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Do Breasts Make Us Women?

Cancer is a hard enough battle to fight. For many, the physical toll cancer and its treatments take so much from patients: hair, weight and physical strength.

But, for breast cancer survivors, it can also mean the loss of our society's very symbol of femininity: their breasts.

Living in a society that hyper-sexualizes breasts and femininity, breast cancer survivors are speaking out about what happens after surgery.

For many doctors, it isn't a question of whether the women will be scheduled for post-mastectomy reconstruction surgery, but what size breast they'll elect to get.

But what if you don't want to?

Rebecca Pine, 40, decided against reconstructionBĂ©atrice de GĂ©a, New York Times

Breast cancer survivors have turned to social media to open up the conversation about what happens after. According to this New York Times article, plastic surgeons and oncologists aggressively promote breast reconstruction surgery, but lately, patients are resisting the norm.

In her interview with the Times, breast surgeon, Dr. Deanne J. Attai, confirms that more patients are opting out of reconstruction.  "Some women just feel like it's too much: It's too involved, there are too many steps, it's too long a process."

The women who choose to "go flat" often do so because of the toll that reconstructive procedures take on their bodies and psyches.

After having endured chemo, radiation and then a mastectomy; reconstructive surgery is just one more trauma that their bodies would have to endure.

The article goes on to explain that some women felt pressured by their physicians to get their breasts reconstructed. Many said their reasoning was that rebuilt breasts would make survivors feel better about their bodies, have a prettier aesthetic and that without them, they would look "deformed."

Well. That's some horrible bedside manner.

What many don't realize is that it is not just one procedure, but many reconstructive surgeries that these women must endure before they are "reformed" with new breasts.

According to the American Cancer Society, there is a risk of complications, infections and the final result might not be exactly what you hoped for.

For many women, the risks outweighed the rewards and going flat was the best option. After all, their minds and bodies had been through so much already; was it really necessary to risk more surgery only to end up with new, yet numb breasts?

Margaret W. Smith had a preemptive double mastectomy and opted not to reconstruct. Carly Ries

"For starters," writes Times reporter, Roni Caryn Rabin, "a reconstructed breast is often numb and can no longer play a role in sexual arousal. It often lacks a nipple, since the nipple is usually removed in a mastectomy."

Now, more and more women are speaking out about their decision to "go flat." What are they saying? That they want to be given the choice and for that choice to be supported by society and the medical practitioners who treat them.

Is that too much to ask for?

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