regardless of their contralateral choices. Perhaps my doctor wanted to be entirely sure that that they would not be removing a breast that I might come to miss, and regret my decision. I could have chosen to keep the unaffected breast. There was no question that a unilateral mastectomy was medically necessary, but I chose a bilateral mastectomy – a decision I have never regretted.

This bias is unacceptable, and clearly illustrates a preference for reconstruction to the shape of a breast and breastedness in general. It also serves to make it difficult for women to choose otherwise.

This psychiatric experience was infuriating and demeaning. I made the appointment against my wishes and because I was told my doctors would not discuss surgical outcomes without this precaution. It angered me to my core to do so. The psychiatrist arrived 20 minutes late. I was so angry that my body was shaking. I had to convince this woman – a stranger – that my choice was valid. I remember making my points, one after the other while standing in awe that my anger did not blind me. I ended the conversation with, “Have I proven myself of sound mind?” She hesitated and reluctantly said “yes.”

 My doctors continued to negate my wishes repeatedly by reassuring me that I could reconstruct at any time. I had nurses respond that I would become gender confused without breasts. Perhaps the nurses who equated women to breasts are the ones who are “gender confused”.

I was also compared to a seemingly disturbed women who had tested negative for BRCA and continued to want prophylactic surgery. I asked the psychiatrist if they had a support group for women who decided against reconstruction, they did not. To add insult to injury, if I wanted to utilize the psychiatric offerings at that care facility, it would be an out of pocket expense of over 500$ per visit, as the hospital was not contracted with insurance providers for that service.

Collectively these occurrences had the effect of alienating me from my doctors and caused me to question myself and my decision making process. Through my participation in online support forums, I know that there are as many stories about reconstruction, or lack thereof, as their are women needing it. I know that not all doctors hold reconstruction in such high regard that they forget they are dealing with a woman who knows her own mind and bodily needs. I also understand that doctors need to protect themselves from malpractice suits. But here is a truth: not all women equate femininity with breasts or even like their breasts, for that matter. We are not a one size fits all category that feels comfortable committing to optional surgery that places form over function, especially considering reconstructive failure rates. (To be clear: there are three links within that last sentence)

 At the same time there has been a whirlwind of discussion stemming from the medical community questioning why women choose contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (again, three different links), which completely ignores many salient reasons. For instance, why aren’t doctors administering chemotherapy first, allowing each woman a few months time to reflect rather than react to a very shocking diagnosis? These studies do not take into account that reconstructive surgery often requires multiple revisions and corrections, which takes time away from work, creating loss of income. Women with young families often prioritize being present to their children, valuing wanting to pick their children up and hug them, over the need to heal from multiple surgeries. And, like me, some women do not want to accommodate an asymmetrical body. Choosing non-reconstruction, unilateral or bilateral, is often seen as a path of least resistance. And as far as it goes, it is an easy surgery to recover from.

 The Womans Health and Cancer Rights Act states that each woman’s insurance benefits must include reconstruction of the breast on which the mastectomy was performed, in addition to surgery and reconstruction of the other breast to produce a symmetrical appearance. It is hard wired into doctors to do the least harm, meaning it just makes more sense from their perspective to remove a single breast when a unilateral mastectomy is all that is ‘necessary’. But just as the woman who chooses reconstruction to the shape of a breast, can also choose to have surgery to adjust her remaining breast, women who go flat, sometimes choose removal of their remaining breast.

PlayOut3

I personally think of “contralateral prophylactic mastectomy” as a form of reconstruction, though to name it as such is misleading, bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction is more appropriate and does not reference the idea of a prophylactic qualifier. To push the idea further, flat reconstruction is the best descriptive.

The sooner doctors and researchers collectively agree that women sometimes choose flat or bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction, the better. Get out of our minds. Stop questioning our motives and start addressing the needs of the demographic. Women who choose flat, do not want to wake up to skin sparing mastectomy, which preserves skin for reconstruction to the shape of a breast mound. We do not want ‘dog ears’ or tabs of excess fat and tissue left under the arms. We want this done in a single surgery and with the least nerve damage possible. And, we want to be content with the aesthetics of our choice.

