It might sound frivolous -- who worries about fashion when she's fighting for her life? -- but part of the joy (and challenge) of surviving breast cancer is reaching the point where you're confident enough of your health again to start thinking about how you'll wear swimsuits or halter dresses.
"Everyone needs to reassess their personal style after breast cancer," says Mary McCabe, RN, director of the Cancer Survivorship program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
Nearly four out of every 10 Americans use some form of complementary and alternative medicine -- CAM -- to address a concern with their health. When megadose vitamins and healing prayer are included, the number jumps to more than six out of every 10. Is it possible that some form of CAM can be beneficial in the treatment of breast cancer? For example, what about acupuncture or tai chi? Can they add anything as a supplement to standard medical care?
For Jami Bernard, a New York film critic who battled breast cancer in 1996, an essential part of surviving breast cancer was learning to feel more comfortable with her body, and how it looked in clothing like swimsuits, lingerie, and short-sleeved shirts.
"It takes awhile to get used to the fact that your body looks different, and adjust to the fear that other people will find it offensive or weird-looking," she says. "I remember seeing a woman one summer who was wearing a very low-cut top, and I could see the top end of her surgical scar. I was so excited to see someone else who had a scar!"
Remember, says Bernard, the U.S. has an aging population, and more and more surgical options for treatment of various conditions. "More and more people will have scars. I'm not a 20-year-old bathing beauty, and it's not like I have to compare my body to others," she says. "I've seen other people with scars, and I feel heartened to see that they're not ashamed of them."
Bras: Choose from Lacy, Demure and Sporty
If you choose not to have reconstruction after a mastectomy and still want sexy lingerie options, you're in luck. We've come a long way from the days when mastectomy bras all looked like something even your great-grandmother would have found too clunky. Victoria's Secret hasn't jumped on the trend yet (are you listening?), but other lingerie manufacturers, including Playtex, Jodee, and Amoena, sell mastectomy bras of all kinds: plunging, lacy, demure, sporty.
Your local department store might not carry them, so look for a specialty shop, possibly in the medical center where you were treated. You can also order online at shops like Nicola Jane (www.nicolajane.com). If you want even more variety, some department stores, notably Nordstrom's, will often add prosthesis pockets at little or no charge to any bra it sells.