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.
When you're first diagnosed with breast cancer, all you can
think about is "Am I going to die?" But as you begin to learn to live
with your cancer diagnosis, you start to think about other
things, like "What am I going to look like bald?" It may sound
frivolous, but ask any breast cancer survivor and she'll tell you that she
thought a lot about whether to splurge on that real human hair wig or
what she'd look like in a swimsuit.
Feeling good about how you look is an important part of feeling...
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,
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.
Your doctor may have advised you to avoid underwire bras, especially if
you've had lymph nodes removed. (A protruding wire could easily jab you in an
area that's lost some sensation after surgery, cutting your skin and leaving
you open to infection.) For large-breasted women, that can pose a problem.
"My doctors told me not to wear an underwire, since I have no feeling
where I had my lumpectomy," says Bernard. "So for the longest time, I
never wore underwires, and it wasn't the most flattering look." Then a
friend found an underwire bra at a maternity store. "It has a very short
wire, and it's never going to poke out or up in the wrong place. So there are
some styles that you can wear, and you may be able to find them at a maternity