Fashion, Style, Mastectomy, Breast Prosthesis!!

Treatment for breast cancer often leads to removal of tissue from the breast area. This may lead to scarring, change in the breast size and even torso asymmetry. Altered body image may be a cause of worry and anxiety. It may also cause depression in some patients. For some patients and survivors the fear may increase manifold while going out to shop for clothes. In this article we discuss a few tips that can help you buying right and dressing smarter.

Yes, you’re a survivor. You have survived breast cancer and now are in a hurry to get everything back to normal. One important aspect in this direction is ‘dressing’. While some patients opt for reconstructive surgery the others may opt to wear prosthesis for reasons best known to them. For women who wear prosthesis the day itself does not start normal. Carrying that extra weight around is not something normal. The worst thing is that you are uncomfortable with the prosthesis both ways. If you wear it intrudes your natural self and if you do not wear it, it again intrudes with your natural self.

Another dilemma that you are faced with is deciding what to wear for the day? for the office? for a party? or even a function?  There is a close connection between clothing and the level of confidence a woman may feel. Prosthesis tends to alter your fashion sense into wearing clothes that camouflage the asymmetries. Women tend to opt for high necklines and loose tops which may affect their self confidence.

A hard fact of or lives is that we pay too much attention to how a person looks and how he or she dresses up. One thing that my experience with cancer has changed in me is I have stopped judging people for what they are at the physical level. Long hair, short hair, no hair doesn’t really matter much now. My normal thought process on observing something different about other person’s look is ‘I have no idea what he or she is going through so just move on’.

Most of the days you feel normal and at times even tend to forget that you wear a prosthesis! A situation that you may be faced is that when you bend down you may end up showing much more than what a person would be comfortable seeing. The prosthesis may just weigh down or the beige covering of the prosthesis may just become visible for any other reason. Essentially, you should be least bothered about the other person but the truth is that there may be days when it may just eat into your confidence making you feel low or depressed.

The truth of the matter is that survivors often find it to be a challenge to look for affordable, comfortable clothing that appeals their aesthetics without compromising on their attractiveness and self esteem.  (While writing the last line I suddenly felt that I am asking for too much)

I have a principle when it comes to buying and wearing clothes which is more than useful for me now. I expect my clothes to enhance my personality and body image and not eat into it. Any garment that does the opposite for me does not deserve to be in my wardrobe.  I have only two options – a) Throw it out or b) experiment with it!

I cannot say that I do not end up making wrong choices when it comes to buying new garments but then I did that earlier also, so I don’t feel the need to be too harsh with

  • Opt for a layered look. Try some lacy camisoles. A camisole in a contrast shade can do wonders to your dress. Shrugs that can be knotted in the front or the back can also add a charm to how you dress up.
  • Avoid plunging necklines. Try some band galas and collared tops to compensate for not being able to wear a deep neckline. Halter neck clothing as such available in the market may not be best suited for you for the scar often extends beyond the cut in the garment. You could also compensate by having a deeper cut back rather than a deep cut neckline.
  • In your initial days after treatment, you may have gained some weight and as time passes and you come back into shape all the weight shedding may result in even normal necklines to look plunging. This is something that I encountered. Try and get hooks on the shoulders for holding the top with your brassiere strap. This can avoid a number of your favorite attires from going waste. I have saved quite a few of my tops this way.
  • While trying clothes at the store check for fitting of the arms carefully. Some of us may complain of lymphoedema resulting in one arm being swelled or a little bigger in size. The best is to keep a margin for days when size of the arms is not going to be identical or at least have a few tops to see you through those days.
  • Give yourself a thorough check when you buy a new garment. Stand in front of a body size mirror, bend and try and pick something from the floor. This can be the ultimate test to which a garment can be put by a woman wearing prosthesis.
  • Avoid an underwire for the simple reason that the area that has been operated losses sensation. An underwire could pinch you and even result in injury.
  • Use scarves, necklaces and other accessories. This can help pep up your dressing and look smart.

I am sure you feel like asking doesn’t all this bother me? Don’t I feel hurt when I try a piece of garment and realize that the neckline may show my scars away. Well, to begin with my scars are not an issue with me. The long lateral cut and the two small ones (where the waste pipes were inserted) do not bother me. My silicon does not really bother me except in early mornings and late evenings for wearing it the moment I get up and carrying it on well into the night irritates me. There may be days when I may feel bad for not being able to wear a particular garment but the feeling does not last too long. What bothers me is that there are no clothesline that offers sufficient and smart options for mastectomy patients and survivors! The same holds true for undergarments and sleepwear also. We still have a long way to go in this direction at least in India.

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A point of optimism is that in India where we are as comfortable in western wear as in our own dresses like sarees and suits. Indo Western, the new creed of fashion further allows one to experiment. So go ahead and do that!

Just relax and give yourselves a smile. It is just about changing your perception on body image that has been ingrained in you over adownload (1) lifetime. Do not expect your mind frame to change overnight. It is all about accepting a new reality and devising ways around it. Some links that help anyone feel better:

Smile at your scars and they will not intimidate you!

Note: In case any of the readers are aware of fitters, designers, clothesline for breast cancer survivors please share feel free to share on this forum.

  • meetunayyar-photo
  • meetunayyar
  • A lawyer by profession, social worker and a fighter against cancer