Photo: Peter Hapak
Recently I was asked to write an open letter for the style section of Yahoo Canada detailing my personal journey with breast cancer and some of the decisions I have made as it pertains to my recovery and post cancer body. The piece talks about my decision (at a young age) not to go through with reconstruction. In the last year I have noticed a movement of women like myself that have made a similar choice. I have joined a Facebook group called “Flat in Canada: Support and Advocacy” that is growing in numbers. Breast cancer activists are working to fill the knowledge gap and destigmatize the choice not to reconstruct. Living without breasts is neither unfeminine nor misguided. It’s a personal choice and my hope is that it continues to gain momentum as a socially acceptable option for women post breast cancer surgery.
An excerpt from my article:
“I survived breast cancer, now I'm helping other survivors feel beautiful again' March 18th 2018
“When I was 37-years-old I remember very clearly one day stepping out of the shower to find my six-year-old sitting on the tiles of the bathroom floor waiting for me. I had just had a mastectomy and was in the process of chemotherapy. As you can imagine I was feeling very physically and emotionally drained, and although we had told Eve (my daughter) that I had had surgery, we hadn’t given her many of the details.
She looked at me and pointed out my obvious missing body parts: “Mommy” she said, “your booby is gone.” I remember very distinctly looking at her in that moment and saying “yes honey, but look at all of me there is left.” I would come back to that sentiment as I went through what, you can imagine, was a very difficult and trying time. As a young mother dealing with this diagnosis, I had to keep telling myself that I’m here, I’m still standing, and “look at all of me there is left.”
When I had completed my treatments, a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation another elective mastectomy, I remember my oncologist sitting me down and saying “Lori, now that you have done your treatments, I think it’s time for you to meet with a plastic surgeon.”
I remember feeling very overwhelmed by the year I had just gone through and was not particularly looking forward to more procedures, more appointments, more surgeries, so I pushed back. He suggested that I might want to reconsider, that I was very young, and hopefully had a long life ahead of me. He told me the most of the young women who have gone through what I went through elect to have reconstruction. I asked him why he thought that was and I remember very distinctly what his answer was: “It is because they want to feel whole again.”
In the last 10 years since my diagnosis I have gone down the path for reconstruction twice: once at the 5-year mark and once at the 9-year mark. Both times, I really felt that this was something I should want for myself as a young woman with a long life ahead of me. I wanted my clothes to fit properly, and I wanted to feel sexy and beautiful.
I started to ask myself: “how can you feel attractive when you’ve lost what many in society equate to being a sexy woman?” I had met many women who were in a similar situation that were excited for their new breasts after their cancer treatment. When I would ask them why it was so important to them their responses were consistent: ‘I want to feel like myself again: I want to feel whole.’
The second time I went down the path I was set to go ahead. I had taken a leave of absence from work and it was a few days before my first surgery — but something wasn’t sitting right with me, something was holding me back. I called my surgeon and cancelled. I had a husband who loved me and called my beautiful and sexy on a daily basis. I had friends and family that accepted me for exactly who I was.
I was healthy and active and enjoying my work and my three kids. But most importantly, in the moment that I decided to make the call to cancel my surgery and walk away from this dream I had of my new figure, I realized that I really loved my body. I saw the beauty in it and I did not want to change it. I had also learned to love my scars. In them I saw the strength of my conviction. I did not need to change my current body to feel whole again because I knew in my heart: “I am whole the way I am.”
For even more on this topic here is a recent article on Oprah.com