RICHMOND, Va. -- They call themselves flatties. They are breast cancer survivors who avoid extra surgeries and live life without breast implants.
Beth Rutherford went completely topless at last month's Making Strides event in Richmond.
“I felt like a rockstar. I was a movie star. Women would come up and would want hugs, pictures,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford, 53, made the decision to go flat after battling breast cancer five times.
She was first diagnosed at the age of 36.
"I had just come back from vacation. A scuba diving trip and I was like, 'Why is one of my breasts bigger than the other?'" she said.
Beth, whose mother faced her own breast cancer journey at age 35, battled her cancer with rounds of chemo, a mastectomy, radiation, and reconstruction surgery by getting implants.
"Now that I’m flat, I don't think I could have gone flat at 36 and to look at women that can. I met one who was 31. The fact that she can lose her hair and her breasts at the same time, I was like that's strength,” Rutherford said as she referred to the women who receive an Aesthetic Flat Closure.
“Sometimes, when you have a mastectomy, they just don't take out the breast tissue, they take out some of the fat around the tissue," Dr. Tae Chong, Chair of Plastic Surgery at VCU Health, said.
And that could cause the chest area to look not as smooth and even masculine, according to Dr. Chong.
The aesthetic flat closure procedure tightens the remaining tissue making the chest look flat and smooth.
“We can fill those defects in and make the closure a little more flat, so they can have a more natural appearance to the chest,” Dr. Chong said.
He said requests for the aesthetic flat closure are growing, but it's still a small number compared to women who get breast implants.
“It never felt comfortable. They always felt heavy,” Rutherford said.
After 12 years, Rutherford got her implants taken out because she said they made her sick.
“My vision got better, my skin got better, my hair got better, everything got better,” she said after their removal.
Dr. Chong said recently there have been concerns from women experiencing implant illness.
“Fatigue, joint aches, and concerns about your own neurological well-being,” Dr. Chong said. “There's a small set of women when we take the implants out, they definitely get better."
Technically, Rutherford said she didn't have a complete aesthetic flat closure because what the implants did to her ribs made it difficult. However, the result of going flat is the same for women like Rutherford and for women who go flat right after treatment.
Rutherford said because of more awareness, more women are opting for the procedure. She is now the aesthetic flat closure spokesperson in Central Virginia charged with getting the word out, even if it means going topless.
“We find that showing that we are vulnerable. That we are this way. They come up to us and they want to know more,” Rutherford said.
Aesthetic flat closure is a day surgery with a shorter recovery time. Since it's considered a part of breast reconstruction, it is covered by insurance.
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