For me, beauty ideals and expectations related to the female body are a form of tyranny. I resent that in the face of a lethal disease the conversation turns to hair and wigs, reconstruction and ‘Look Good, Feel Good’ programs. I seek to bolster a new female paradigm. In this paradigm, unilateral flat and bilateral flat, as a body type is a known and acknowledged, both in the breast cancer culture as well as outside this community, prosthesis (under the skin or tucked into a breast pocket) are perceived as an option, not a conclusion. Where, if we choose to ditch prostheses we aren’t being a martyr to breast cancer but simply, a person who doesn’t present the prescribed shape of the female body. I seek a culture where we aren’t as concerned about hiding our illness as we are about healing our bodies, our minds and the earth we walk upon.

Wearing fake breasts would do nothing positive for me, physically or emotionally; I quail at the idea of presenting two body types, a breasted public image and a flat private image. I hope that as time passes, fewer women will have to fight, like I did, to make medical choices which they know to be in their own best interest. This is why I speak out.

I want women like my pool pal to see that we are beautiful with and without breasts, we are beautiful just the way we are. There is no need to wear prosthesis if you do not want to wear them. We are free agents redefining and expanding the visual of what it means to be a woman diagnosed with breast cancer. Be your authentic self, live life your way. If that includes wearing breast forms, great, but if you don’t want to wear prosthesis, do not feel compelled to present an image that is not your own.

If I had my way, these images would be projected onto the tallest building in Times Square. The fashion industry would see the potential market in our demographic and start making single breasted and bilaterally flat-forward fashions. Breast cancer awareness websites would show flat and half-flat bodies alongside seemingly reconstructed and happy survivors, and doctors would trust and get to know their patients, while supporting a diversity of reconstructive choice. 

PlayOut1

No one should feel compelled to present a shape that is not true to themselves.


 Happy Valentine’s Day.

I am thankful to Play Out, Emily Jensen of FlatTopper Pride and Jodi Jaecks for creating a platform to discuss gender, breast cancer and stepping outside bodily norms.  We have curated a linked series of essays by and about three queer, bilaterally flat women, myself included. We took these images, sexy, fresh and vibrant, to accompany and assist a in discussion we feel is both ripe and timely.

Please follow these links, read the essays, comment, like and share to social media.


 

 Emily thinks outside the box. I love reading her thoughts and ideas. Here is a clip from her essay:

I see the crisis state of cancer and loss of supposed “female” body parts as a schism ripe for effecting change personally and culturally. I urge you as Lorde urges us to: “Inhabit cancer not as a victim but as an agent” (82).

To be working with Jodi Jaecks is a blessing. I heard the nationally syndicated story of her challenge to the Seattle Parks and Recreation to allow her to swim topless, in her breastless state. This story splashed the press just at a low point in my healing and recovery from breast cancer treatment. Read her essay here. But this is a great excerpt: 

I am grateful to Play Out for embodying the ethos of which I trumpet – in their words, images, deeds and products. Frankly, I don’t want this to be about gender identity or sexual preference identity. Unisex, indeed.

Abby and Sylvie, owners of Play Out Underwear made a great leap of faith in producing this project. I am glad to have been invited, thank you, Abby and Sylvie. Here is an excerpt of Abby’s essay:

Instead of just looking at the pictures and saying “how brave, she survived this illness” we ask people to look at the pictures and say, “how brave, this person is challenging society’s expectations.” And winning.

View the rest of the photos taken at the two photoshoots here.

Nomi Ellenson Photography did a fantastic job, these photos are sexy, fun and playful. Just like me.

PlayOut2

That’s me and Rain Dove! 🙂 Rain Dove is an inspiration. Keep up the good work, girl.

Bronwyn Karle, I love both my hair and makeup and now want to check out dry shampoo. Who knew.


 

If you would like to read more of my writings and rants, check out my post The Grace to be Flat and Fabulous, and listen to Jamie Courville’s audio sculpture by checking out this post called Squirrells Stories and then there is my oldie but goodie at Role Reboot, I Chose to Live as a Flat Chested Woman After Breast Cancer.

