“I have to figure out how to find beauty in my scars.”
“I found a strange lump. It felt like a guitar chord,” Marianne said.
While she initially thought the abnormality she found in her breast was a calcification from breastfeeding, Marianne was unfortunately diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. This was not her first time dealing with a malignancy.
In 1994, a chiropractor discovered a large mass in the upper part of her spine. Marianne was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She was twenty-eight years old. Her spleen was removed, and she had several rounds of radiation to her chest and pelvis.
Twenty years later, she underwent bilateral mastectomies with expander implant reconstruction. However, the radiation treatments she received decades prior had damaged her breast skin. In the months following her final implant placement, she suffered several bouts of fever and redness as a recurrent infection in one of her implants sent her to the hospital more than once.
“It got to a point where I asked myself, ‘what am I doing this for? Why am I saving this thing?’”
Marianne chose to have the infected implant removed and lived with only one breast for about a year. As time wore on, it became clear that her state of physical imbalance was more emotionally distressing to her than having no breasts at all.
“I felt so ridiculously lopsided, so unattractive. It really messed with my sexuality— everything went down the tubes.”
Marianne had her other implant removed. She also underwent a chest wall reconstruction procedure called an aesthetic flat closure, which removes excess skin and tissue and smooths incisions for even, restored chest wall contour. While she felt more balanced after the procedure, Marianne struggled to find her place in the flat closure community.
“I’ve met so many women who are flat who are so comfortable with their decisions. I didn’t choose it: there’s a very big difference between me and those women. I think there are also women who are like ‘I want my body back.’ I was somewhere in between there.”
Marianne explained that her flat closure was motivated by health rather than personal conviction. She chose to remain flat to protect her body from additional procedures. Still, she is grateful to women who fought within the breast cancer community to define aesthetic flat closure as an option.
“I think that women who choose this really have a conviction. There are many fewer women who are like ‘nah, I don’t need them.’ I guess I wanted to make it a little less cause-like. It’s not an anger—it just didn’t work for me.”
Marianne is a visual artist. As such, she said she continues to work toward bodily acceptance through her art.
“I have to figure out how to find the beauty of my scars. I don’t just have mastectomy scars, I have splenectomy scars. In my artwork, I constantly show all my scars as far as trying to express that.”