After discovering that she had BRCA2 mutation, which increases a woman’s chances of developing breast or ovarian cancer, Sara Bartosiewicz-Hamilton made the difficult decision to have a prophylactic mastectomy at the age of 29. She opted to have reconstructive surgery, trying both saline and silicone implants, but within a couple of years she was dealing with discomfort. Uncertain what to do, Sara began considering her options. She was hesitant to have her implants removed after all the time and energy she spent on reconstruction, so she began to seek input from other women who had been through the same thing.
Through some connections she had with the SCAR Project, a series of large scale portraits taken by photographer David Jay of young breast cancer survivors, Sara began meeting women who’d made the decision to “live flat”. These women inspired Sara’s decision to have her implants removed in 2012 and to more seriously consider living flat herself. When she went looking for a safe place to ask all the questions she had, she discovered that no such place existed. That’s when she approached a friend from the SCAR Project, Barbie Ritzco, about the possibility of starting an online community to support women facing such questions. Not only did Barbie agree that there was a real need, she offered to partner with Sara. What ultimately resulted from Sara and Barbie’s partnership is “Flat and Fabulous”, an online community that supports women who have chosen (or who are thinking of choosing) to opt out of reconstruction after a mastectomy.
When she first started the group, Sara thought it would perhaps include a dozen or so women. To say that number of women in the group has far exceeded Sara’s expectations would be an understatement; she notes that there are now about 3,500 women in the Flat and Fabulous community. Sara shares that “in this group we talk about the day to day challenges of living ‘flat’ and we share lots of photographs. The photographs range from showing the results of our mastectomies to sharing our daily outfit choices. The photos help women, who may never meet in real life
another woman who is flat, feel more connected to women who have made the same choice.”
Sara says that the resounding message they receive from women is that they feel like the only ones who have chosen not to pursue reconstruction. Despite the fact that many women feel alone in the choice not to reconstruct Sara shares that, in the research that she and Barbie conducted in the early days of Flat & Fabulous, they found that women choose to “live flat” about as often as they choose to reconstruct. Sara notes that “representation is incredibly important on a human level. Our support system helps empower women to make the choice that is best for them during a difficult time, whether they choose to reconstruct or not.” Sara firmly believes that Flat & Fabulous meets a deep-felt need on the part of women to know there are fellow travelers walking the path with them after their mastectomies and recovery. She also holds to the conviction that sharing their storiesof struggle and triumph is healing for both the women in her group and others in their lives. To provide a forum for healing and community is of the utmost importance to Sara and is something she feels honored to do.
When she’s not managing the website and Facebook pages for Flat & Fabulous (and running an additional online group), Sara is a working single mother to two wonderful children. Life with a high school-aged son and a daughter in middle school can be hectic, but Sara makes sure they spend plenty of time together kayaking, camping and supporting each other at sporting events high on the list of priorities. Sara, who is fluent in sarcasm, also loves to read, play with her dogs and is learning to play the ukulele.