• Melanie Testa

Original Gangster


Melanie Testa - Photographed through The Breast and the Sea by Miana Jun and Rebecca Pine.

One can never be prepared to hear the words, ‘You have cancer’, nor understand its impact.

With breast cancer, a body altering disease, it is necessary to make decisions about how you want to present your body by way of breast mound reconstruction, flat closure, external prosthesis tucked into a bra, or not. I chose flat and I do not replace my loss by wearing prosthesis.


Until my own diagnosis, I had not specifically met a single breasted or bilaterally flat woman. While I understand that one in eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime, by appearances, it seemed all of them either reconstructed their bodies or wore prosthesis. It astounded me to see that the images on informational sites about breast cancer contained no visual reference to single breasted or bilaterally flat women. They allowed no indication of changes to the shape of the woman’s body.


This erasure made me feel as if my choice was rare, odd and abnormal.



I began to question what women might need in order to embrace flat as a beautiful, viable option, after breast cancer diagnosis.

My conclusions were and are, we need to be visible to one another, we need role models and we need clothing options that accommodate either the unilateral or bilateral loss of breasts. Fashion is a form of personal expression and contributes to our well being, a lack of clothing options forces us to present as if breasted, substantiating our invisibility.


Once my treatments were complete, I began seeking community in order to resume my life. This is when I learned that some women who chose flat suffer flat denial, either by way of paternalism in the medical community or a lack of surgical skill (Check out Not Putting on a Shirt) . I came to understand that my flat outcome was an ideal that not all women had the comfort of experiencing, when looking in the mirror.


This lit a white, hot, burning fire within me. Women were being denied their choice and autonomy, while fighting for their very lives. I didn’t know the depth of strength or determination that would manifest itself within my being. I would never call it courage, it wasn’t that, it was a spark that could be quenched, in no other way, than to find expression. I -needed- to make the change I wanted to see in the world.


At first, I sought out public figures like Kathy Bates and Tig Notaro, both of whom had been diagnosed and chosen flat closure, by contacting their agents with pleas for help. Unable to make those connections, I stepped in front of the camera, nude from head to toe and used those pictures to make my statement. I became the role model I needed to see.



Since this time, I have come to think of myself as a ‘flat advocate’. I have stepped in front the lens of Charise Isis, Esther Haase, Damon Dahlen, Ryan Pfluger, Miana Jun, CBS Sunday Morning and I have a Great Big Story.


A selection of Melanie's Flat Advocacy efforts

And, well, it turns out, I am not alone in seeking this change. I have met so many beautiful, passionate and good women in the years since my diagnosis, all of whom also seek to populate and expand the ‘flat narrative’.



In joining Flat Closure NOW, I am integrating my advocacy voice, dreams and hopes into a group of passionate individuals who seek societal and medical change.

Flat Closure NOW is an advocacy and educational non profit that seeks to empower women and their doctors in the aesthetics of flat closure as a reconstructive choice.



Please meet our board and founding members:



Sondra Price: a founding member of BS Breast Cancer, a supportive and inclusive website in support of all breast cancer survivors and thrivers. Sondra is the President of Flat Closure NOW. Her experience in medical billing and insurance will help us affect change to the WHCRA.


Emily Hopper: Emily is Vice President of Flat Closure NOW. She is also young mother and artist who created the Facebook support group, Flatties Unite. She offers fun, sometimes snarky and always empowering casual wear and household items through her store, EMPOWERHAUS. Emily has a knack for cultivating community!


Melissa Jansen: of I Don’t Need Two, is our Secretray. Melissa is a fashionista to the flat unilateral cause. Her deft fashion sense and great photographic skills place her fashion blog in high esteem within the single breasted community and beyond. Check out her videos, which arouse laughter to say the least.


Katie P Fink: is Treasurer of Flat Closure NOW, an artist, photographer and mother who runs ‘The Flat Advocate’, where she uses humor with audacity and verve to create images that speak to and elevate members of the flat community. Katie pushes boundaries in the most playful of ways.


Shay Sharpe: is the powerhouse behind Shay Sharpe's Pink Wishes an organization that educates, advocates, mentors, supports, shares resources and grants wishes to children & young women who have been affected by terminal breast cancer. Shay holds a special place in my heart and contributed to Lana Lim's documentary, The Cancer Journals Revisited


Kimberly Bowles: created Not Putting on a Shirt after personally experiencing flat denial. Kimberly works to protect the interests of patients who choose to go flat after mastectomy. Kimberly contributes to the flat narrative by shrining a light on medical malpractice in the breast cancer community through her website and advocacy efforts, including an interview by Megyn Kelly of the Today Show.


Catherine Guthrie: is a writer and health/science journalist, who authored Flat, Reclaiming My Body After Breast Cancer. Catherine is renowned in the breast cancer community for using her power to give voice to those in need.


And last, but not least, Di Wraight: a Canadian activist who seeks to change the narrative to include Flat Closure Reconstruction in events like Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day. Di is also founder of Flat in Canada: Support and Advocacy and Art From Darkness - Group.



And hey, did you know that I am co-founder of My Flat Friends? A support group for all reconstructive types with a focus on Flat Closure, because we ALL have flat friends.


- Melanie


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