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Christy’s Story: Why I Chose Not to Have Breast Reconstruction

Christy Burbidge learned she had DCIS in September 2022. Here, she explains why she decided not to have breast reconstruction after having a mastectomy.                                 

I was diagnosed with DCIS on Sept. 30, 2022 at age 43. Long story short, I ended up undergoing a single mastectomy on my left side. I walked into my surgical consultation assuming I would do breast reconstruction, which was to happen right then as part of the mastectomy surgery. After all, isn’t reconstruction what all young women in my position should want? OK, OK, I suppose I’m technically pushing middle age, if not already there. But surely, I’m young enough to still be expected to care about my body image – at least somewhat.

It turned out I could barely get through the consultation, due to my level of squeamishness at the medical involvement reconstruction seemed to involve: The surgery itself, the aftermath and the potential risks.

After sitting in the hospital lobby for the next hour, deliberating with close family members, I reached my decision. I would not do breast reconstruction. Instead, the surgeon would render me flat as a board on my left side, leaving nothing but a slight surgical scar.

Sure, I could always change my mind, even years later if I wanted to. But the surgical outcome would likely be better if I did it now as part of the same surgery. I knew for me, it was now or never. And I knew then and there that it would have to be “never.”

But the thing was, if I was being honest, I did care about my physical appearance. I didn’t want to undergo reconstruction, but I knew I needed to do something. Did I truly want to go through the rest of my life missing a breast?

Several weeks later, when I finished healing from my surgery, I went to a store that specializes in prosthetics. My insurance company covers prostheses, so all that was needed was a prescription from my surgeon.

I got fitted for two types of prostheses. One is a special padding with beads that goes inside a pocket built into my bra. It is so lightweight that I can’t even feel it. It’s completely unnoticeable, even in a tank top, and I can even wear it swimming. The other is a breast form that I had to be fitted for via a mold. This one more closely resembles a real breast and attaches to my chest wall the way any other medical prosthesis holds to any other body part.

Do I ever have moments where I mourn the loss of my breast? Yes. Do I regret my decision? Not by a longshot. Opting to go flat and wear a prosthesis has allowed me to avoid potential unnecessary medical drama without sacrificing my appearance, which as much as I hate to admit it, does factor into my quality of life.

My point is not to knock the choice to undergo reconstruction. Rather, I’m challenging the assumption that reconstruction is the right choice for everyone. Though I was happy and impressed with my surgical team, I did experience pressure to reconstruct that I cannot be silent about.

I wasn’t taken to a dark room and hazed about it or anything like that. There were, however, far too many, “Are you sure you want to be flat?” statements and far too few, “This is not a medically necessary procedure, so really think about both options” statements. Far too many “The surgery and maintenance aren’t so bad” assertions and far too few along the lines of, “Some women opt for prostheses or even choose to do nothing at all.”

I’m sharing my story so other women, regardless of age, know that you can opt to “go flat” and still keep a shape – if keeping a shape happens to be important to you (and it certainly doesn’t have to be!).

Statements and opinions expressed are that of the individual and do not express the views or opinions of Susan G. Komen. This information is being provided for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Persons with breast cancer should consult their healthcare provider with specific questions or concerns about their treatment.