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Flat: Reclaiming My Body from Breast Cancer

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A feminist breast cancer memoir of medical trauma, love, and how she found the strength to listen to her body. As a young, queer woman, Catherine Guthrie had worked hard to feel at home in her body. However, after years writing about women's health and breast cancer, Guthrie is thrust into the role of the patient after a devastating diagnosis at age thirty-eight. At least, A feminist breast cancer memoir of medical trauma, love, and how she found the strength to listen to her body. As a young, queer woman, Catherine Guthrie had worked hard to feel at home in her body. However, after years writing about women's health and breast cancer, Guthrie is thrust into the role of the patient after a devastating diagnosis at age thirty-eight. At least, she thinks, I know what I'm up against. She was wrong. In one horrifying moment after another, everything that could go wrong does--the surgeon gives her a double mastectomy but misses the cancerous lump, one of the most effective drug treatments fails, and a doctor's error may have unleashed millions of breast cancer cells into her body. Flat is Guthrie's story of how two bouts of breast cancer shook her faith in her body, her relationship, and medicine. Along the way, she challenges the view that breasts are essential to femininity and paramount to a woman's happiness. Ultimately, she traces an intimate portrayal of how cancer reshapes her relationship with Mary, her partner, revealing--in the midst of crisis--a love story. Filled with candor, vulnerability, and resilience, Guthrie upends the "pink ribbon" narrative and offers a unique perspective on womanhood, what it means to be "whole," and the importance of women advocating for their desires. Flat is a story about how she found the strength to forge an unconventional path--one of listening to her body--that she'd been on all along.


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A feminist breast cancer memoir of medical trauma, love, and how she found the strength to listen to her body. As a young, queer woman, Catherine Guthrie had worked hard to feel at home in her body. However, after years writing about women's health and breast cancer, Guthrie is thrust into the role of the patient after a devastating diagnosis at age thirty-eight. At least, A feminist breast cancer memoir of medical trauma, love, and how she found the strength to listen to her body. As a young, queer woman, Catherine Guthrie had worked hard to feel at home in her body. However, after years writing about women's health and breast cancer, Guthrie is thrust into the role of the patient after a devastating diagnosis at age thirty-eight. At least, she thinks, I know what I'm up against. She was wrong. In one horrifying moment after another, everything that could go wrong does--the surgeon gives her a double mastectomy but misses the cancerous lump, one of the most effective drug treatments fails, and a doctor's error may have unleashed millions of breast cancer cells into her body. Flat is Guthrie's story of how two bouts of breast cancer shook her faith in her body, her relationship, and medicine. Along the way, she challenges the view that breasts are essential to femininity and paramount to a woman's happiness. Ultimately, she traces an intimate portrayal of how cancer reshapes her relationship with Mary, her partner, revealing--in the midst of crisis--a love story. Filled with candor, vulnerability, and resilience, Guthrie upends the "pink ribbon" narrative and offers a unique perspective on womanhood, what it means to be "whole," and the importance of women advocating for their desires. Flat is a story about how she found the strength to forge an unconventional path--one of listening to her body--that she'd been on all along.

30 review for Flat: Reclaiming My Body from Breast Cancer

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    This book is a must for anyone who has dealt with a life threatening illness. Guthrie, a nationally known health journalist writes about the topic of breast cancer in a way rarely addressed. The book is honest, non "pinkified" raw, and just beautifully written with a voice and story I did not want to part with when I finished the book. Guthrie also talks about reconstruction and her own decision to stay "flat". To my surprise, this decision is not as rare as one might think based on how little i This book is a must for anyone who has dealt with a life threatening illness. Guthrie, a nationally known health journalist writes about the topic of breast cancer in a way rarely addressed. The book is honest, non "pinkified" raw, and just beautifully written with a voice and story I did not want to part with when I finished the book. Guthrie also talks about reconstruction and her own decision to stay "flat". To my surprise, this decision is not as rare as one might think based on how little it is talked about. I loved this book and was moved by it in so many ways-- an essential read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Roach

