Flat and Fabulous with Juliet Fitzpatrick
Updated: Mar 11
I am inspired by women on a daily basis which is why I set up the podcast and the blog in the first place, to be able to share these stories of women getting on with their lives in extra ordinary ways.My next guest blogger has been on an incredible journey through cancer and is on a mission to help show other women that living flat is is more than ok. Juliet is helping other women by being such an active campaigner and is also a shining example of why the media and advertising need to start representing more diversity in their advertising.
So let's meet Juliet Fitzpatrick.
"I've just turned 58 and live in Hertfordshire with Liam, my husband of nearly 30 years and our two whippets. I have two grown up children. My son is nearly 28 and my daughter is 24. I met Liam in the third week of our first year at Manchester University and we've been together ever since. Strangely, both of our kids also graduated from Manchester University so it's a full house! I studied History and then went on to get a post graduate qualification in Library & Information Studies - I think, mainly because I loved books and reading. That hasn't changed. I never really worked as a librarian but specialised in research and information gathering. I was determined to be a full time mother and loved it but it did mean that I sacrificed my career to be at home. I did have various part time jobs after I'd had the children and they were mainly in the sports industry. Sport has been the huge passion of my life. I played loads at school and university and then went on to work in rugby and sports development. I love being active now and exercise as a way of being strong and fit rather than to lose weight. I think I'm fitter now than when I was at home with my kids. Life was going along swimmingly until 2016 when everything changed. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January that year and had a left mastectomy, chemotherapy and a targeted drug called Herceptin."
Can you remember those early feelings when you found out the news?
I felt utter shock and misery. I couldn't believe that I would be losing one of my breasts. It was one of the things that I most dreaded in my life-long with having to have chemotherapy. I'm not sure why I had even thought about it before I had cancer but losing my hair and one or both my breasts filled me with dread.
How easy was it to get the surgeon to agree to the second mastectomy?
It was not easy at all! Early on, I asked to have a bilateral mastectomy but that was quickly refused by my surgeon as he wouldn't remove healthy tissue. I asked for the second mastectomy at every surgical check up after the operation but my surgeon kept asking me to wait a little longer. My breast care nurse was very supportive of my request and backed me up each time. Eventaully, I sat in the examination couch naked from the waist up and asked my surgeon why he thought that I'd want to live as I was with one large breast. At that point he agreed that he would do the second mastectomy so that I could be symmetrical and it happened 18 months after the first.
What changes do you think need to be made so that surgeons and the health service give back the women's choice more easily?
If women are to make an informed choice then the health care professionals need to give them all the treatment options that are available to them. They should not think that they know what the patient wants- in the case of mastectomy patients-that most will want their bodies back to what they were. I think that women should be listened to better and taken much more seriously. In reality, I don't think that it's that simple. Many trusts and clinical Commissioning Groups have guidelines that restrict surgeons from carrying out contralateral prophylactic mastectomies (like I had) or limit the timescale that such procedures are carried out. Hospitals often have reconstruction information events where details are discussed but that usually doesn't include flat. I'd like to try and get in to these events to put forward the flat option.Understanding what each individual wants is key and that only comes by listening and talking.
When times have been really difficult, how, what has got you through them? What does your self care look like?
My family has been my constant support. My husband Liam and I supported each other when we were both ill- he after heart surgery and me with my cancer treatment. My children have been wonderful. Dan who was 24 was about to go on an elective to Australia at the end of his medical degree. He still went but called me every day and cut his trip short by a week once he knew that I'd have to have a mastectomy. Laura was almost 21 when I was diagnosed and doing her dissitation for her degree. She was amazing- looking after me and her dad whilst juggling her studies and exams. She got a First which was fantastic. She was the one who supported and encouraged me to look at my chest after my first mastectomy. Some of my friends stepped up and others didn't. I got very close to a new friend and now we are the very best of friends. We bonded through weekly dog walks and photos- she took the very first topless image of me.
The other things that got me through are growing my flowers, exercise once I'd had my hip replacement, walking, watching any sport going and corny Amercian dramas like Greys Anatomy and Chicago Fire. I love them and still watch them. Now, my self care revolves around twice weekly PT sessions and weekly psychotherapy sessions. I feel like I really need both to keep me on an even keel mentally, I also love being fitter and stronger physically than I have been for many years.
