Constructive criticism

Local filmmaker Graeme Weston has made a film about Katie Clare who, faced with breast cancer surgery for took the decision to ‘go flat’

Clerkenwell photographer and filmmaker Graeme Weston has made a short film – and it’s been the highlight of a British film festival.

Going Flat is the story of Katie Clare, who at 37 learned she had a BRCA gene mutation, which gave her a significant probability that she would develop breast cancer, as her mother had before her. Although a tough decision, Katie opted to have a prophylactic double-mastectomy without breast reconstruction, deciding to go ‘flat’ – hence the title of Graeme’s film. It seems a reasonable choice to make, but Katie found herself pitted against the advice of her early medical team.

“Although breast reconstruction involves more work, I found that it’s actually quite hard to go flat,” says nutritionist Katie, now 41. “Most medics assume you want reconstruction and the system is set up for it. It has become a staple, and although the operation is shorter without reconstruction, it’s much easier to say ‘yes’.

Although Katie was adamant this was the option she wanted, she found that early in the process she had to change surgeons to one more sympathetic to her preferred option, which goes by the name of ‘aesthetic flat closure’.

Having been through the procedure, Katie says it she made the right choice, and she has no regrets. “After research and lots of thinking about it I decided I didn’t want silicon implants,” she explains. “Not only are implants foreign bodies, but they need replacing every ten years or so and that means further surgery.” While some kinds of reconstruction can be done by taking tissue from the patient’s own body, this too carries risks, and Katie came to her decision with few reservations.

While feedback from friends and colleagues was supportive, it is often presented that the procedure might detract from her feeling of “femininity”. But Katie didn’t recognise that at all: “I know that I’m a woman, mastectomy or not.” Also, as she has always been slender, her silhouette didn’t change that much, or her need to change her wardrobe. “And if I want to wear a prosthesis, I can – and sometimes do.”

While the initial medical tide ran against her choice, Katie found support groups online that understood and respected her decision.

“These groups confirmed to me that going flat was a legitimate and logical path to take,” says Katie, who celebrated the end of surgery in a ‘farewell to my breast’ party with a few close friends at a favourite restaurant – part of a moving sequence in the film.

Graeme, who knew Katie from a local meditation group, was compelled to tell her story. With fellow filmmaker Julian Civiero he shot the short film, which follows Katie’s journey from before the surgery to afterwards – following her progress right through hospital, where she received excellent care.

“It was a remarkable story and I was impressed at how matterof-fact Katie was about the decision,” says Graeme. “I hope the film stands as a testament to her power and sense of purpose.

‘Going Flat’ debuted at the Derby Film Festival in November and is now seeking a showing in EC1

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