    Catherine Guthrie's FLAT invites us, not only into the intimate space of illness and the journey of her breast cancer experience, but also into her relationships with her partner, her family and her body. We get to see how she learned to love the skin she lives in and how meeting a woman—a community of women—in San Francisco helped her to regard the female form as sacred, sensual, strong. Then we get to see how the medical field views the female body and how, in many cases, it fails to see the i Catherine Guthrie's FLAT invites us, not only into the intimate space of illness and the journey of her breast cancer experience, but also into her relationships with her partner, her family and her body. We get to see how she learned to love the skin she lives in and how meeting a woman—a community of women—in San Francisco helped her to regard the female form as sacred, sensual, strong. Then we get to see how the medical field views the female body and how, in many cases, it fails to see the individual human behind the curved parts of us thought to makes us whole people. FLAT is honest, eye-opening and beautifully written. It's also intelligent and has the humor of a survivor who is also a health journalist with insight into a world that most of us don’t. Catherine's humor is earned, she gets to laugh, she’s alive. This is her story to tell. And she tells it with admirable grace. In reading FLAT, I also thought that this is a book that should be taught in all memoir programs. It’s a teaching book in so many ways. The straightforward and insightful writing is a lesson in craft that many students of the genre would find helpful Everyone should read FLAT.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kristen Paulson

    One of the parts of this book that really stuck with me was the way the character figured she was safe from breast cancer by following a healthy lifestyle. This point of view was quite poignant and made me think about my relationship to my health, mortality, and body. A green smoothie won't save us--but read this book. It provides a real, compassionate, and very funny account of relationships--to a body and a partner and an illness, and a dog that I felt lucky to have shared by reading.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rae

    Check out this review and others on my blog: https://thriftybibliophile.com FLAT by Catherine Guthrie is a stunningly raw cancer memoir. When Guthrie is diagnosed with cancer in her late-30s, she has a tough decision to make. Does she do reconstruction? Go flat? Use prosthetic breasts? In the end, she decides to go flat. This memoir shares her story--her cancer journey--and how cancer affected her relationships, self-image, and her faith in the medical system.  Cancer memoirs are always hard to re Check out this review and others on my blog: https://thriftybibliophile.com FLAT by Catherine Guthrie is a stunningly raw cancer memoir. When Guthrie is diagnosed with cancer in her late-30s, she has a tough decision to make. Does she do reconstruction? Go flat? Use prosthetic breasts? In the end, she decides to go flat. This memoir shares her story--her cancer journey--and how cancer affected her relationships, self-image, and her faith in the medical system.  Cancer memoirs are always hard to read, and I've read several. On one hand, I always feel like a voyeur, viewing the grimness of someone else's life through my healthy, rose-tinted glasses. On the other hand, cancer runs rampant in my family, so it's only a matter of time before it hits closer to home than extended relatives. I'm in my early 30s, and I've had two mammograms and two ultrasounds to check out suspect lumps. While both lumps have been negative, I understand the fear and panic of the not knowing--the ultimate question of, is this lump benign, or is trying to kill me?  FLAT was a wonderful memoir--beautifully written and easily read in a single sitting. It's raw, real, and hides nothing. Guthrie leaves herself bare as she discusses how cancer made her feel during those first days, the missed lump, and the physician's critical mistake. Her cancer journey was not short, and she actively battled the disease for over two years. With those years behind her, she continues lives in wait, not knowing if cancer will make a reappearance or if it's gone forever.  Throughout her journey, her partner, Mary, was by her side. Mary is the partner everyone could hope to have in a life or death situation. She's calm, patient, and unfailing in her love and support as Guthrie made peace with her diagnosis. I fell in love with their love story as I read this memoir.  What I liked best about this memoir is that it showed the good and bad. Guthrie did not sugar coat anything, and shared the range of emotions she experienced during those early days. Depression, joy, heart-ache, hope--all of those emotions radiated from the pages as I read.  While this book wouldn't appeal to everyone, if you enjoy memoirs, I highly recommend you check this book out! Thank you to NetGalley for providing the Kindle version of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Jansen