How did you get involved in the Dove Show Us project? Can you tell us about the idea behind the project?
I'd done a photoshoot with Sophie Mayanne for her Behind the Scars project which had gone well. Sophie was asked to submit a few women including me for another project which turned out to be #ShowUS. She was successful with three of the women, including me and we had a photoshoot in October last year. One of the images from the shoot went on to be chosen as a global image that has been used all over the world, including Times Square, Piccadilly Circus, a beach in Cannes and in numerous other countries.There has also been a lot of print media and advertising. Project #ShowUs is the worlds largest photo library created by women and non binary individuals to shatter beauty stereotypes. With over 5000 images, it offers a more inclusive vision of beauty to all media and advertising. Women from around the world are redefining beauty on our own terms.
How did you feel seeing yourself on billboards in the centre of London and knowing thousands os people would have seen your topless breast less image around the world, including Times Square?
It was amazing to see myself on billboards at Piccadilly Circus and I felt so proud of myself. It was exciting and surreal all at once. I felt like I'd achieved what I set out to which is to increase the visibility of flat women whether that's in advertising, print media or through social media. I'm delighted that thousands of people will have seen it. I know that that image will have been seen by some women who are having to take difficult decisions about their bodies. If it helps one woman to know it's ok to live without breasts then I have been successful.
My friends and family have all been very supportive and proud of me for putting myself out there so openly. They know what my aim is and want me to succeed. I think that they’re quite surprised at what I’ve done because pre cancer Juliet definitely wouldn’t have done any of the things that I’ve done since I became flat. Dan & Laura frequently tell me how proud they are of me which is amazing for me to hear. Liam is a great sounding board and offers me such good advice when I’m unsure about whether what I’m doing is right for me.
What changes would you love to see in the media and advertising?
I’d love to see less reliance on skinny young models whose images have clearly been digitally altered. It would be good to see more older models and greater use of models with visible differences and disabilities. Just much more representation of society as it really is and not the imagination of brands or ad agencies. It would be great if images used in media and advertising were not digitally altered and the models appear as they truly were at that moment in time.
Through out this process you started a blog www.bloomingcancer.co.uk which I have been plowing through the posts, you are so honest and I can see how this would help so many women.When did you decide to start the blog?
I started the blog about three months after I had my second mastectomy in February 2018. It was just at the time that my scar had healed and I asked my friend and photographer, Sue, to take photos of my new body shape. We’d talked about doing such a photo shoot for some time. She’d taken some photos of me when I was going through chemotherapy and had no hair, and also once my hair had grown back and I’d had my first post chemo hair cut. I knew that I’d feel comfortable with her and be able to trust her when I would be feeling vulnerable.
The photos were so good that I wanted other people to see them. I decided that I would start blogging as I hadn’t really written about my cancer and the decision that I’d taken to live flat. The response to my first post was amazing and so positive. Some women who were going through similar to me told me that they’d never seen a breastless chest before and that it had helped them to think more about what decisions they would take after mastectomy. It really kick started my whole campaigning and advocacy life and made me realise that I could make a difference.
You have shown real determination to keep fit and healthy, how did you become Ambassador to 5kYourWay? Do you think we all put too much pressure on ourselves and compare ourselves to what others are achieving when it comes to exercise?
I saw a tweet about 5K Your Way and contacted the organisers to see if I could set up an event in Rickmansworth. It was as easy as that. What hasn’t been easy is actually managing to get people to come along to take part. My event has yet to really take off and I only have one or two regular participants.
I’m not sure about that. In the cancer world I think that people compare themselves to others in the context of being well enough to exercise. Some of us have recovered quicker than others and are able to do more. Others have more side effects or fatigue which is longer lasting. It can be discouraging for those who feel less able to exercise to constantly hear from others who are more able. I think that comparison is pointless but is so easy to do. I try hard not to compare myself to others but it isn’t always easy. Having a target to aim for is a much healthier way of thinking than comparing ourselves to what others are doing.
Whats the best piece of advice you've been given?
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