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.
Summer poses challenges for those who have undergone mastectomy. Learn how one breast cancer survivor found a way to embrace breastlessness while still feeling feminine.
In just a few weeks, my family and I will be taking a much-needed vacation. Since we’ve basically been under house arrest since the beginning of COVID-19, to say we’re excited would be a great understatement. The thought of lying in the warm sunshine and listening to lapping waves sends shivers up my spine but finding the right swimsuit for my post-mastectomy body is still an issue.
After our last trip to the beach, I threw the mastectomy swimsuit I’d purchased specifically for that trip away. It was a hassle putting the prostheses in each morning and taking them out each day. Though I’d purchased prostheses specifically made for use while swimming, they required special care. After washing them off, I’d lay them on a towel to dry completely before the next day’s adventures. I did my best to keep them out of sight but inevitably, my young granddaughter saw them lying on the bathroom counter one day and wanted to play with them. She was too young to understand those were Gigi’s boobs and I preferred not to have to explain further. Instead, I said, “Those are Gigi’s special things. Let’s play with something else right now,” while leading her downstairs to find a better plaything.
Thinking back to the adventures of our last vacation, I’m grateful I had tucked the prostheses into the suit well before we embarked on an airboat ride through the bay. As we sped along, bouncing over the water, I imagined one of my prostheses escaping and flying into the murky water. Beneath reflections of dangling Spanish Moss, I also pictured a Florida gator making haste to retrieve the flesh-colored object. Thankfully, my wandering thoughts didn’t come to fruition. As an extra layer of protection, I’d zipped a jacket over my suit when our guide mentioned it might get chilly zooming across the water.
This year, I’ve decided to be brave. Instead of dealing with the constant hassle of washing and drying the swim prostheses, I’m leaving them at home. Lately, I’ve found it easier to go flat and my family members have learned to accept me as a flattie because they love me. But I’m wondering how I’ll be perceived when we go out to dinner or participate in other touristy adventures. Will people notice my flat chest? Will they care?
I don’t like to make others uncomfortable, but it is what it is. Just as someone who has lost an arm or leg due to a terrible accident, health issue or birth defect, being breastless wasn’t my choice. I’ve tried for years to conform to society’s protocol for breast cancer victims — to hide my deformity by replacing what was lost with a silicone lookalike, but it didn’t work for me. Instead, I’ve accepted my new normal of facing the stigma of flatness.
It’s hard to understand why society perceives a person’s gender by breasts or lack thereof. Breasts don’t make a woman. It’s possible to feel sexy without them. It’s a state of mind. But due to the constant attention given to breasts by television and movies, women like me may struggle to find their place in the world.
Women who have undergone breast cancer surgery don’t want to garner attention because of their breastlessness any more than an amputee might, but breastlessness is often easier to conceal than a lost limb.
Taking breasts out of the equation will make summer a lot easier this year. Instead of looking for a swimsuit made especially for those who’ve undergone mastectomy, I’m opting for a swim shirt and a cute little skort (skirt/shorts combination). I’ve chosen a pretty floral pattern that will partially camouflage my chest and I’ve decided that’s good enough.
There are more things to stress over than mastectomy suits and prostheses.
This year, we’re planning to take a catamaran over the glorious gulf waters and I definitely won’t be worrying about a wandering boob. It will be such a spectacular experience to feel the wind in my face and the salt water in my hair. Not only will I be breastless, but I’ll be maskless, too!
I used to think my breasts were my best asset, but now, I’m OK with them being gone. After making the choice to go flat, I’m happier unhindered by underwires and boning.
One day, breastlessness will be widely accepted. Until that time, those who have experienced the trauma of breast cancer and the loss of body parts that often accompanies it must decide how to adjust. I’d suggest going flat for a day. See how it makes you feel. You may or may not like it, but you’ll never know until you try. The beach is a great place for a trial run.
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