    Not personally one for fiction, upon arrival at any bookstore, I move strait to the Autobiography/Memoir section where I now hope to find, sitting proudly on a shelf with its entire face forward, FLAT by Catherine Guthrie. At first glance I was put off by the subtitle explaining this book’s subject is breast cancer. Although FLAT evolves around Catherine Guthrie’s diagnosis and cancer treatment, this book is about so much more. Within reading the first few pages I felt like I had crept down the ha Not personally one for fiction, upon arrival at any bookstore, I move strait to the Autobiography/Memoir section where I now hope to find, sitting proudly on a shelf with its entire face forward, FLAT by Catherine Guthrie. At first glance I was put off by the subtitle explaining this book’s subject is breast cancer. Although FLAT evolves around Catherine Guthrie’s diagnosis and cancer treatment, this book is about so much more. Within reading the first few pages I felt like I had crept down the hall, slowly opened the door and walked in on a couple’s most beautifully intimate relationship. Feeling like an intruder but not wanting to leave, I got so comfortable that I found myself over-and-over in this couples life. I sat with them in the car and on the sofa in the living room and didn’t want to leave. The star of this book (and whom you find it is dedicated to) is Catherine’s partner, Mary. What a wonderful love story. You begin to see that the details of their lives play out as “relationship goals”. Frankly, everyone needs a Mary. If there is any lesson besides having someone on your side through a difficult illness, it is, regardless of the doctor you are dealing with, be your own medical advocate. From the beginning right to the end you are forever grateful to have been allowed this little slice of who they are. During the beginning of the book, the author outlines her frustrations of being a health and wellness journalist, unable to fulfill her goal of writing meaningful medical content that would some day change people’s lives. Is it ironic that she ends up suffering the fate of those she wishes to help educate? One is left to wonder if perhaps the patronizing words “meant to be” are coming into play. Truth be told, Catherine’s journalism in several magazines since her diagnosis have done just that. I had personally happened upon one such article that changed the course of my own medical decisions (hence being one of a handful of people who got a publisher’s copy of FLAT). If there were a book that anyone dealing with breast cancer (patients, doctors, nurses and medical workers) were encouraged to read, I would beg FLAT to be mandatory. Catherine's book relays all that is so misunderstood on what “breasts” mean to the person suffering from this disease. As someone who has had breast cancer, I felt I understood myself even more after reading it. In the last several years, “going flat,” bucking the norms of reconstruction and the wearing of bras with prosthesis after mastectomy, has become a slow but growing movement in the breast cancer community. For every such movement there is a book that tends to personify and encompass the feelings of many. I don’t think I am making an overstatement that FLAT may be this movement’s book. Can I even be as bold to say it may be seen as its bible? Yes, I believe so! For all those women who are taking strides in paving the way for the next generation of breast cancer survivors who are reclaiming there bodies, I see at the forefront Catherine Guthrie with her book FLAT held high. Let this be more than just a book. FLAT is her battle cry!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jeannette

    A disclaimer: I've had dinner with Catherine a few times when we both lived in Indiana. We're both health writers and are friends on Facebook. Even before meeting Catherine in person, I always thought highly of the way she made complex medical stories easy to understand and read. By definition, reading someone's memoir is a voyeuristic endeavor. I think Flat is the first memoir I've read where I knew the author, so it felt even more like an intimate peek into Catherine's world. Not surprisingly, A disclaimer: I've had dinner with Catherine a few times when we both lived in Indiana. We're both health writers and are friends on Facebook. Even before meeting Catherine in person, I always thought highly of the way she made complex medical stories easy to understand and read. By definition, reading someone's memoir is a voyeuristic endeavor. I think Flat is the first memoir I've read where I knew the author, so it felt even more like an intimate peek into Catherine's world. Not surprisingly, she writes about her personal life with the same eloquence and gift for language that I've always found so admirable in her other writings. Having been to Bloomington several times (where Catherine and Mary lived during Catherine's diagnosis and treatment time), I thought she did a great job describing the city, the university and the people who live there. She also captures what it's like being a queer couple living in the Bible belt (and I thought it was hard living there as an atheist). She's very candid about how her cancer diagnosis (and the problems following treatment -- being vague here so there are no spoilers) permeate every aspect of her life. This is a powerfully well-told story.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amanda (Books, Life and Everything Nice)

    Thank you to NetGalley, Skyhorse Publishing and Catherine Guthrie for an ARC ebook copy for review. As always, an honest review from me. My honest to goodness first thoughts were something along the lines of, well this will be a depressing read. And in some ways it is. Cancer sucks. But the book is also educating, validating, inspiring, harrowing, and thought provoking. The intersection of medicine, feminism, and the LGBTQIA+ community is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Her story fills a g Thank you to NetGalley, Skyhorse Publishing and Catherine Guthrie for an ARC ebook copy for review. As always, an honest review from me. My honest to goodness first thoughts were something along the lines of, well this will be a depressing read. And in some ways it is. Cancer sucks. But the book is also educating, validating, inspiring, harrowing, and thought provoking. The intersection of medicine, feminism, and the LGBTQIA+ community is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Her story fills a gap of information and experiences that’s not discussed in the world of pink on pink on pink of breast cancer. Flat gives a voice to women who choose not to have reconstructive breast surgery after a mastectomy. At first thought it seems like such a radical idea, but after reading I’ve become so much more educated the autonomy that women should have over their own bodies, especially when dealing with a health crisis. The story is not a happily ever after fluffy feel good Lifetime movie nor is it so utterly depressing, but a real life look at living with cancer and fighting for your life and happiness. As I’m writing this I cannot think of anything negative to say about the book, so I’m bumping up the star rating to a 5. While it’s a bit of a heavy topic, do yourself a favor and read the book. The discussions about health, feminism, the medical world, relationships, chronic illness and body autonomy are fascinating, necessary and impactful.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Renee

