Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
The art of camouflage can be important for the breast cancer survivor choosing not to reconstruct.
A few days ago, when the thermometer fell below 60 degrees, I was ecstatic. There was a nip in the air signaling autumn had finally arrived and winter was not far behind.
Each year, as the weather turned cooler, it was time to rotate my wardrobe by moving the lightweight summer clothing to the back of the closet while bringing the warmer, long-sleeved items to the front. I always looked forward to that time of year for several reasons, but mainly because big, bulky sweaters helped camouflage my lack of breasts.
After a diagnosis of breast cancer, I made the difficult decision to forego reconstruction. That decision, according to my doctor, wasn’t a popular one. Most women, she explained, decided to have their breasts reconstructed by either using their own body fat to make new breasts or by choosing to use tissue expanders while later having silicone or saline implants inserted.
Each procedure came with a list of pros and cons. After being presented with the information, the decision was fairly easy for me. I wanted the cancer completely removed and wanted it done the fastest way possible. Talking it over with my husband, I determined reconstructive surgery would not be the best option for me. But without surgical reconstruction, life would be vastly different —I would be forever breastless.
That choice would also dictate how I lived my future life, but understanding the magnitude of that decision would not come until much later in my recovery process.
After my body had healed from surgery, I found living as a breastless woman to be challenging. In a society where breasts can often define a woman, it was difficult to determine where I fit. Without breasts, it would be easy for others to assume I was transgender. That was unacceptable to me. Though I did not have real breasts I was still a woman. But I did not want to wear prostheses all the time. They were heavy and uncomfortable. So, I opted not to wear them unless absolutely necessary.
But that choice caused a change in my behavior.
Without breasts, clothing didn’t fit well. Most women’s clothing is designed to accommodate breasts. Darts sewn into fabric provide room for those mounds of flesh and allow blouses to fit neatly.
When out in public, I found myself feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable, especially during summer months when lightweight clothing inhibited the ability to disguise my physical form. Without folds of extra fabric to cover my chest, it was necessary to find other ways of camouflaging myself. Thankfully, I had my arms. They soon became the protective weapon of choice. It was simple to cross them over my chest hiding the fact that I had no breasts, or I could fold my arms up as a protective shield. If I didn’t want someone to be aware of my breastlessness, I could also turn my body away from them but that often made conversation difficult.
But in colder weather, all of that changes.
For the woman deciding to live flat chested, the art of layering is a helpful form of camouflage. Multiple layers of clothing provide bulk and create a deceptive look of fullness. It’s also easy to trick the eye by using patterned fabric or by draping scarves that cover the breast area. Vests can provide camouflage when worn slightly open and even the popular poncho or shawl can make a great coverup.
Not everyone will choose to camouflage their breastlessness and that’s okay. The decision should be made according to a person’s own level of comfort and choice. There are certainly times I choose to forego the camouflage but those are usually times I’m at home or around my immediate family members.
Bulky sweaters, scarves, vests, and jackets are great tools of deception. With them, it’s easy for a breast cancer survivor to appear normal without the addition of cumbersome prostheses. And, feeling normal is one of the best feelings of all.
It isn’t often I get to experience the beauty and magic of an ordinary day. If something as simple as putting on a big, nubby sweater can help keep me from feeling “less than,” then I’ll take full advantage of the cooler weather by practicing the art of camouflage until summer comes again.