Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Musings five years post-surgery

My photograph from the Tribune article.
Recently, the Chicago Tribune published an article about options after mastectomy surgery, which featured BreastFree.org. The story was syndicated across the country in print and online. Here's a link to the article as it appeared in the Miami Herald: "Not all women choose reconstruction after mastectomy; the options are many."

Publication of the article coincided almost to the day with the fifth anniversary of my bilateral mastectomy surgery. It was a great way for me to mark that milestone and to reaffirm my decision not to have reconstruction.  

I was delighted that the article presented a balanced look at the choices available for women after a mastectomy and particularly pleased that the reporter, Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, highlighted my view that many women who choose not to have reconstruction still feel "whole" after the surgery.  

As some of you probably know firsthand, doctors frequently urge their patients to have reconstruction, believing that they won't feel happy without it. While I agree that reconstruction helps some women feel normal and whole after a mastectomy, I've met countless others who have chosen not to reconstruct and nevertheless feel complete as women. One of the missions of BreastFree.org is to educate doctors and encourage them to present non-reconstruction as a viable and positive option for their patients. So, I was very glad the Tribune story mentioned this issue.

The Tribune article also represented my coming-out party. While I've been very open about my surgery with friends and family, I've chosen not to include my full name on BreastFree.org, nor has it appeared in any other published materials. It felt good to finally put myself out there. Over the years, as I've met and communicated with so many women who have chosen not to have reconstruction, I've realized what a special sisterhood this is. I'm proud to be a member!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Climate Change and Breast Forms

Hot weather can affect how breast forms feel


I'm not going to get into a discussion about global warming here. When it comes to breast forms, the normal variation from winter to spring and summer can make a big enough difference, without our worrying about whether the world is getting warmer or cooler. Just as the rest of our bodies feel different when the temperature and humidity climb, our chests react to our breast forms very differently.

Right now, I'm experiencing the climate change that spring brings, only in reverse. I just returned to Boston from Miami, where the weather has been summery, which means tropical heat and high humidity. I all but gave up wearing my silicone breast forms during the last few weeks. Not only did I tend to perspire behind the forms, but the humidity caused my bras to feel tighter and more clingy. Now that I'm back in Boston, where it's below 70 degrees and much drier, I'm enjoy wearing my silicone forms again.

When I first learned I needed a mastectomy, I talked to a friend who'd had a bilateral mastectomy eight years earlier. Not only had she decided not to have reconstruction, she chose not to wear silicone breast forms. Instead, she wore a regular Bali bra with Amoena foam leisure forms. She explained to me that the silicone made her feel weighted down and conscious of having something on her chest. With the foam forms, she said, she felt "free".

That conversation took place almost five years ago, so now it's been thirteen years since my friend had her mastectomy. During that time, silicone breast forms have become lighter and manufacturers have developed ways to minimize perspiration behind the forms—microfiber backing, special cooling pads, new materials designed to regulate body temperature, etc. But when it's really hot and humid, silicone can still present a problem.

I've found several leisure forms that have a flattering natural shape and feel comfortable to wear. You can read about them at BreastFree.org in the Breast Forms section, under the heading "Non-Silicone Breast Forms." When the weather became hot in Miami, I thought about my friend and about her decision to feel "free" wearing foam forms. I started wearing my non-silicone forms almost all the time. I found that I felt light and free, not sticky and not worried about whether and when my forms would become uncomfortable. I wore the foam forms in both pocketed and regular bras and felt great dancing at my cousin's wedding in a nice pair of weighted Amoena Leisure Forms with Comfort +.

The Comfort + technology, a recent innovation in some Amoena silicone forms, has been added to their new leisure forms because it's possible to perspire even when wearing ultra-light non-silicone forms. But perspiration is far less of a problem with foam or microbeads than with silicone. At the wedding, which was outdoors, the temps were high, yet I danced the night away and at the end of the party my chest was still cool and dry.

I've heard from many women who consider perspiration behind their forms a problem. For others, it's not an issue. Some women find that the newer silicone forms, like the Silique Comfort Lite, the Amoena Energy, the Anita Tritex, or the TruLife BodiCool, effectively solve the problem. Ironically, prior radiation can provide a benefit. I had radiation on my right side and I never perspire there, no matter how hot it gets. But my left, non-radiated, side is another story.

If you're like me and want to avoid perspiring behind your forms, consider switching to non-silicone during the hot weather. You may find it so freeing and comfortable that you won't want to go back!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Swimsuit Edition, Breast-Free Style

It's the time of year when spring flowers and balmy air inevitably lead to thoughts of summer and swimsuits. Like many women, I always found swimsuit shopping a bit of a trial. Since I had my bilateral mastectomy, it's been downright challenging. Until recently, I've mostly dealt with the issue by avoidance. A few weeks ago, all that changed.

