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.
A mastectomy is surgery to remove a breast. In the past, a radical mastectomy with complete removal of the breast was the standard treatment for breast cancer. However, surgical breakthroughs over the past two decades have given women more options than ever before. Less invasive breast-conserving therapy may be equally effective as mastectomy for treating breast cancer for some women.
The type of mastectomy and treatment for breast cancer depends on several key factors, including:
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.