Are post-mastectomy fashion choices frustrating you?
Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager Emeritus, Oncology, Social Work
OCTOBER 28, 2019
I have written before about dressing after a mastectomy and thought often about choices, but the topic has been active in my office over the past few weeks. I am currently working with several women who have recently had mastectomies, either one or bilateral, and they are frustrated with their wardrobes and choices. Of course, they are most distressed about their changed bodies, but are determined to look their best and have the same fashion flair that they did before cancer.
There are two topics within this one: what to wear in the immediate aftermath of surgery when you are juggling drains and may have limited arm mobility. The second is the longer lasting issue of just what to wear now that your old clothes may not fit or look as well, and you may be trying to minimize chest interest. Women who opt for reconstruction usually have the least trouble with the chronic fashion issues, although they may have scars to hide, and women who go flat usually have the most concerns. A woman who chooses to wear prostheses can continue to look the same to observers although she, too, will consider necklines when choosing tops. If there is an indentation high in your chest, low cut tops may expose it. It is possible to find camisoles or bras that have an extra strip of lace sewn at the top to cover this area.
After Breast Surgery: Wardrobe Considerations
Immediately after surgery, you must consider the drains when dressing. There are a variety of jackets made with pockets or Velcro or other systems of containment, and your surgeon's office can make suggestions or give you a sample. BIDMC's Windows of Hope, a specialty shop for cancer patients that is located on Shapiro 9 of BIDMC's East Campus or at BID-Needham's Cancer Center, has several options to consider. You will want to wear large shirts that button down the front for a while even after the drains come out. Think boyfriend shirts and front-zipping sweatshirts and borrow them from the men in your life. You can also buy a soft camisole with pockets for puffs (yup, what they sound like, usually soft cotton) to wear before your chest has healed enough for a more permanent solution.
Women who have chosen reconstruction with expanders/implants have a unique problem as they must deal with a changing body over a number of months. Women who have chosen not to have reconstruction are usually ready for a prosthesis a month or six weeks after surgery. Again, Windows of Hope can arrange a fitting for you. If you are not near Boston or Needham, or prefer to go elsewhere, you can just Google the question for local shops. It is possible to buy mastectomy bras, some are quite pretty or even sexy, online, but you need to be fitted in person for a prostheses.
Going Flat or Wearing Prosthesis
If you have chosen to go flat, you may opt not to wear a prosthesis at all. It is easier in the winter to wear layers, and loose sweaters or jackets work well. Scarves tied loosely around your shoulders work all year. And some women become quite comfortable wearing t-shirts over flat chests and not worrying about others' reactions.
If you dislike the look of your scars, consider a temporary tattoo. These generally last about two weeks, but can be washed off with baby oil at any time. If you look online, you will find quite a selection. Those that are intended to be wrapped around your arm usually are a good shape and size. Some women opt for permanent tattoos, and this can be a way to give that an audition.
Finally, a recent article in New York Magazine lists 12 essential items for your post breast surgery and chemotherapy wardrobe. You will find some good suggestions there.
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