Last Updated on July 12, 2020 by Ellen
Two years ago, I had a double mastectomy without breast reconstruction in Zagreb, Croatia, while traveling the world in early retirement with my husband. For two years, I have been cancer free, and also breast free. What a long, strange trip.
So today’s topic is a natural choice.
The most important part of this journey for me is that I am ‘cancer free’ two years after an operation removed the early stage cancer from my body. I had a wonderful Croatian doctor who came highly recommended by his colleagues in Split, Croatia, 250 miles south of Zagreb, where I was diagnosed.
Prof. Dr. Zdenko Stanec and his staff at Edumed Clinic are top notch.
In Croatia, a general surgeon can also be trained in, and perform, reconstructive surgery on breast cancer patients. That is unlike America, where two different surgeons are used – one for the mastectomy and and another for the reconstruction.
I believe Dr. Stanec’s cosmetic talent enabled him to give me the best results possible — as a woman who lives “flat” — without breasts.
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Living breast free has, at times, been a challenge. I miss my breasts.
About once a month, or so, someone calls me ‘sir’. I hold no ill will against these ignorant people. They are going by what they see. Most of the time, I wear my hair up in the tropics. I do not attempt to hide my flatness with clothing, and I never wear prosthetics. I didn’t want two fake plastic bags inserted into my body, and I don’t want two fake things sitting against it. My comfort is more important than what other people might think of my appearance.
“Living flat”, or breast free, has helped me grow. I’m much less vain than I used to be. And I’m more empathetic to trans people who feel like something is missing, and who wish they had a woman’s body.
Also, I’ve gained many life-long friends who have gone through similar situations — including another woman who also had surgery outside her home country. We lift each other up. I have met a couple of sisters for surgeries, radiation sessions, or girl time chatting, shopping, eating, living.
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I was diagnosed with breast cancer in Croatia, but we next traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina on a planned stay. From Sarajevo, I had to decide what to do about my early-stage breast cancer. Those were some tough days for me.
From a city that still is scarred by years of siege, I had to chose where to go for my own scars. There was poetic beauty in that. Sarajevo has a horrible, but important, museum about the war. I went alone, and was moved to tears. I think it was there, in that place that documents pure evil, that I accepted the idea of life with no breasts. It’s where I decided that breasts do not define my identity. I will never forget that museum.
I also will never forget investigating options for having surgery in Sarajevo, since we were there. I walked into a main hospital to see about options and some buildings on the campus were still pock-marked from war. It was surreal.
We left Sarajevo to interview a few doctors back in Croatia. Ultimately, instead of flying to India or England, or the United States of America for my surgery, I chose Prof. Dr. Stanec in Zagreb — a city that started our route through the last two years of more world travel.
As if that all wasn’t strange enough, now we are all experiencing a pandemic killing people and destroying millions of lives in various ways. I am in a semi-rural area of the Philippines, with my husband and his 81-year-old mother. We are helping an indigenous tribe in the hills, and we are helping other Filipinos, as well.
It’s been one hell of a journey to get to this point. I look back at my choices, and I’m so glad my path went through Zagreb. My decisions led to two more years of world travel before the world came to a COVID-19 halt.
We will keep traveling when we can, when borders reopen and entry guidelines to other countries are viable for us. Because I’m a free spirit. And because it’s what Earth Vagabonds do.
Thanks for reading, “Cancer free and breast free for 2 years.”
Note: As of June 2020, the National Cancer Institute finally recognized “flat” as a reconstruction option. “Aesthetic flat closure” is the official term, and it means making a woman’s chest flat and neat by smoothing the surgery site from extra tissue.
Prior to this official definition, there was no universally recognized term and women struggled to convince some doctors this was a valid option. (Misogyny, anyone?)
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It’s specifically about triple positive, ‘tiny’ tumors.