    Five stars are not enough for this book! This is a profoundly moving and honest exploration of the journey from breast cancer diagnosis through mastectomy, treatment, and finding a new "normal" while navigating the ever-present possibility of recurrence. In many respects, Guthrie's memoir echoes my own experiences and the profound cultural pressure to be a chipper, positive, pink breast cancer patient and survivor, the paternalism (patriarchy) of many in the medical community who treat breast ca Five stars are not enough for this book! This is a profoundly moving and honest exploration of the journey from breast cancer diagnosis through mastectomy, treatment, and finding a new "normal" while navigating the ever-present possibility of recurrence. In many respects, Guthrie's memoir echoes my own experiences and the profound cultural pressure to be a chipper, positive, pink breast cancer patient and survivor, the paternalism (patriarchy) of many in the medical community who treat breast cancer patients, and the assumption that women of course would choose to reconstruct post mastectomy to return their body to "normal" - meaning conforming to socially constructed norms of femininity that do not challenge the primacy of the male gaze. Guthrie has written the book that so many of us, including Guthrie herself, needed when we made the decision to live flat and reject the cultural pressures that reduce women to body parts, that treats us as children who can not be trusted to listen to or understand their own bodies.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Cassandra

    The truth about cancer As a relatively new cancer patient and "flattie" I loved this book. It was relatable and honest, but still carried the thread of hope that is within all of us.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Carroll Sandel

    This is a cautionary tale for all women about the mine field one navigates when dealing with breast cancer. Catherine Guthrie has written an open, brave memoir about her treacherous journey through her treatment, marred by multiple medical mistakes. She shares her losses, her battles with fatigue and depression in a direct, yet riveting voice. Every woman should read this book and should give it to all the very special people who care deeply about her.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Marika

    Author Catherine Guthrie holds nothing back in this memoir of breast cancer. She asks the questions that women often think about, but are too shy to ask. Do you have to have breast reconstruction? What happens if you don't. But don't be fooled by the medical jargon, this is at its heart, a love story. I read an advance copy and was not compensated.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Janice Morgan

    When Guthrie recently read a passage from her new book FLAT, her mainly female audience listened as if spellbound. Regardless of our age or circumstances, we’re all in the same boat when it comes to the fear of losing part of our bodies to breast cancer. FLAT will change your outlook on the medical establishment; it will make you think—and not only about cancer and breast reconstruction issues. How do you want to experience and live in your body? How important are breasts to your feminine identi When Guthrie recently read a passage from her new book FLAT, her mainly female audience listened as if spellbound. Regardless of our age or circumstances, we’re all in the same boat when it comes to the fear of losing part of our bodies to breast cancer. FLAT will change your outlook on the medical establishment; it will make you think—and not only about cancer and breast reconstruction issues. How do you want to experience and live in your body? How important are breasts to your feminine identity? To your partner? What is your past medical history? What kind of physical and emotional support will you need to ask for—and offer yourself—should you ever be in the predicament Guthrie tells us about? The narrator happens to be the femme element in a lesbian relationship, but the questions she asks herself and her partner Mary are important to all of us. The topic is riveting, and so is the writing. There are many doctor’s room visits in the book, and each one of them is told in a dynamic way that makes me feel I’m right there in the room with the narrator. Guthrie captures the complex, visceral tensions—not to mention random absurdities—a person feels under the professional gaze of an examining physician, especially if we already suspect something is wrong. Like other readers, I enjoy the way the narrator widens the optic by weaving into her story how she slowly discovered her sexual identity, cultivated her own sense of style, and found a partner. She also evokes the specific places and cultural atmospheres that allowed her to flourish at different stages of her life. We get to see how all these interwoven elements inform her response to illness and her renewed pursuit of health. Throughout her harrowing saga, the author underscores the fact that the knowledge medical personnel bring to bear is NOT the same as the knowledge we each have of our own bodies. As Guthrie reminds us, bodies are our primary residences. We live in them every day, whereas doctors only look on for a few minutes or a couple of hours. I can only hope this book will be a game changer in the breast cancer treatment arena. Women need more straightforward information and more options.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Susan Bailey

