By Jim Marten, Tucson Medical Center
When breast cancer survivor and advocate BethAnne King-Lobmiller was just 10 or 11 years old, she recalls accidentally barging in on her grandmother as she was changing her blouse.
“I must have gasped or looked shocked, but she just smiled and invited me to come in and close the door. Then she explained to me why she didn’t have breasts.
“She had a bilateral mastectomy in the 1970s, back when cancer surgery was radical and went deep, and as a result, she was completely flat,” King-Lobmiller recalls with a smile. “I had never noticed that she wore fake boobs – she even wore smaller ones in the summer to stay cooler – and none when she was in her pajamas.”
Possibly in part as a result of her grandmother’s unapologetic honesty and generosity in sharing her experience, King-Lobmiller dedicates herself to advocating for body positivity after breast cancer. Breastless and Beautiful, the advocacy group she started, boasts more than 300 members and exists for women who have chosen not to undergo reconstruction after a mastectomy. Says King-Lobmiller, “I didn’t choose flat, it chose me, as corny as that sounds.”
But the journey to her current state of body positivity took time, reflecting on her own diagnosis, she says. “When I first heard I was going to have a mastectomy, I was beside myself, I couldn’t accept it.
“One of the things I noticed about myself as I attended support groups was that I was really more freaked out about it than anyone I knew. But I was just processing it and grieving the finality of the loss. I wasn’t soothing myself with the idea of the breasts I would have afterward, so it felt very raw and real.”
Choices post-mastectomy include waiving reconstruction
Not willing to go through additional surgery beyond her mastectomy, King-Lobmiller found there was an assumption among everyone from medical professionals to support groups that reconstruction would be the obvious choice. Foregoing reconstruction wasn’t an overt part of the mix.
“I’m not advocating for flatness, I’m asking for there to be a conversation about the option.”
Her philosophy is that, like most things, the more people see healthy, beautiful survivors who have chosen flat and the more the community knows about it, the more comfortable women will become with making the choice that is best for them.
“Honestly, hardly anyone notices. When they do, I think to myself, ‘Please say something to me,’ because I always want the opportunity to educate someone and help them to understand,” King-Lobmiller says.
“The idea that I’m not a feminine and beautiful woman because I don’t have breasts is ridiculous,” she says.
For more information about the advocacy group Breastless and Beautiful, visit its Facebook page at facebook.com/breastlessandbeautiful.
If you’d like to learn more about breast cancer and breast cancer treatment go to tmcaz.com/breast-cancer. And don’t forget to schedule your annual mammogram today.