If you would like to continue this discussion, please include these hashtags: 

Please discuss, like and Share.

‪#‎breastcancer‬ ‪#‎breastcancerawareness‬ ‪#‎fuckcancer‬ ‪#‎gender‬ ‪#‎genderqueer‬‪#‎flattopperpride‬ 

‪#‎playoutnyc‬ ‪#‎lgbt‬ ‪#‎breastreconstruction‬ ‪#‎queer‬‪#‎flatreconstruction‬ ‪#‎support‬ ‪#‎breastlessbeauty‬ ‪#‎queerbreastcancersupport‬‪#‎PlayOutUnderwear‬ Nomi Ellenson Photography Bronwyn Karle Rain Dove

Thank you.

 Melly

Squirrels Stories

A few months ago, I was approached by an artist and producer named Jamie Courville to see if I might contribute to a project called Squirrels Stories. Jamie says, “A linguist told me “squirrels” is the hardest word to say in the English language. Squirrels Stories is the place for the things that are difficult to talk about.” With an intro like that, how could I say no?

What follows is a cut and paste from Jamie’s web site:


 

Squirrels Stories has a new audio portrait to warm your ears JamieCourvilleMelly1 Hello. How are you? I started this project to give a voice to people living in difficult circumstances, and to let their friends and family members better understand what they were going through. Many of us are dealing with cancer in one way or another, but we are bad at talking about it. Squirrels Stories is an attempt to narrow that gap. Melanie is an incredibly talented textile artist and craftbook designer living in Brooklyn. After her breast cancer diagnosis, she chose not to reconstruct her body. JamieCourvilleMelly2 Please listen to Melanie’s story here.

You can read more about Melanie and her work on her website. She also participated in the Grace Project. For more information on living a FLAT & Fabulous life, click here.

Of course, there are many other Squirrels Stories to listen to. Please share these so they can reach as many ears as possible. I want to thank everyone who has participated in this project. There are a lot more stories of everyday people facing difficult situations. There is a lot of work to do. Looking forward, Jamie Courville I am always looking to produce portraits for individuals and organizations to help them tell their story. Please contact Jamie to talk about it.

4 years ago today: the vista

Four years ago today, I heard the words, ” I am sorry to say, you have breast cancer”. 

Wow. Glad to see the tail end of that one!

Today I am immersed in a quest to exercise. I want to give my body a little something extra, something to grab onto, something more than popping a pill or settling into a passive groove. In my case, lowering body fat is a good thing. I had 100% ER/PR+ breast cancer. Fat and estrogen levels are related. I have been using kettle bells and it has become a bit of a hobby for me! 

I found Artemis last year, after the need to store my plate weights and bars (New York City apartment problems). I’ve watched/read Artemis train for the Iron Maiden, an exciting journey to be sure. I am wowed. The Iron Maiden is 3 movements, a press, a pull-up and a pistol squat. Women must do this using a 24kg bell. That is 52 pounds!

Um, yeah. Wow.

I use an online training service through Iron Body Studios and WeightTraining.com. I love it. I even bought a tack-on program called Attack the Bar. I do this at home.  I use kettle bells, a Jungle Gym XT, Valslides, a door mounted pull-up bar and elastic bands. I am training Turkish Get Ups, Pull ups, presses. I love it, really. I feel confident. I experience a connection between mind and body, I am becoming aware of my food choices. Slow and steady makes the grade, small changes daily! I have all the time in the world to commit to my program. Thank goodness.

I gladly exchange a love of lifting heavy things and a new more streamlined physique for the stress of doctors appointments. Any day.

Happy Anniversary, Melly! Good going.

In the meantime, I was invited to donate artwork to Virginia Spiegel‘s The 100 Fundraiser to Fight Cancer. The above piece of artwork is my offering for the cause. 

The 100

I do hope you might consider bidding 100$ for this piece. I would love for you to own it.

