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Topless and proud of it: Woman embraces life after double mastectomy

About one in eight US women will develop invasive breast cancer during her lifetime. It is estimated that in 2020, 276 480 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and another 48 530 will be diagnosed with non-invasive breast cancer [1].

Breast cancer can be treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy, or surgery. Most commonly it is treated with surgery or a combination of therapies [2].

When Christina Belding found out that she had breast cancer in her right breast, the Canadian woman opted to have a double mastectomy, and today she walks around proudly- with a completely flat chest.

Christina Belding’s Double Mastectomy

Belding first noticed a lump in her right breast while doing a self-examination, which was missed during a mammogram. On the day before her fifty-second birthday, she had a double mastectomy, opting for an “esthetic flat closure”, a procedure in which the surgeon creates a smooth, flat chest with no excess fat or skin. 

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Honoured to have this reposted as an opinion piece by the CBC today. I am touched that my story has resonated with so many. Thank you to everyone who commented and messaged. Don’t forget to check your breasts for lumps and bumps!😊♥️ Posted @withregram • @cbcns Looking at Christina Belding's topless, post-cancer body, it's impossible not to notice her strength, beauty and a set of killer abs. . She hopes that seeing her sparks a conversation about both breast cancer — and the things that actually define us as women. . "The boobs took early retirement. I'm glad they're gone because I feel safer," she said. . The day before she turned 52, Belding underwent a double mastectomy at the IWK Health Centre in early March, a few days before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. . Cancer had invaded her right breast. . To reduce the risk of it returning, she opted for a double mastectomy. Instead of breast reconstruction, she chose esthetic flat closure. . She didn’t want more surgeries and the accompanying risks that might arise from implants. . In a world in which women's bodies are sexually objectified, leading some to undergo surgery in the quest for perfect breasts, Belding rejects that destructive hypocrisy. . What annoys her are the assumptions about "Are you gonna get new boobs? Or don't you think you'd feel better," she said. . "They don't ask, 'Hey, was it scary having cancer? Are you worried you're going to die?" . But perhaps, thanks to her, more people will start asking the right questions. . . . 📷 Robert Short/CBC #motivationalmonday #motivation #breastcancer #beach #novascotia #ocean #bodypositive

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She decided to have both breasts removed as a safety measure, and while many women choose to have breast reconstruction surgery, she opted to go without because it would have involved more surgeries and more risks from complications and implants.

“The boobs took early retirement. I’m glad they’re gone because I feel safer,” she said [3].

Belding decided that the risks involved with reconstructive surgery were not worth having breasts that had no feeling and serve no purpose outside of “looking fine in a shirt”. Belding rejects the sexual objectification of women’s bodies in society, and believes she looks better without her breasts. Her flat chest, at the very least, makes enjoying sports like rowing easier.

Flat and Proud

Belding has always enjoyed going to the beach near her home, and she continues to enjoy it just as much, only now she goes topless. She proudly bares her two twenty-centimeter scars, which she carefully protects with sunblock, that remind her of cancer’s silver lining.

“I’ve always felt fortunate with even all the traumatic things and the adversity that’s happened to my life, I see myself as a survivor,” she said [3].

Belding speaks candidly about her “past life” with breasts, saying that her breasts had already had a “good time”, and more than enough fun.

“I’d sooner have a flat start than trying to reinvent the past with boobs.” [3]

Today, Belding shares photos of her flat chest on her Instagram page, hoping to spread the word about esthetic flat closure. She does receive some attention because of her appearance, particularly from children, and she hopes that seeing her will get kids asking questions and help to start conversations at home about cancer.

Despite her confidence, she does get annoyed when people ask her if she’s going to have reconstructive surgery, or if she thinks she would feel better if she had boobs again.

“They don’t ask, ‘Hey, was it scary having cancer? Are you worried you’re going to die?” [3]

She did have one memorable experience, when a man approached her on the beach and commented on how brave she was to be walking around, because his own wife had died from breast cancer and he wished she had been more aggressive and opted for surgery rather than other treatments.

Risks of Reconstructive Surgery

As Belding said, the reason she decided to forgo reconstructive surgery was because in her mind, the risks outweighed the potential benefits. After going through cancer treatment, health was more important to her than anything else, and she didn’t see additional surgeries as the “healthy” option.

There are several risks associated with reconstructive breast surgery, and it is important that you consider all of them before deciding to go ahead with the procedure. The most common form of breast reconstructive surgery are implants, which involve using a rubberized silicone filled with saline or silicone gel.

Complications associated with this procedure include internal scarring, risk of rupture or infection, or a hematoma, which is an accumulation of blood around the implant. If a patient requires radiation treatment, these risks are even greater [4].

There are 2 Main Types of Breast Reconstruction:

1. Implant reconstruction surgery can take up to twelve weeks to complete, followed by a significant amount of recovery time afterward. This is another consideration for someone who has already undergone extensive surgeries and treatments for the cancer itself.

2. Autologous tissue reconstruction involves taking tissue from another part of the body and using it to create a new breast. This is a much more complicated process and longer procedure than implant surgery, and thus requires a significantly longer hospital stay and recovery time. Complications with this procedure include scarring, muscle weakness, or infection at the donor site [4].

A Woman- With or Without Breasts

Belding understands that choosing to have a double mastectomy does not guarantee that she’ll beat cancer, and that opting for an esthetic flat closure is not necessarily the best choice for everyone, but she wants women to know that they don’t have to be scared of surgery.

“It doesn’t need to be scary, and it shouldn’t. Having breasts shouldn’t … define who you are as a woman,” she said [3].

Currently, Belding is taking oral chemotherapy drugs to reduce the chances of recurrence, but is feeling good for now. For the most part, she says, cancer simply feels like a bump in the road.

Sources:

  1. https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/treatment.htm
  3. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/mastectomy-double-breast-cancer-dartmouth-nova-scotia-woman-1.5691317
  4. https://www.cbcn.ca/en/breast_reconstruction