When a part of you dies: Beautiful things for breast cancer survivors | HerCanberra

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When a part of you dies: Beautiful things for breast cancer survivors

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“Unfortunately, it’s cancer.”

Those were the words I heard in April 2008. Sitting in that small room at Breast Screen ACT, looking into the face of the doctor who delivered those words. I had been asked at my call back appointment after a mammogram screening to bring a friend when I returned for the results of my biopsy.

I wish someone had told me to bring a friend when I went lingerie shopping for a bra after my mastectomy surgery. There would have been someone to wipe away my tears, as I looked at the two or three bras hanging at the back of the department store, tucked away in a corner almost invisible—just like I felt.

I was looking for a black bra. I wasn’t asking for much. A bra to wear to a modelling event for Bosom Buddies breast cancer support group. There was no one there to help me. As I looked at the sea of bras, which didn’t suit my purposes, tears started to fall. If I felt less feminine after my surgery, leaving that store reminded me of what I had lost.

Looking at a very pretty bra in my own lingerie drawer that I had purchased not long before my surgery at a lingerie party I held at home, I wondered, could they help? Would they be able to make bras with a pocket in them? I can but ask. And so I wrote a letter to Undercoverwear (UCW).

I am writing to you because I am extremely frustrated and disappointed that I am unable to find a mastectomy bra that I’d actually like to wear, one that is feminine and pretty. With over 13,000 women being diagnosed with breast cancer annually it is a shocking situation. Even if only half of them require a mastectomy, that’s a lot of disappointed women.

With younger women being diagnosed it must be so demoralising trying on bras—I feel like that and I’m in my forties!!!!! I live in Canberra and went shopping for a black bra to wear for a modelling fundraising event – mission impossible. I found bras from the dark ages, no size less than 16 and straps as wide as my shoulders, with an option of white or skin coloured. I had better luck in Melbourne finding a black bra, however no bras with detachable straps to change to invisible straps or wear with halter necks. Then I asked for matching underwear – definitely mission impossible. I searched on the internet but still didn’t find another supplier or many stockists other than department stores with limited supplies.

I hosted an UCW party last year and just love your bras and matching underwear, but sadly I can no longer wear the bras. Would you consider producing pocketed mastectomy bras in the same fabrics as normal bras? Reasons to consider this are:

  1. The lack of feminine mastectomy bras contributes to a woman feeling that she will never look like she did before the operation. With lightweight prosthesis we can look normal and want to feel normal too by wearing halter necks and tops and dresses with shoe string straps, not have to cover up our wide bra straps!!!.. It is so important at such a difficult time to boost a woman’s self esteem.
  2. Why shouldn’t we have matching underwear???? At a time when we need to feel feminine, doors are closed!!!! By using your current fabrics we can have matching undies!!!
  3. I have researched online and have only found one imported brand with a limited range as described above.
  4. Swimwear for a prosthesis and matching accessories is also a necessity! Something else for you to consider? – side note that’s been another quest and another story to be told.

I am passionate about finding a company to produce sexy and feminine mastectomy bras.

Thank you for taking the time to read my email. I look forward in anticipation to hearing your response or any suggestions you may have.

I received the following response:

As the General Manager for UnderCoverWear please let me thank  you  for taking the time to send us such detailed  and  heartfelt feedback. We have in the past looked to our suppliers overseas to test the viability of a mastectomy bra. It is possible we could look into this again as an option.

I didn’t hear anything further, then it was back to getting through treatment. Finding a way to live with my changed body with all the other emotions breast cancer diagnosis brings, as well as the side effects of treatment.

I found Colleen’s Post Mastectomy Connection and there found Colleen of Colleen’s Lingerie and Swimwear, who understood, having had breast cancer, and there I found a greater selection of “ordinary” looking bras, all that there was on the market.

I didn’t go near a lingerie store again for quite some time. I couldn’t even bear to look at the bras when I walked through a department store, it just hurt too much.

In 2011, I was visiting France and I was a little bit excited thinking that perhaps in the city of love and lingerie I would find a bra similar to what I used to wear.

In Paris itself, I was very disappointed. However, visiting a small town in the Loire Valley and walking past a store window I recognized one of the brands as a bra with a pocket and so I went in. For the first time, I found a bra, which wasn’t nude or white, but pretty with flowers and it came with—wait for it—matching undies! I had never been so excited to find a matching set. It really did change the way I felt about myself and it reminded me of how I used to go bra shopping before my new normal.

In 2014, when Colleen was retiring and selling her business, I just knew that that’s what I wanted to do. My quest for bras not just for after a mastectomy but for all types of breast surgery increased and I travelled to lingerie expos in Paris and New York, searching for bras and challenging mainstream brands. Why weren’t they inclusive? Why weren’t they making bras for women after breast surgery? But my request fell on deaf ears.

Then, sitting at home just before Christmas in 2020 looking at social media, I saw a photograph of a gorgeous bra and was immediately drawn to it. When I realised that this bra was for women like me, I needed to find out more. As I sat and watched a video “From Breast Cancer Diagnosis To Paris Runway” on the MEGAMI website I wasn’t just crying I was absolutely bawling my eyes out.

This it, this is what I had been looking for. These bras were just as I had asked for in 2008. These are the missing pieces. These are the bras to lift me up, empower me, give me back what I felt I had lost all those years ago.

I hope you feel the same way about MEGAMI—they are truly changing women’s lives.

Feature image: Gillian Horton by Tim Bean Photography.

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