Choices, choices, choices

Today I had the amazing, but surreal, experience of being the subject of the number 1, most watched video on the BBC News website. As ever, I was topless and talking about why I’m happy living flat.

The video was a follow up to another first for me – broadcasting live on a national radio network.

On Tuesday I was in Media City, Salford, home of the BBC. I was there as guest editor on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Afternoon Edition show to discuss the question, “why does it still feel taboo for women to live flat after breast cancer?” We didn’t really get to answer that, but had a lively discussion about treatment options and choice after mastectomy.

My host in the studio was regular presenter, Nihal Arthanayake, and we were joined, in other studios by Sarah Coombes, Trustee of Flat Friends, Joanna Franks, Consultant Breast and Oncoplastic surgeon and Michelle Nutley who chose to have immediate reconstruction after her bilateral mastectomy.

This was such a brilliant experience for me. I’ve listened to BBC 5 Live since it began way back in 1994, mainly because I’m sports obsessed. Afternoon Edition has always been one of my favourite programmes, whether it was Simon Mayo, Richard Bacon. I’d heard so many hours of programming coming out of the studio and now I was about to step into it and put on the headphones. You could say that I was very nervous…

Nihal was fantastic. He put me at ease straight away and was an empathetic and sensitive interviewer. He was also completely engaged in the subject. It was amazing for me to be able to describe in public how I feel about my new body shape and how much I love my scars now. I feel like the positive choice of not having reconstruction after mastectomy has been given a great big blast of publicity and that many more women and men are aware that this is a great way to live.

I know that the radio programme and follow up video have had a big effect. Flat Friends, the charity for which I volunteer, has had many more than the usual daily requests to join their closed Facebook group…I know this because one of my roles is to help to join the women who message the group. There were also some great phone calls from listeners expressing support for patient choice and emphasising that it’s just fine to live flat.

Something that I heard about on Twitter after I’d left the studio has made the biggest impact on me though. A man texted in to the show, and the producers asked him on live to talk to Nihal. I listened to the the phone call the next day and was stunned.

This man’s wife had had breast cancer and hadn’t had reconstruction. Sadly, she had died last year. Amazingly, the caller had also been diagnosed with breast cancer himself five years ago. As a man, he found the “pinking of breast cancer” incredibly isolating and alien. He knew of no other men who had had breast cancer and couldn’t find any sources of support. He’d had a mastectomy but wasn’t offered reconstruction. He hated having only one breast and felt really lopsided. His mental health deteriorated and he took drastic steps to make himself symmetrical. Thankfully, this failed and he managed to access help. It was an incredibly sad interview to listen to.

This is where the BBC is so great. Not only were they brave in airing a conversation about mastectomies, living flat and breast cancer but, the next day, they put the male caller in touch with Breast Cancer Care and another man who had had breast cancer. He was back talking to Nihal and sounded a completely different person – upbeat and positive.

I feel proud that this man felt able to call BBC 5 Live in response to the discussion that I had made happen. Im also very happy that I’ve helped to raise awareness of the growing number of people who are living happily flat after breast cancer.

Photo credit: Sue Lacey



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