When Sahar Paz, 43, found a chickpea-size lump in her right breast in April 2021, she didn’t know she’d have to wait until September to be diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, which had spread to her lymph nodes. This was due to what she describes as a dizzyingly challenging healthcare journey, including switching health insurance plans three times.
“My first biopsy was poorly done — it was a liquid biopsy instead of a tissue biopsy — and my diagnosis then was stage 1B breast cancer,” she says. “Six months later the tumor had grown and spread.”
Since then, Paz, the CEO of Own Your Voice, a healthcare innovation consulting firm, and a Harvard-certified emotional intelligence expert, has been on a mission to transform the cancer patient journey in healthcare. She currently speaks with clinicians, hospitals, and healthcare facilities, helping them understand the importance of emotional intelligence and using intentional language to cultivate trust in patient care.
Taking the Road Less Traveled
Paz’s decision to forego breast reconstruction and “go flat,” wasn’t a quick one. “My current surgeon urged me to take my time to make the decision, and I did, going flat one breast at a time, with eight months in between each surgery,” she explains.
The more she learned about breast reconstruction — that she would have to either get breast implants or move fat from her stomach to her breasts — the less she wanted “to go in that direction,” says Paz, who is a CHEK2 gene mutation carrier, which increases your risk of getting breast cancer by up to threefold.
Instead, Paz opted for a partial mastectomy.
During that procedure, her surgeon removed her right breast, and she requested that it be donated to science, to help further breast cancer research in women of color.
She then underwent 16 rounds of chemotherapy with three different types of chemotherapy (paclitaxel, doxorubicin, and cyclophosphamide) and eight weeks of intensive five-day-a-week radiation.
“Supporting clinical trial research is very important to me because there’s not enough diversity in the research,” says Paz, who plans to have her left breast removed in December and continues to have her health monitored via two breast MRIs a year and an annual mammogram. “I know I can help other women especially because I’m donating one diseased breast and one non-diseased breast, and it’s important to have that control tissue.”
As for her decision to go flat, she says the response from others has been mixed.
“A lot of women are curious and tell me I’m so brave,” she says. But for Paz, the decision was easy: She didn’t want to put her body through any more trauma.
As for her close friends and family, reactions have also run the gamut.
“Folks in my family working in healthcare totally get it and are on board,” she says. “Other people have a hard time. Instead of saying how brave and courageous I am, they say things like, ‘You can always reconstruct later’ or ‘Maybe you’ll meet someone and you’ll decide together.’”
Destigmatizing going flat is a key part of Paz’s mission in helping people with breast cancer find ways to acclimate to their new bodies. One way she does this is by offering targeted fashion advice.
“I want women to dress for their new bodies and feel good about themselves,” she says. “That feels like one of the best ways I can help others!”
Paz’s 4 Quick Tips on Adjusting to Your Body — and Wardrobe
Ask Paz and she’ll tell you that breast surgery is an ideal moment to take a closer look at your body as well as the clothes in your closet. Paz urges women to take time to adjust to the changes a mastectomy can bring, whether you opt to reconstruct or not.
Feel Your Chest
To truly get familiar with your new chest, she recommends touching it. “Feeling your chest is about using your senses to accept your new shape, flat or reconstructed breasts,” she says. “It’s about mourning and the healing process.”
Find Fun Ways to Dress Your New Body
After a mastectomy, your body is going to look (and feel) different. “Trying to fit into your old clothes is a constant reminder of life precancer,” says Paz. “It's time to move forward, and there’s nothing like letting go of clothes and refreshing your wardrobe to help you do that.”
She recommends finding a local stylist to work with. “It may feel like a luxury to get this kind of service for yourself, especially if fashion is not something you're passionate about, but now is the time to do things for yourself you would have never done before.”
When Shopping for Shirts, Stay Away From Darts
If you opt not to reconstruct, finding the right shirt matters. So, when you look for tops, avoid certain structural elements that may not be flattering, Paz says. “I stayed away from tops that have darts — the diagonal seam that comes from the armpit area towards the chest — this makes room for your breasts and requires you to wear a bra.”
Sell Your Old Wardrobe
Instead of staring at a closet full of clothes, particularly tops, that you don’t intend to wear anymore, consider consigning them. “Some of my favorite consignment shops online include Poshmark, DePop, and ThredUp,” Paz says. “Or you can go local and consign at retail stores like Plato’s Closet or Buffalo Exchange.”