A woman who had an aesthetic flat closure after her mastectomy due to breast cancer explains what the new “Simpsons” character, Dr. Wendy Sage means to her.
With October, besides pink ribbons and all the awareness hoopla, comes the breast cancer walks. In my seven-plus years of living with metastatic breast cancer I have never participated in one of these walks. It’s not that I didn’t want to participate or that I didn’t want to raise funds for much needed research. It’s just none of the walks ever appealed to me in such a way as to motivate me to be involved. This year it’s a bit of a different story – one involves a cartoon character.
I belong to a few groups of absolutely amazing survivors who share not only a breast cancer diagnosis but also scars like mine from having a mastectomy with aesthetic flat closure. These women are proud to be flat. They are content with being one- or no-breasted. These women want to share their story with anyone who will listen. They want others to know aesthetic flat closure is a healthy choice and should be an option offered by surgeons. They want anyone facing a breast cancer diagnosis to know you can still be beautiful, proud and feminine and radiate body positivity after a mastectomy without reconstruction. They are ready to shout it from the rooftops.
This year two of these groups, Less Than Two Breasts and Flat Retreat, have come together and created a powerful movement called Stand Tall AFC (Aesthetic Flat Closure). With Stand Tall AFC, the ultimate goal is to unite with others from all over the world who have chosen to stay flat after mastectomy and give this underrepresented population the attention it deserves at walks and breast cancer awareness events. Founder of Less Than Two Breasts Renee Ridgeley consulted with the “Simpsons” television show and voices on a character named Dr. Wendy Sage, a hypnotherapist who is one-breasted after cancer treatment. Her image has shown up at BCAM events all over the country – and Sweden, too – as a body positive icon representing so many women whose bodies are altered by cancer treatment. “Sage” will be making her debut on The Simpsons on October 24.
When it came time for my own double mastectomy, I was given one option: mastectomy without reconstruction. The reason for this is that I was told it would be easier to see and address future recurrences due to my being metastatic. Knowing this was what I had to do and never having even heard of aesthetic flat closure, I can remember asking my surgeon to do what he could to make my post-surgical chest look nice. It’s terrifying and traumatic enough to have surgery. It’s even more terrifying to not know what your body is going to look like. I was extremely fortunate to have a surgeon who listened and had excellent closure and suturing skills. I was one of the lucky ones to have a smooth outcome after one surgery. So many women end up needing revision surgeries to ultimately get to aesthetic flat closure.
This is why for me, getting involved in a walk and supporting the Stand Tall AFC movement is so important. When faced with mastectomy the focus shouldn’t be only on reconstruction. The focus should be on healing and recovering to become stronger and healthier, no matter what we look like, reconstructed or not. In all of my six years of living flat I’ve only been questioned once by a medical professional (and he was anything but professional) about why I didn’t have reconstruction. It was at my first appointment with the radiation oncologist. After seeing my flat, unreconstructed chest his exact words to me were, “Has anyone talked to you about reconstruction?” As if I didn’t know there was such a thing. It’s really none of his business anyway. He made many other inappropriate remarks during the course of my radiation treatment. I wrote more in depth about my encounters with him in an earlier piece entitled “Words Matter to Patients with Cancer. We're Here. We're Listening.”
My point is the majority of people are aware when it comes to reconstruction and are unaware regarding aesthetic flat closure. On October 23rd I will be joining my body positive flat community along with Dr. Wendy Sage of The Simpsons and I will be standing tall as I walk at Making Strides of Santa Monica benefitting the American Cancer Society. The very next night I plan to be in the comforts of my living room with my television tuned in to FOX proudly watching the “Simpsons” and Sage coming to life to promote body positivity for all the world to see.
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