October- a guest post

Today, I would like to introduce Sara Bartosiewicz-Hamilton. Sara started FLAT & Fabulous with Barbie Ritzco and I quickly joined the group, I find the group to a balm and a relief. Sara is an amazing woman, focused, direct, compassionate. I stand in awe of what she has been able to accomplish and I hold her spirit in loving grace as she attends her best friend, my hero’s, funeral this week.

Without further ado, here is Sara’s guest post:


 

Beautiful fall day in October
 
Back in the day, October meant fall was in full swing – full of beautiful colors, the leaves in Michigan changing from green to red, orange, and yellow. The fun surrounding Halloween, picking apples at the orchard, and fresh cider on hayrides. And pulling out our sweaters and getting cozy by bonfires.

October means something much different now. It is a month where the entire world focuses on breast cancer “awareness”. I would like to meet the person who is not aware of breast cancer.

It was in the fall of 2006, I found out that I have the BRCA2 mutation. I was told at 29 that I didn’t need to do anything about this. I begged to differ. I told the genetic counselor (term used very loosely as this was not a trained genetic counselor but a nurse tasked to deal with those of us who were being genetically tested in the local cancer center) to set me up with whomever I needed to talk to about a prophylactic mastectomy. And, truthfully, I thought my mastectomy would let me walk away from cancer and having to “deal” with it. I thought I would be free from the fear that I grew up with and I thought my family and I would saunter on with life, never giving cancer a second thought.ever.again.

The reality is the fear didn’t “disappear”. Eventually I had a prophylactic oopherectomy/hysterectomy at the advice of my oncological gynecologist. Afterwards, I came to the realization I had done what I could to prevent cancer – the rest is out of my hands. I can still develop breast cancer. I can still develop ovarian cancer. Because of the BRCA2 mutation, there are other cancers I am at higher risk of developing, some of which my family has a history of. I choose not to let fear rule my life and simply live life with the knowledge I must continue to be vigilant about my health and teach my children to make their health a priority.

From the beginning, I made a very conscious decision to be open about my journey – I shared in great detail in my blog and in various formats. Back in 2006, I couldn’t find other young women walking the path I did. It was isolating and trying to get support from people who had no understanding of what I was dealing with was disappointing. I was determined to leave a mark so that those coming behind wouldn’t face the same loneliness and despair I had felt. That determination is what led me to posing for The SCAR Project and, subsequently, becoming part of a sisterhood that has truly changed me in countless ways.

One of my SCAR sisters would become my best friend. I met Barbie Ritzco shortly after she posed for David Jay. She and I started working together on The SCAR Project and, a month after I chose to have my reconstruction extracted, we created FLAT & Fabulous. We wanted to create a safe place for those of us living without reconstruction after mastectomy. We envisioned a new sisterhood which would focus on empowerment and living life to its fullest, moving away from cancer and focusing on how to live the best version of ourselves. It was intoxicating as our membership grew – we only expected a handful of women we already knew. We were excited to welcome our fellow FLAT & Fabulous sisters! We noticed women we knew in other forums joined us – they had been quiet about their reality, thinking they were the only woman living without reconstruction – it caused us to realize we may not truly know how many women have been “hiding”, thinking they were alone. And as we worked to get our group out there, we heard from new members again and again I thought I was the only one.

I vividly remember the day. One of our original members happened to read a meme. Within the meme, a reference so small that it was surely missed by many but, to someone living without reconstruction, it was profound. It hinted that perhaps women choosing not to have reconstruction after mastectomy were actually in the majority. That was a game changer. While I truly support each woman making the choices right for her in her journey, the knowledge that those who choose not to have reconstruction are in the majority is mind blowing.

Barbie in front of her SCAR Project photo

I consider myself “lucky” – I have a few SCAR sisters who were living without reconstruction. I was able to talk with one before my extraction. She calmed my fears and reassured me I would be okay. Many women are given the perception that they are the only woman choosing not to reconstruct. Imagine that. Imagine thinking you are the only person in the world choosing to live a certain way. A way that is in direct conflict with the cultural expectations and confines of beauty. Choosing to do something that no one in your support groups or forums talks about – in fact, they intensely focus on the exact opposite. I am humbled by the courage and strength it took for these women to make this choice – especially as I hear the many stories of doctors refusing to perform mastectomy without reconstruction until they are psychologically evaluated, as if the only way they would make this choice is if they are mentally unstable.

