Post Mastectomy Clothing
Thinking about clothing post mastectomy, women think first about bras and, if needed, prostheses. Women wo have reconstruction have issues in the beginning because of drains and discomfort and surgical scars. After some weeks of wearing loose button down the front clothes, however, they usually can wear pretty much whatever they want. Women who opt for no reconstruction have more limits, and it is likely that some clothes hanging in the closet will never be worn again. I never wore low cut tops, but, post mastectomy, a number of shirts and a couple of dresses had to be given away. The area immediately above the now missing breast is a bit concave, and, when one leans forward, some clothes fall away from the torso and provide a view of a prosthesis or, at least, a very different looking front.
Although I have written about this topic before, it keeps coming up in conversations with women in my office and in this online group. Therefore, it seems worth repeating some of this information. In a recent meeting of my support group for newly diagnosed women, we talked about the various kinds of breast prostheses that are available for women post mastectomy. The shared opinion was that there is no single kind of prosthesis that is universally best. Different women are happiest with different choices, and it is smart to explore the options before making a decision. It is very important to meet with a trained fitter who can help you find the prosthesis and bras that are most comfortable and look best for you. Many insurances cover the cost of a prosthesis(one--or two for women who have bilateral mastectomies--after surgery and replacements "as medically necessary") and several bras each year--who knew that it was possible to have your medical insurance company pay for your lingerie! You will need a prescription from your doctor, but the store is likely to be able to bill your insurance directly. If you have insurance that does not cover a prosthesis, ask at the store if there are funds available to help with the cost. Ask also at your doctor's office; an oncology social worker or oncology nurse is likely to be helpful with this issue.
At the group, we also shared tips about comfort and clothes in general, and I thought some of these ideas might be helpful to a larger group.
Most women do not experience a lot of post mastectomy pain, but it can be difficult to find clothing to handle the drains and that feel soft against your skin. Immediately after your surgery, you may be most comfortable wearing a soft cotton camisole. There are special camisoles that include a removable pocket for any surgical drains. They also have built in bras (like those in some bathing suits) that can hold a cotton puff. The wonderful website, www.breastfree.org, has a good discussion of some camisole choices.
For showering: find an old cotton bathrobe belt or some other belt/strip of cloth that can get wet without damage. Pin the drains to this belt while you shower; this frees up both your hands and arms for the soap and shampoo.
You likely will also find the right pillows a big help in the first days after surgery. First, you need a small baby-size pillow to use in the car going home. Position the small cushion between your chest and the shoulder seatbelt; you may want to keep using this for some time. Secondly, some women find it uncomfortable to lie flat to sleep after a mastectomy. If so, putting a large wedge pillow under your shoulders will help alot. It may also help to put a regular pillow under your knees. Experiment.
Finally, all women, regardless of a reconstruction choice,may be limited in fashion choices for the first days. Lifting your arms over your head is difficult, so you will want loose fitting shirts that button down the front. Borrow some from your husband or brother. If you need to be out in public and look more tidy, you may feel presentable in a vest over your shirt. Consider the look of a shawl or pashmina.
Most women are ready for a breast prosthesis approximately one month after mastectomy. Again, the website, breastfree.org, has a wealth of information about all the choices.
You may choose not to wear prosthesis at all. Wearing loose sweaters, jackets, or scarves draped around your neck and shoulders can disguise a flat chest. Some women feel comfortable not wearing a bra and not trying to cover their loss. This can work especially well if you had bilateral mastectomies. Women who have had bilateral mastectomies sometimes find they are most comfortable in air or water bras from Victoria's Secret.
If you don't like how your scar looks, consider covering it with a temporary tattoo. Temporary tattos are widely available on line; type the words into your search engine. You are looking for the long rectangular tattoos that are intended to wrap around arms or legs. These generally last about two weeks, but can be washed off with baby oil at any time. You can buy them for pennies per tattoo and change your look as often as you wish.
Some women eventually have permanant tattoos on their chest. If this is your choice, you need to wait until your scar is completely healed. Although you have little or no sensation on your chest wall, you need to choose the tattoo artist carefully. Look for someone with experience with "medical tattoos." Surprising as this sounds, a plastic surgeon who does breast reconstruction may be able to refer you to a competent person. Women who opt for reconstruction usually have a nipple constructed eventually and have that tissue tattooed. The plastic surgeons can do this and sometimes make referrals.