SARAH Coombes, 39, decided to help women like herself by starting a blog about finding nice clothes after a double mastectomy.
The social worker, who has been cancer-free since January 2016, says "going flat" may not be right for everyone – but insists she's comfortable with or without boobs.
“Lifting the covers to see dressings covering my flat chest, I sighed with relief. I was groggy after coming round from the operation to have both my breasts removed, but I knew I’d done the right thing.
“When I found a lump in my left breast in September 2014, aged 34, my GP diagnosed a blocked milk duct, telling me it would clear on its own. But when it didn’t after two months, I was referred to my local breast clinic for a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, with the assurance it was probably just a cyst.
“However, a week before Christmas, I was completely blind-sided when the consultant told me I had grade 3 breast cancer. I’d been so confident it was nothing that I hadn’t brought anyone with me, so I burst into tears and called my mum to pick me up. That evening, when I broke the news to my boyfriend Simon*, all I worried about was whether I’d be left infertile and not be able to be a mum one day. I didn’t even consider that I could die.
“Thankfully, although my tumour was quite large, the cancer hadn’t spread. In January 2015, my surgeon talked me through the various treatment options, which included a mastectomy then chemotherapy. Then she started to talk about reconstruction and showed me different implants. In that moment, I knew I didn’t want new boobs. I’d always liked my DD breasts, but knowing one was just a lump of cancer-riddled tissue, I didn’t want anything to do with them. And I didn’t want to wear a prosthesis.
“For me, the only way forward I could see was having both breasts removed for symmetry – and living with no boobs for the rest of my life. So I requested a double mastectomy with no reconstruction.
“My consultant insisted I must be in shock, while the nurse clumsily told me I’d never find nice clothes and asked if I’d considered my boyfriend. At first I wondered if they were right. But that evening, Simon said that even though the medical staff knew about cancer, they didn’t know me – and if I felt it was the right decision then it was.
“I began to research post-mastectomy clothing. It was a shock to see there was barely anything out there, while a hospital leaflet simply advised wearing loose jumpers. It seemed so wrong – why should I have to cover myself, as if having no breasts was offensive?
“After my double mastectomy later that month, I was home within 24 hours. My wounds were fairly painless – the biggest inconvenience was the surgical drains I had to carry with me over the next week.
“When I had my dressings removed and saw my flat chest for the first time, my only thought was how neat the scars were. Simon was more concerned about helping me wash my hair than my lack of breasts.
“Three weeks later I decided to revamp my wardrobe with clothes to suit my new shape. But I quickly realised women’s clothing was often made to suit boobs. Even when I tried on dresses with a high neckline, the stitching around the bust gave them a shape that my body didn’t fill. I decided I needed to help women like me by starting a blog about finding nice clothes after a double mastectomy. I called it Flatter Fashion and wrote about my discoveries, such as how ruching or pleats in the chest area worked well.
“I also described how people reacted to my flat chest. After a while, I realised they weren’t appalled, they were just trying to work out what looked different. Those moments made me all the more confident in wearing clothes that hugged by body rather than hid it.
“By March I’d begun the first of five gruelling rounds of chemo, which made my hair and eyelashes fall out – I missed them far more than my boobs!
“Four months later, I ended my eight-year relationship. Cancer had changed me and I realised Simon and I weren’t right for each other. I don’t feel ready for a relationship yet, but cancer had taught me not to worry unnecessarily. I know that whoever I end up with will love me regardless.
“I’ve been cancer-free since January 2016. I was given drugs to preserve my ovarian function during chemo, so there’s still a chance I can be a mum, even if I’ll never be able to breastfeed. Going flat may not be right for everyone, but it was for me. I’m comfortable with who I am, with or without boobs.”
- Follow Sarah’s blog at Flatterfashion.co.uk.
*Name has been changed.
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