About the Flat Friends Calendar

When members of Flat Friends started throwing fundraising ideas around at the end of 2015, it was never going to stop at t-shirts and phone cases – in no time at all the notion of Calendar Girls popped up and the seed was sown. A year later, we had created a unique calendar of uplifting photographs of ourselves, celebrating friendship and life after mastectomy without reconstruction, to raise awareness and funds.

Sarah Dow, Flat Friend founding member, trustee, and lead photographer on the year-long project, picks up the story:

“If you’ve ever met a Flat Friend you’ll understand that this was never going to involve strategically-placed cupcakes, we were after something much more authentic. Most importantly we wanted to celebrate our friendship, and to show that it’s normal and fulfilling to live without reconstruction after mastectomy surgery. So much ‘survivor’ photography focusses on scars and the kind of portraiture that doesn’t really reflect our everyday life or how we see ourselves. We wanted to show that life goes on, we still look fabulous, and focus on what we have gained, not what’s been lost.”

All the photographers and models involved with the calendar are members of Flat Friends living with either unilateral or bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction. Some use prosthesis when they feel like it, some never do and go flat all the time. Founder and trustee Gilly Cant continued:

“We wanted to show that survivorship is something that happens every day, and even though our experiences have changed us, friendship, love and understanding matter far more than body shape, and every one of us is still all woman. Awareness of and respect for all the options involved with mastectomy surgery, and the choices right for each individual is still something sadly lacking in so many areas of cancer healthcare, media channels and society in general. It’s my sincere hope that these pictures will help to change that, and send a positive message to women facing breast cancer or preventative surgery in the future.”

All profits from sales of the calendar went directly to Flat Friends. Everyone donated their own time, petrol, expertise and more to the project. In the words of some of those involved, it’s clearly been an incredible experience and one we are all proud to share with loved ones and the world.

Read the Wiltshire Times article here | Read Sarah’s blog post here

Some of our models in their own words

Maxine Joyce first gave us the idea to do a calendar

At last, I thought, I’ve finally found some folk I can relate to – women who, after their diagnosis, knew they didn’t want to go along with what in my experience had been the expected route of reconstruction. And although Flat Friends started small, now there are hundreds of us, and many here in Scotland.

When we started talking about fundraising ideas in the closed group, I immediately thought of the Calendar Girls, which had itself begun as a charity fundraiser for Leukaemia research. So I suggested doing a calendar – within minutes the idea had taken off and taken on a life of its own and here we are a year later with the finished product.

I feel so lucky to have been part of it, we are all amazing superstars!

Karen Jackson joined our second shoot in York

Flat Friends – wow – what a fantastic group of women, providing support and friendship and truly understanding what you’re going through.

Following my mastectomy when my key treatment finished I felt like a boat that had been cast adrift, not knowing what direction to go in and feeling a little isolated. It’s so important that you do not feel alone and Flat Friends provided the support and direction needed and confirmed that it is perfectly normal not to want reconstruction, and whether you’re totally flat or like me lopsided that’s absolutely fine.

You can share your concerns and feelings, ask questions and seek advice and you will always know that your flat friends will be there for you. #proudtobeaflatfriend

Mary Cope hosted our autumn shoot at her lovely farmhouse in the Gloucestershire countryside

This group has been such an affirmation for me and I am so pleased to have found it.

The calendar idea has been such a positive project, it has been lovely to see all of the photo shoots appearing on the ff site over the past year. The photos portray happy ladies living life despite what they’ve been through or still going through. Such inspiration for us all.

It was of course lovely to be able to actually meet some of the ladies at mine one weekend and be a small part of it.

Rachel Ferry came to our March shoot in Cardiff straight from a hospital visit

Every time there is a Flat Friends meet it involves laughter, smiles and hugs. I think you can see from all the calendar pictures that we ladies share a unique and special bond. The glow that we feel in each other’s company shines through.

I have met genuine friends for life through the support group. Ladies who mean the world to me, who have supported me in my darkest hour.

Living without recon is so much easier when you don’t feel alone. Once you are a flat friend you are never alone again.

Carol Parker quite surprised herself joining the June shoot at Alison’s house

The idea of taking part in a calendar shoot is something I would never have considered.

Belonging to Flat Friends has given me the confidence to take part and meeting other like-minded ladies was great. There is an immediate bond I feel where you are comfortable and know that the people there are friendly and welcoming. The shoot was fun, I really enjoyed it.

Flat friends is an amazing group of ladies who are all at different stages so someone always can help with any problems, questions or just be there to listen. It’s great to know there is always support for you at any time. You realize you are not alone!”

Sally Anne Watkiss had the inspired idea to shoot with the ‘iron men’ of Crosby beach

You think you are odd and the only one, health professionals tell you you need a psychologist assessment before you can have the surgery that you know is right for you, the media tells you that you are less of woman and you begin to doubt your own mind.

Then you find Flat Friends and realise there are hundreds of you, beautiful women who like you live without one or both breasts.

The calendar shoot gave me the opportunity to meet some of those fabulous women, to hug, to laugh and to create something beautiful together. Priceless.

Carol Spink echoes the confidence that comes with flat friendship

I am so thankful I found this great bunch of online friends. I only wish I known about them when I was diagnosed. I may have not had as many sleepless nights thinking I was on my own.