Eventually, we opened a fan page – we realized that while we wanted to have a place for those living without reconstruction to find support, we also wanted to extend the message of empowerment and self-love to the masses. In addition, we use the platform to educate those around us about the choice to live without reconstruction.

This October is bittersweet. My partner, co-founder and best friend Barbie passed away at the end of September. The last conversation we had, I told her about the new website I was working on with a panel of Flat & FABulous sisters and our annual virtual 5K that we are dedicating to her and have even gotten medals for (Barbie LOVED her medals!). I would give anything to have her here to join in the celebration. I miss her and the partnership we had – incredibly unique and irreplaceable. I know she is shocked and proud of all that we have accomplished – she always was and always will be our biggest cheerleader.

Over the years, my perspective of October has changed. From appreciating the beauty of the fall to being annoyed and frustrated by the commercialization of pink. I have decided to take back the month, take back pink – if I am being pigeon holed as a “breast cancer” writer, I am going to make sure I get mileage out of the one month news outlets are interested. If the entire world is focused on breast cancer right now, I will raise my voice so others hear about the need for more research, accepting awareness has been achieved. My metastatic sisters who are literally dying. I will remind others, and kick myself in the pants, to be proactive – perform self-breast exams, stay on top of screening, discuss with your relatives your family history of cancer.

It’s okay to like pink – just be sure you understand that most of your dollars aren’t making it to an organization and, when it does, it probably isn’t being used for research to find a cure. It’s okay to hate pink – I understand your frustration. I encourage you to step beyond the pink – whatever side of the color you are on. Look at what is truly happening in the realm of breast cancer. Take a look at The SCAR Project to see what cancer is and that it doesn’t care about age or gender, read the stories of my SCAR sisters who have died – JoleneVanessaDarcie, and my best friend Barbie to realize cancer kills – it is not pink, it isn’t a ribbon. Don’t let this month paralyze you with anger or trick you into thinking if you buy a pink ribbon we are that much closer. Embrace each other, support each other and don’t take for granted a single breath you have been given.

always in my heart & on my mind, my bfffff

This week, I will be at Arlington National Cemetery, at the funeral for Barbie. I will be pondering her ultimate sacrifice for our country, grieving the loss I feel a million different ways and, ultimately, return to gratitude. Thankful for who she was, thankful for the impact she has had and continues to be, and thankful to have had such an amazing partner and best friend.

October is just a month. Pink is just a color. Live Sincerely. Be the best version of you. Be.fabulous.

My journey to finding support: FLAT & Fabulous!

BreastPocketPattern

When you go through a major life event, like breast cancer, you know how important support is. Breast cancer is a body altering disease. You might choose reconstruction or not, but the truth of the matter is, it is beneficial to hear the words of other women who have gone though similar experiences. It is helpful to see images of women who have made similar choices. It helps to connect with others and to know you are not alone. What follows is a telling of my journey in finding support.

Early in my ‘flat journey’ I started to wonder, if the percentages I was reading were correct in stating 40-60% of women forego reconstructing their bodies. If this percentage was correct, why had I never knowingly met a flat or half flat woman? Is the fact that I have never knowingly met a half/flattie telling me something? Am I strange for wanting to simply embrace my flat new form without embracing the use of breast forms? If breast cancer survivors are so celebrated, why haven’t I seen any sexy, inciting or strong images of breastless women in the media?

Am I being told to cover up and fit in?

Do I care to?


I began scouring the web for my breastless sisters in scars. At first, there were hardly any or they were hard to track down (there are many more now and over the course of the month, I will highlight some of them). I continually visited Sentenced2Live‘s Flickr stream. I found Deborah Lattimore. Then Jennifer’s blog, No F***ing Pink Ribbons and I waited with baited breath for each post (she no longer posts). My main form of support at that time was a major online breast cancer forum. I would visit the ‘Living without Reconstruction’ forum.

