One of the toughest challenges of being a medical reporter is persuading a patient to speak openly about a health issue. In this case, the topic was deeply personal. I was writing about women who had decided against breast reconstruction after mastectomies. They call it “going flat,” and I decided to pursue the story after seeing a video on Facebook in which two women bare their flat chests and scars after breast cancer.
What was remarkable about the reporting for this story was that every woman I interviewed was surprisingly frank about living life without breasts. Each spoke openly about how the decision changed her personally and how it had affected her most intimate relationships. Not one woman asked me to withhold her name or use only her first name, which was fortunate. Although The Times in some cases will allow a person to remain anonymous to preserve medical privacy, we do our best to avoid using anonymous sources.
But we needed photographs. Having seen a video featuring some of these women topless and showing their scars, I knew how powerful the images might be. But without a compelling reason, The Times typically would not publish a photo of a woman with a bare chest. And most women don’t want their chests photographed, fully clothed or otherwise.