Editor: Wanda got a great flat result and was “one and done” (the initial flat closure was satisfactory). Many women who choose to go flat, plan to get a tattoo across the mastectomy site (the canvas, so to speak) after healing from surgery – it’s a way to reclaim ownership of one’s body, and to heal emotionally through artistic expression. For women who are victims of flat denial, our plans are crushed when we wake up to a ruined canvas. Wanda lucked out with a skilled, ethical surgeon, and she got the result that every woman deserves – the result that she chose. It shouldn’t be a matter of luck.
I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2016. Additionally, I had extensive pre-cancer throughout both breasts. I consulted two surgeons, and both agreed that without mastectomy I was a lock to recur.
When the surgeon first brought up mastectomy, she immediately said, “And you’ll reconstruct.” I was the one who had to say “No, I want to be flat so I can get a mermaid tattoo!” She said, “Ooooh, I want to see it!” I was very comfortable that she understood exactly what I wanted.
I consulted with a second surgeon, who concurred with the first surgeon’s opinion and also immediately brought up reconstruction. I said I didn’t want that. She said, “Tell me about that.” I explained that I wanted a mermaid tattoo. She seemed open to that, but I decided to go with the first surgeon.
I first saw my chest two days after surgery, when I was allowed to take a shower. I took the bandages off, looked, and my first thought was, “I look like a fucking badass!” It was flat! The mermaid would look great there.
I had to wait 18 months for the scar to heal enough to tattoo. I had no problems with healing and was back in the pool swimming 3 weeks after surgery. When I got my tattoo, the scar was white and flat. My tattoo artist did a fantastic job. I could not be happier. I had a full body skin scan a couple months after getting the tattoo. I told the nurse practitioner that I had had breast cancer and had a mermaid tattoo instead of breasts. When I showed her, she said, “That is amazing! Is it okay if I ask a colleague to come in and see this? She loves mermaids!” Her colleague came in and loved it. It was so gratifying to get that reaction to something that is so often seen as diminishing a woman.
What is striking about my story is that so many people do not get this outcome. They are left with lumps, bumps, and extra skin that it would be incredibly difficult to tattoo on. They are met with resistance from the medical community about going flat. Surgeons insist they should have reconstruction, with its complications and multiple surgeries. I am grateful to have been so lucky to get the surgeon I did. This should be the norm!
Ed. Thank you, Wanda, for your support!