That name always made me feel like I ought to be sad and pining for the’ better life’ with reconstruction. Focused, as it is, on the act of reconstruction or living without it, as the case may be.

I started a thread within that forum along the lines of: ‘I look for other flat chested women, a rant!’ 

In that thread, I said: 

I know many of you wear prosthesis, so I probably wouldn’t be able to see or ‘know’, but. I look for you. I want to see you. I want to form a union, lol. I wish it were even more accepted, acceptable to be flat. To not wear prosthesis, not feel the need to, to opt out of reconstruction-if that is your choice. I do hope that women who see me, flat as can be, see there are options, that reconstruction isn’t par for the course. I want to make flat beautiful, sexy, stylish. Normal. And it is normal for me, is becoming normal, but I am talking about society, norms and expectations. Breast cancer is not about ‘boob jobs’. Yes, many of us opt for them, want and need them. But it is also about choosing to be flat.  

That thread is now 118 pages long. We are gathering! Support is important.

About a year later, just when I really needed to put cancer into a smaller box, I was asked to join FLAT & Fabulous (Phew! Just in time), which was just a private Facebook page at the time. Finding this group helped me to back away from the major breast cancer support site and it introduced me to women like myself who were beginning to live life without breasts. We share photos, we talk treatment options, we do fashion hauls, some women talk about breast forms and pretty bras. You know, daily talk of whatever needs talking about.

FLAT & Fabulous covers a lot of bodily territories. Many of the members of this group wear breast forms, prosthesis, knitted knockers, some change out the size daily, by whim and outfit. Some had failed reconstruction, some deconstructed. Many, have a single breast. Many have bilaterally flat chests. Many do not wear breast shapes at all. That includes Me!! 🙂 Some had mastectomy as a result of gene testing.

All are considered flat.

It felt, and feels, so good to have this group as support. I am indebted to Sara and Barbie. The group came to me just in time! I am now surrounded by many, brave, courageous and beautiful women, who for whatever reason, find themselves, “Living without Reconstruction”.

And now, FLAT & Fabulous has a web presence! The founders, Sara and Barbie believe, no woman should proceed on this journey alone. Amen sisters! Thank goodness.


If you follow me on Facebook, you may know that breast cancer took Barbie from us last Friday, September 26. I am really sorry to introduce Barbie to you posthumously. Barbie is/was amazing, she set a beautiful example, she lived fully, her beautiful life force shown forth in every photo I have seen. I was never able to meet Barbie in person, but she has effected me so deeply, that I am forever changed. Barbie is/was an inspirational force to be reckoned with. We will all miss her dearly and stand in awe of her work and life.

Check out this post about her Scar Project photo.

Barbie was a Marine, a sister, a daughter and a hero. My hero. 

Thank you, Barbie. And thank you, Sara. I am sorry for the loss of your best friend. My sympathy goes out to the Ritzco family, I can only imagine their loss.

Barbie loved running marathons. Her online moniker was ‘Marathon Barbie’. The first year on the FLAT & Fabulous support board, Barbie and Sara both, encouraged us to do a 5K.

I have never been a runner, I wasn’t interested.

This year, FLAT & Fabulous is sponsoring a 5K in Barbie’s honor and I am doing it, better yet, WE are doing it (my Man and I) this coming November 7. Maybe you will too! It is virtual. You can do it anywhere. You can walk it or run it, wheel it or peg leg it.  David and I will be walking it. You might consider donating to FLAT & Fabulous in Barbie’s name.  Or sign up to do it yourself!

Please, at the very least, consider donating to the group. There are great things planned for the site and every last penny is appreciated. I also think it is the first group of it’s kind.


Phew, wow! Glad you are still here. I know this is a long post, they won’t all be like this. It’s just, I had to talk about Barbie, FLAT & Fabulous, and the 5K all at once. I will come around to talking about Breast Pockets soon. 

 

Breast Cancer Awareness?