They have given me the courage and confidence to face the world as a uniboober. Plus many tips on how to dress and introduced me to the famous Knitted Knockers!

Gilly Cant is founder of Flat Friends UK

Doing the Flat Friends calendar has been a wonderful experience.

It has been a chance for many of us to get together, have a giggle and a hug and show that life goes on after having a mastectomy and not having the expected reconstruction.

Strong friendships have been made on our chat group and it is lovely to meet the ladies in person and share a special experience.

Sue Yates cherishes the special bond that flat friends share

Breast cancer and treatment is the hardest thing I have ever done. I’m alive and still very much here and that’s how I hope it will remain for a very long time.

It is so much easier with family and friends supporting you. I don’t want any more surgery, my body has been through more than enough. I don’t want reconstruction, my family love me as I am.

But it’s not quite enough, because it’s still a very lonely place to be. Imagine walking into a room with an obvious part of your body missing. It takes courage every time. But my Flat Friends understand and do exactly the same as me every day, so if they can do it then I certainly can. We look after each other.

Our meetings are always immensely bonding, because we are unique and special and together. It’s hard to explain that too. It just works.

Sarah Coombes celebrates diversity and togetherness

We are from all over the UK, different ages, backgrounds, life stages, different diagnoses and different reasons for not having reconstruction. Yet the physical attribute we all share has brought us together, and what holds us together is our ability to empathise, to support and to celebrate.

The closed Facebook group is an amazing space for us to come together – a virtual living room where we gather under a duvet when one of us needs a hug, or raise a glass to good news.

But there is something very special about being able to give, and receive a flat hug in person, which is why being able to take part in several photoshoots around the country has been so important to me.

Susie Colson loved joining the summer shoot in Dorset

“I was diagnosed with two tumours and DCIS last year, and mastectomy was my only option. I pleaded for both breasts to be removed, I knew instantly that reconstruction was not an option for me, but I was told I was having a knee jerk reaction – in effect, I couldn’t possibly know my own mind, I was only 55, so what did I know.

My first mastectomy and finding Flat Friends coincided in August 2015, and I realised the refusal of doctors to consider a bilateral mastectomy when only one breast was affected was a common experience.

At last I knew I wasn’t weird for wanting to go flat and had my second mastectomy in January 2016, which turned out to be a good choice as I had extensive neoplasia in my “healthy” breast.

I love being a member of FFUK: everyone is so positive and if anyone is having a hard time, then we all jump in their pocket and take the ride with them as best we can. And I loved being part of the calendar: there was lots of fun and laughter on the shoot. I look forward to the next meet up because these girls are all bonkers!”

Julie Brandram Jones on how she ended up in the Flat Friends 2017 Calendar…

I had a bilateral mastectomy in January 2015 and now live flat without reconstruction. The support and friendship I have had from my Flat Friends has become a big part of my life and definitely contributes to my confidence and happiness as I live my life in this way. When I heard that we were going to produce a calendar depicting women like me happily living their lives without reconstruction I knew I had to be in it!

I went to the first ever shoot in December and it was an absolute hoot, I met Gilly Cant for the first time and various other ‘flatties’ and supporters. It felt so great to be with people who are on the same wavelength – I hadn’t laughed so much in ages.

Somewhere along the line I managed to volunteer for the Triathlon at Dorney Lake in the summer of 2016 (another photoshoot opportunity) by which time it felt like I was getting together with old friends, AND I won a medal for running, a big achievement for me! Finally, there was an autumn shoot not far from where I live in Herefordshire so I thought it would be rude not to join in. It was a great day out, we talked (lots), laughed (lots), ate (lots) while the inimitable Sarah Dow tried to keep us all in check as she took the last batch of photographs.

I feel really proud to be part of this project, Sarah has done an amazing job capturing the very essence of our group. Thank you everyone in Flat Friends – you are all awesome!

Our Photographers

Jo Bartlett LMPA took the beautiful February photograph of founder Gilly Cant and her husband Ian.

I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in October 2014, and underwent a full left mastectomy the following January.

I have never regretted the decision not to have a reconstruction and was still considering having the other breast removed as I don’t like being asymmetrical.

Since I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer recently, it has just confirmed to me that I want the other removed and to continue to lead a happy life for as long as I can.

Flat Friends UK were there for me through my darkest times and also the happy and fun times. I wouldn’t have met such wonderful friends without them.

Sarah J Dow LRPS led the calendar project. She has been dealing with cancer or its effects all her adult life

Since being diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in 1980 when I was still 17, I’ve been through three triple negative breast cancers from 1999-2013 and been flat since my bilateral mastectomy in 2011.

I was really clear from the outset I didn’t want reconstruction – I simply didn’t want to put my body through any surgery that wasn’t necessary, and after trying prostheses once, I just knew it wasn’t me.

But back then there was no-one to turn to for advice or support, so I had to figure things out for myself. Being part of Flat Friends is like being part of a huge extended family of people like me.

It’s been my absolute privilege to travel, meet and photograph so many of my flat friends throughout the year – something truly magic happens every time we come together, it’s like we’ve known each other all our lives.