Sonia proudly displays her stunning tattoos, after deciding to live flat following breast cancer

When I look in the mirror I see beauty and I feel absolutely incredible

Sonia decided to live flat after her breast cancer diagnosis and took part topless in this year’s MoonWalk London.  Here’s her inspiring story:-

“My decision to have both of my mastectomies and not have reconstruction was based on getting tattoos. Now, after many hours of tattooing, when I look in the mirror I see beauty and I feel absolutely incredible!  I believe that you don’t need breasts to look stunning!

I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in July 2015. I’d found two lumps – one in my left breast and one in my armpit. I was fast-tracked to the hospital and was initially told that they didn’t think it was cancer. It was a very difficult time, as I work in the field of humanitarian aid and when I had my tests at the hospital, I was just about to return to Jordan where I was running a response into Syria. There were some issues with me leaving the country between my appointment and getting my results, but I did in the end.

I received the news that I had breast cancer, whilst I was on my own in a hotel room in Amman and that was tough. I was devastatingly lonely. I’m a single mother with three children, the youngest of whom were only 9 and 8 at the time. With my surgeon’s agreement, I actually delayed the start of my treatment for a couple of months, as I processed the news - in a way I was preparing to die. My biggest fear in life has always been early death – dying before my time and leaving my kids behind.

Sonia during chemo

My eldest daughter is grown up and she was an incredible support - I arranged for her to look after the younger two, not only so I could continue to work and support but, in the event I didn’t make it, I wanted them to be able to function without me. They had amazing support from the other parents, at the school which my youngest two attended in the UK. The parents were just unbelievable with everything they did - making lunches, arranging play dates, checking on my eldest daughter, you name it!

I had my treatment partly at home and partly in Jordan, with my eldest daughter looking after the two youngest in the UK, where they needed to be at school. Being a single mother, I had to keep working to support my children. But I also had the mind-set that if I could continue working and go through treatment, then I would survive.

Over a period of almost a year, I had six months of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, lymph node removal and then radiotherapy. Being away in Jordan for part of the time, my little kids barely even registered that I had cancer, which was exactly what I wanted and they had a ball! I did come back and see them, but I didn’t want to be around them all the time during my treatment, as the effects of chemo are such a tough thing for children to see. After all my treatment, I was eventually given the all clear.

Sonia with her family during treatment

Fast forward to 2019 and by this time I was working in Myanmar. I’d started feeling very unwell and eventually, it was confirmed that I had a serious infection around an implant in the breast where my cancer had been diagnosed. I’d had implants put in back in 2008 and there had already been a hardening around the area because of the radiotherapy, so I decided against the implant being replaced. And if the implant was simply removed, I’d have hardly any breast tissue left. My options included either a reconstruction, or a skin sparing mastectomy with implants. I decided that I actually wanted neither and went for a what’s known as an "aesthetic flat closure”, where the breast is removed and the chest is left flat.  I’ve been known to say that I’ve had every variety of boobs possible – small, large, one and none!

Shortly afterwards I had my first mastectomy tattoo done in Thailand and I loved it! It was so beautiful. I soon decided that I wanted to go totally flat and to have symmetry, but by then we were in lockdown. I eventually had my second mastectomy done around 14 months after the first.

Sonia with one breast

I continued my plan to have more tattoos in a flow from my left arm, across my chest down to my right hip. My main tattoo is of a phoenix, which was my surgeon Fiona’s idea. Soon after I had my second mastectomy, I also had a hip replacement. I was shedding body parts at a rate of knots, and joked that it was a sign of age where I replaced my hip and not my boobs! The phoenix tattoo stretches down to cover that scar as well. I also have tattoos depicting the birth flowers of all my children as well as of all the planets, as I tell my children that I love them to the universe and back. There’s another tattoo of the Acacia tree, which is the national tree of Kenya, the birth country of my two youngest children, who are adopted. The last of my tattoos was only finished at the start of 2023. 

My whole thinking about going flat after having breast cancer was based on having these wonderful tattoos done. I wanted to be able to look beautiful and I don’t think you need breasts to do that. When I look in the mirror at my tattoos, I see a stunning artwork and I think the message that it conveys is so powerful.

I think there’s a real lack of information for women when they have a mastectomy – for instance, it’s not really explained that when you have a breast reconstruction, you often won’t have any feeling in your new boob. I just believe that everyone should have the option to do what they want to do – if they want five boobs, just go for it! But you need to make sure that you have informed choices and I think that a lot of the time, women simply don’t get the information they need. And they’re certainly not offered the suggestion of going flat, like I have - either one breast or both. Personally, I hated having one boob, so removing the other one was the right decision for me.

I decided to do The MoonWalk London in May 2023, topless, to raise awareness of the option of being flat and fabulous after breast cancer. It was brilliant to see so many people come together to raise both money and awareness, and for thousands of us to be walking the streets of London through the night. A huge shout out to the absolutely amazing volunteers along the way - they really kept everyone's spirits up and were so encouraging. I finished the MoonWalk in seven hours and was so proud of myself.

I wasn’t an exhibitionist before I had breast cancer, but I think my message is so clear. You can go through cancer and come out the other side looking fantastic, whether you’ve had a reconstruction or not and going flat is an option.”

Sonia takes on The MoonWalk London 2023

Thank you for sharing your story Sonia.
Make a difference this Breast Cancer Awareness Month and sign up now for one of our 2024 MoonWalks!


Bra picture

Get involved

Here's just a few ways of supporting us!