Today begins Breast Cancer Awareness month. 

This is a small work, I am stitching on currently. I am learning needle turn. I am not very good yet, but I bit off a large portion and am getting better at it, as a result. I am moving into our tiny apartment, looking for space solutions that fit our favorite activities and furniture. Now it has come down to specifics. I love space organization, so you might hear the glee in my voice as I type these words.

Anyway. Breast cancer awareness.

You may know that there is a challenge out there, in the ethers…

A Quilting Arts Readers Challenge, to be exact.  

I am going to begin a discussion on Going Flat. Much of my discussion will revolve around creating breast pockets and embroidering these small feminine works, as you see above. I hope you will join me, in discussion within the comments section of each post (check back, OK?)

OR join me in a Gather your Sew-plies, Sew a-Long!

Or both.

Please help me get back in the swing of blogging and investing in my virtual community, you! 

random acts of kindness are real.

Lifting weights, challenging my body and mind to work together to complete my workouts, watching my muscles grow and my shape change is quite an adventure. Being proactive and engaging with my body and its needs has helped me to feel grounded and clarifies my mind, especially after the rigors of breast cancer treatment. I know it isn’t guaranteed, and nothing can prevent cancer, but exercise is inexpensive, non-invasive and well within my ability to accomplish. It provides great benefit, acts as an antidepressant, it helps level out hormonal levels, it helps keep my body fat low (I had estrogen dependent breast cancer and fat stores and creates estrogen). 

While surfing my favorite fitness blogs last week, I noticed that Jen Sinkler is coming out with a new product called Lift Weights Faster and is building interest for her new offering by doing a give away. Jen Sinkler owns a gym with her husband, she is really straight forward in her fitness approach, and she is badass, goofy, and fun (all of the things you want in a person who inspires you to exercise). Jen had a scheme where you got one point for entering yourself in the drawing, and 10 points for every friend you refer. The grand prize to this giveaway, is a home gym set up.

I took a screenshot of all the swag, just so you could see it. 

And, ohmygoodness, I wanted it! I began to use my social networking feeds to get my points up to winning levels, I told my friends that I wanted that grand prize and asked them to sign up for Jen’s email list, just so I could have a chance at winning all that loot. My points started racking up and I was excited to get detailed messages describing how many points I had earned in my email box. Pretty fancy. 

But then…

An unnamed admirer went and bought the entire grand prize offering and had it shipped directly to me. Just typing out these words, almost a week afterward, makes me tear up. All of the items, and more, were on my ‘wish list’. I had just been shopping for them and trying to find good deals.

Here I am with my newest kettle bell, a heavy bugger that I look forward to swinging soon.

But what really touches me about being given this gift, this random act of kindness, is the note that came with it. Which said, ‘Simply because you are an inspirational woman.’ 

This touches me deeply. I am honored to receive this generous gift. I feel gratified that my actions are received in the manner I had hoped. I have decided to live out loud, in all of my Flat and Fabulous glory, and to advocate for us Flatties as much as I am able. Talking about this topic, putting an image of my body on the web challenges me. It does not come easily. But at the same time, I feel passionate that women need this information and perspective, so I choose to do the work anyway. I know that if I am able to affect a single person, it was worth it, even if it is difficult to do.

So when this kind act was given to me, it was as if I had received physical confirmation that I am doing good work. It also feels somewhat permissive, as just last week, I was reviewing topics I would like to discuss on this blog, and one of them is fitness, my new hobby. So, rest assured, I will be talking fitness in the weeks and months to come.

And as is the hope when giving and receiving Random Acts of Kindness, I will be looking for a way to ‘Pay it Forward’, when the time comes. 

And in the meantime, I choose to allow myself the love and kindness and generosity that was given to me along with the physical aspect of this gift. Thank you universe. Thank you very much. Some very heavy items will arrive this week and you gotta know, I look forward to lifting and writing about them.

Oh! And, I bought Jen Sinkler’s Lift Weights Faster eBook/video compilation, I love it! I have been studying it (and trying new lifts out) in downtime all week!

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.