    Catherine Guthrie’s memoir, Flat: Reclaiming My Body From Breast Cancer may not appear to be a book for everyone, but it is. Yes, it’s a book on breast cancer. But it is also a book about learning to deal with uncertainty and live with joy. The particulars of Guthrie’s story include an unexpected, life threatening diagnosis of breast cancer in her thirties, her search for the best surgeons and treatments, and subsequent serious surgical errors by not one, but two well-trained specialists. Guthr Catherine Guthrie’s memoir, Flat: Reclaiming My Body From Breast Cancer may not appear to be a book for everyone, but it is. Yes, it’s a book on breast cancer. But it is also a book about learning to deal with uncertainty and live with joy. The particulars of Guthrie’s story include an unexpected, life threatening diagnosis of breast cancer in her thirties, her search for the best surgeons and treatments, and subsequent serious surgical errors by not one, but two well-trained specialists. Guthrie is a respected journalist specializing in women’s health. She presents hard facts without deceptive soft edges. Her story blends information breast cancer patients and those care for and love them need, with a generous and intimate look at her relationships with her body and her partner Mary. Mary is by her side every step of the way through decisions to elect a double mastectomy, forego reconstructive procedures, and live in a strong “flat” body. By coupling health uncertainties that will remain with her forever and the growth of her loving relationship with Mary, Guthrie leads readers along a path toward the triumph of hope and courage. Read this book. It has important lessons to share.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Elaine Webster

    I was atttracted to this topic not because I have breast cancer, but because I regularly deal with the medical profession and its many challenges. (I wrote a similar book, from a caretaker's view, about my husband's heart condition and surgery.) Now, as I age, I also have doctor and specialists handling several nervous system challenges that have no known cure and sketchy treatments. I have learned that women's medicine is often a mystery, while men's medicine (especially heart surgery) comes wi I was atttracted to this topic not because I have breast cancer, but because I regularly deal with the medical profession and its many challenges. (I wrote a similar book, from a caretaker's view, about my husband's heart condition and surgery.) Now, as I age, I also have doctor and specialists handling several nervous system challenges that have no known cure and sketchy treatments. I have learned that women's medicine is often a mystery, while men's medicine (especially heart surgery) comes with thoroughly tested and understood procedures. Ms. Guthrie has written not only about her personal experience with a double masectomy but about how women are handled when faced with difficult choices. I highly recommend this book for women faced with any medical condition and especially breast cancer.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kim Kelleher

    I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2018, had a single mastectomy in September and am currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment. This book was un-put-downable even though very difficult to read at times because the author's experiences were so harrowing at times. It certainly made me feel that what would have seemed insurmountable in the past is actually survivable and there can be real light at the end of the tunnel. I am so happy she wrote this book and that I found it, both from th I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2018, had a single mastectomy in September and am currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment. This book was un-put-downable even though very difficult to read at times because the author's experiences were so harrowing at times. It certainly made me feel that what would have seemed insurmountable in the past is actually survivable and there can be real light at the end of the tunnel. I am so happy she wrote this book and that I found it, both from the perspective of living with cancer and treatment but also from someone that, like me, chose to not go through reconstruction.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn Redman

    Literally just finished reading FLAT: A Memoir Reclaiming My Body From Breast Cancer by Catherine Guthrie. I am in awe of her vulnerability and grateful for her courage to tell the truth about breast cancer and its treatment. As if that weren’t enough, she challenges the fallible medical community and redefines femininity with nary a pink ribbon in sight. Adding this one to my permanent collection.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Keller

    I recognized so many moments from my own journey with breast cancer in Guthrie’s words! I highly recommend this book to anyone traveling this path and to the people who love them! May we all find a home in ourselves!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Glennie

    Fantastic, moving book. I cried in places. Catherine really gave us an inside look at her trip thru Cancerland. Brutally honest. For anyone caring for someone with cancer, this is a highly recommended read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robin Tzucker

    Mesmerizing always, terrifying at times, and filled with love throughout. Cancer still seems like such a forbidden subject in many ways, so reading this was like reading someone's diary, with all her hopes and fears laid bare. Beautifully written and impossible to put down.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mike Sinert

    I’ve been severely ill myself. I know the scary feeling of ceding control to doctors you are supposed to trust, and the sinking heart feeling when they make mistakes or let you down. Catherine Guthrie captures this intensity in FLAT. She also brings you into the world of breast cancer, and breast cancer recovery, from a different perspective. Her writing is powerful and captivating. This is a story worth reading.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Stacy

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sylvia

  23. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marguerite Rauch

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

  26. 4 out of 5

    E Dolores

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  28. 4 out of 5

    Linda Phillips

  29. 5 out of 5

    Carol Kulczyk

  30. 4 out of 5

    Catherine O’Neill

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