Pioneers in Flat Advocacy
A blog series designed to highlight and amplify the voices of the flat advocates who blazed the trail and laid the foundation for those that followed.
Beth Fairchild is a mother, tattoo artist, and strong advocate for both reconstructive choice and metastatic breast cancer (MBC). She has been living with MBC since her de novo diagnosis in 2014. Beth initially decided to go flat after her mastectomy to protect her treatment timeline and options. After three years with stable disease, she decided to pursue implant reconstruction.
Beth served as the President of Metavivor for three years, continuing to serve on the Board today. She is the creator and producer of Metavivor’s #ThisIsMBC initiative, and is also a Director of #Cancerland. Beth was the first MBC patient to be featured in Glamour, and has also been featured in Oprah Magazine, the Today Show, A Story Half Told, Third Love’s #TheUnderneathProject, and more.
When you were making your reconstructive choice, how did you end up choosing flat?
“I chose to go flat, as a de novo MBC patient, due to the risk of complications that could arise from reconstructive surgery, and the implications that any complication could lead to prolonged discontinuation of treatment, thus leading to progression or recurrence of my metastatic disease.
After three years of living with my flat chest, and 5 years of completely stable and quiet disease, I chose to reconstruct my chest. I was frustrated with clothing options, especially when trying to buy lingerie, and having to have everything altered. My DD breasts had been a huge part of who Beth was before cancer, and I wanted to feel what that was like again, even though I chose much smaller breasts for reconstruction.”
How has your surgical result affected your healing process moving forward?
“I had to advocate for my mastectomy, and when I got it I was thrilled. I traded up once the first time I saw my flat chest after removing the bandages and never looked back. I was happy. I felt just as sexy and feline as ever without bulky breasts weighing me down. Most of all, I felt free of any BC that could have been lurking in that tissue, feeding distant metastasis.
Now, with my new breasts, I feel equally as sexy and feminine, AND I can buy a bikini, shirt, or any dress I want off the rack and wear it with confidence. I enjoy buying sexy lingerie and looking at my curves in the mirror.
The bottom line, I think, is that you have to feel good about whatever choice you make, and that feeling good is critical for having and maintaining quality of life.”
How did you decide that you wanted to be an advocate?
“I’m not sure I decided to be an advocate as much as advocacy found me. I just started sharing my experiences and people listened, they were intrigued, and it just started snowballing there. I think once I realized how great it felt to help others I was hooked. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to say to someone who’s frightened and assure, “I’ve been where you are now and it’s going to be ok.” There were so many women who were that for me when I was first diagnosed and now I get to be that guiding light for others. “
What is your proudest accomplishment as an advocate?
“My proudest accomplishment as an advocate is probably my work at METAvivor as part of #Cancerland, walking the runway at NYFW without breasts. Being able to carry forward my friends Champaign Joy’s legacy and know how proud she would be of all us. “
What has been your biggest challenge as an advocate?
“The biggest challenge for me honestly is the infighting. Women can be mean and catty and judgmental, and it seems even more severe when they’re hurting, ie after a BC diagnoses. It’s sad to me that my lifestyle, my tattoos, my choices to go flat/reconstruct have been examined under a lens clouded by others people’s personal experiences and that I have been included or excluded based on those opinions. And it’s not just me, UT I see it happen with lots of other women and men and advocates in this space. This is a time, especially during cancer and treatment, when we should be rallying for another, cheering one another on, not being divisive.”
What have you learned as an advocate that you would like other advocates to know?
“I’d like other advocates to know that your story is just as important as anyone’s. If you can learn to share that story in a positive and impactful way, by doing so, you can change the life of others, an entire community, an entire industry. Never underestimate the power of the spoken word.”
What is your vision for flat advocacy generally? What do you want the future to look like for women going flat?
“First, I would like to say, just because I ultimately chose to have reconstruction, I am still very much an advocate for the flat movement. While I want to educate people about my experiences, I’m not advocating for women to choose implants, but for them to make more informed decisions about reconstruction.
I wish women were offered flat as an option. It’s like once you’re diagnosed with early stage BC, you’re placed in an assembly line and you’re bouncing from doctor to doctor and just trusting them to make the right choices for you. Most breast surgeons don’t offer all the options for reconstruction, just implants. Remaining flat should be viewed as normal as implants, DEIP, TRAM, etc. I’ve learned so much after being flat and now having reconstructed breasts, and the only thing I know for a fact, is that there is no right or wrong when making the choice about reconstruction, there just IS. The key is realizing that you have options and the choice is YOURS, and that patients have the right to be informed of every single option available and be free to make that choice.”
A pioneer may start as a lone voice in the wilderness, but their passion for and commitment to their cause inspires others to join them. This has led to exponential growth in the field of flat advocacy over the last decade or so. In 2020, we have flat photography projects, full length memoirs, nonprofit organizations, communities on social media, and even gatherings across the world… all made possible by the work of the advocates who blazed the trail.
If you know of a pioneer in flat advocacy that you’d like to see featured, please let us know!
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Disclaimer: Any and all information published by Not Putting on a Shirt (NPOAS) on behalf of a third party is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as a substitute for medical or legal advice from a licensed professional. Views expressed and claims made by third parties do not necessarily represent the views of NPOAS.