I Don't Have Breasts, But I Wear a Bikini Anyway — Because My Kids Are Watching

Two springs ago, I made the radical decision to have my breast implants removed. Though many women are choosing to have explant surgery, my situation is a big different than most. As a two-time breast cancer survivor, removing my implants meant I would be completely flat-chested. There would no longer be any boobs (or “foobs”) to hold up and fill my swimsuit top.

I had breast implants for almost three and a half years. I went from a natural C cup before my mastectomy to a D cup, thanks to round silicone breast implants after surgery. My new faux breasts looked absolutely perfect. I figured I would be a one-and-done patient. Since I didn’t require any further breast cancer treatment after my surgery, because my cancer was such an early stage, I would live my best life for a good 10 to 15 years before needing my implants replaced.

The fairy tale didn’t manifest. My right implant, which was placed on my cancer side, caused me constant shoulder blade pain that kept me up at night. Nothing helped — not chiropractic care, not physical therapy, not Epsom salt baths, not heat and ice, and not yoga and stretching. An MRI revealed nothing. Pain relievers worked for a mere few hours.

Then came the symptoms. The year before I explanted, I started getting sick and sicker. I would wake up in the morning, my whole body stiff and swollen. My toes would turn purple (yes, purple). I was anxious and depressed, exhausted, and I experienced heart palpitations. I was suddenly intolerant to foods I’d consumed for years — even healthy foods, like strawberries, seafood, and green tea. I felt like a walking zombie, spending many days bedridden. I knew my family — especially my four kids — needed me, but I simply couldn’t muster any energy to get out of bed.

I was diagnosed with “maybe lupus” based on my borderline labs and symptoms. I ended up in the ER with a pulmonary embolism. I remember asking God just to let me die in my sleep, because I was so tired of doctors throwing their hands up at my symptoms and giving me to relief.

When I discovered what breast implant illness (BII) was and how it manifested, I knew I had it. I burst into my husband’s home office and announced that I was explanting to flat. He grew wide-eyed, but in the coming days jokingly said to me, “I’m more of a butt man anyway.” My family was on board. I called my plastic surgeon and begged her to take out my implants and the capsules around them. She agreed, and we got surgery on the schedule.

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Going from “perfect” D breasts to a completely flat chest was an adjustment. I remember not being able to look at my chest for days after surgery, refusing to glance downward as I showered. Our bathroom features a massive sheet mirror that spans two sinks and a long countertop. I made my husband hold up a towel over my body so I wouldn’t accidentally catch a glimpse.

Even though I felt immediately better after surgery — a literal weight lifted off my chest — I knew I would need time to embrace my new body. When I did work up the courage to take a peek, I loved what I saw —because the scars and flatness was symbolic of the new me, the one who was healing from implant illness.

Summer arrived a few months after my surgery, and I wore my old swimsuits. Yes, they fit far differently, and yes, it was very obvious that I was flat-chested. I wasn’t ready to go buy new swimwear — because any woman can tell you that swimsuit shopping is a nightmare. Frankly, I’d rather get a pap smear.

I could have chosen a special swimsuit that concealed my flatness, or I could have opted for prosthetics. Neither appealed to me. I wanted to be comfortable, above all, with minimal seams and thin material. Less is more when it comes to a sensitive chest. My family and I swim every day, so I was all in. I could sit by the sidelines in the blazing sun and try to cover up, or I could enjoy the water with my kids. I chose the latter.

Just a few weeks ago, we went on our first beach vacation in four years. I purchased a few new swimsuits, excited to finally sink my feet into the sand. In addition to being completely flat-chested, I’m also a type 1 diabetic. My insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor, two tools that help keep me healthy and alive, are also on full display.

I absolutely got a few second glances, but I also met a few fellow type 1 diabetics on the beach. I let the waves crash into my back, took several walks on the beach with my kids, and enjoyed resting and listening to the seagulls. After fighting cancer twice, I’m often reminded that I could have missed these moments. Frankly, my kids don’t care what I look like in a swimsuit. They just want an attentive, happy mom.

I can spend my time worrying about what other people think, or I can choose to embrace the life I have now, understanding that every person — regardless of diagnosis, disability, or body type — deserves to put on a swimsuit of their choosing and enjoy summer. Yes, there will be people who choose to judge and critique rather than stay in their own lane. You can decide that their opinion of you is absolutely none of your concern.

What matters are the people you surround yourself with: the people you love and who love you. What also matters is your opinion of you. My scars and gear tell a powerful story, one I am happy to share, one that I am happy my children get to know about me. That story is far more beautiful than my “perfect” breasts ever were.

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