My husband and I traveled to Key West with friends for a long weekend. I had known there would be a pool at our hotel but after trying on my two mastectomy suits, I decided not to bring them. I hated the way they looked on me and in addition, they weren't comfortable. Like most mastectomy suits, they were cut high in the front and under the arms. I realize that suits are designed this way so women will feel secure and scars won't show. But I can't stand suits that come up high under my arms. They chafe me, especially when I swim. So, off I went to Key West with no bathing suit.

It turned out to be a hot weekend and the pool provided a welcome respite for everyone except me. While my husband and friends enjoyed a refreshing swim, I sat on the edge of the pool dangling my legs in the water. I vowed that I would never let that happen again.

Back at home, I visited a few local stores, but found almost nothing in styles that suited me. So, I began scouring the Internet for options. Before investigating mastectomy swimwear, I decided to look for non-mastectomy suits that could be adapted . A friend who has lived breast-free for many years and is an avid swimmer always buys non-mastectomy swimsuits and sews inexpensive foam breast forms into them. So, I knew that could work, especially if I brushed up on my skills with a needle and thread.

First, I checked out Zappos.com, which has a huge swimwear selection. As I perused the styles and read the descriptions, I noted that a number of suits featured "removable soft cups," which are thin cups designed to provide a smooth shape over a natural breast. Since such cups require pockets, that meant there would be a place for me to insert a breast form.

Next, I searched for styles that might be appropriate. For me, that meant high enough in front but not high under the arms. I discovered a number of one-pieces and tankinis that fit the bill, with halter tops or inset straps. Since Zappos has a generous free shipping and return policy, I decided to order several and try them. Zappos and all of the companies mentioned below allow swimsuit returns, so long as suits are in original condition when returned, with sanitary strips and tags in place.

Most of the suits I received from Zappos didn't work out, but two of the one-pieces fit beautifully. I kept them and can now go to the pool with confidence and comfort. Among the various items that I ordered, I discovered that sometimes the pocket openings from which the "removable soft cups" could be removed were too tiny to allow insertion of a breast form, even a foam one. However, the pockets could probably be expanded by anyone reasonably adept at sewing. I also learned that the more expensive brands were the most likely to feature nice stretchy pocket openings. The suits I wound up with were by Michael Kors and DKNY and in the $100 range.

Even though I had found two suits that worked for me, I didn't stop there. I was on a quest! In the course of my research, I discovered a number of interesting possibilities.

I found a nice line of swimsuits called Hapari, marketed as "modest" swimwear that is "stylish and comfortable for all body types." Most of the suits are made with pockets for silicone inserts (enhancers), which can also be used for breast forms. When I spoke with a company representative, she said that Hapari has been selling swimsuits to an increasing number of women who have had mastectomies. I ordered a suit to try and, while the fit wasn't quite right for me, others may like the style and fit of these well-made, reasonably-priced swimsuits. If you decide to try a Hapari suit, make sure to check whether the style you like has pockets.

On the higher-priced end, there are some sexy, stylish suits offered for women post-mastectomy. Hilary Boyajian at Chikara Design uses fabrics in interesting ways to create great-looking suits. Veronica Brett offers fabulous-looking swimwear, more for lounging around the pool than serious swimming, but gorgeous nonetheless. And About the Girl features a line of very appealing suits, including cute bikinis and tankinis. About the Girl is based in the U.K. but will ship to the U.S. and other international destinations. As noted above, all of these companies allow returns.

My research next led me to Nicola Jane, a British mastectomy-product retailer which sells attractive suits, including some under its own label. Like About the Girl, Nicola Jane will ship to the U.S. If you'd rather not order from the U.K., a nice selection of Nicola Jane styles can be found at the Women's Personal Health Resource, a U.S. online retailer. The Women's Personal Health Resource also carries a couple of adorable mastectomy suits by Jamu, an Australian designer of mastectomy swimsuits. Please note that when you return a swimsuit to the Women's Personal Health Resource you will be charged a 15% restocking fee in addition to shipping charges (unless you are exchanging the suit for another item).

Spanx, the shapewear company, now makes swimsuits, including several with removable cups that might work well as a mastectomy suits. About the Girl offers one Spanx suit on its website, but this and others can also be purchased from U.S. sites and in local department stores.

I don't mean to give short shrift to major manufacturers of mastectomy swimsuits—Amoena and Anita have some very attractive suits in their current lines, and Land's End has been a consistent source of reasonably-priced mastectomy suits for many years. These three manufacturers tend to design mastectomy suits that come up high under the arms. If that's not a problem for you, you may well find a great suit from one of them.

Overall, I found the new emphasis on creating stylish mastectomy swimsuits heartening. Matronly mastectomy suits still abound, but now choices are available for those seeking something more youthful and attractive. For women who wear an A cup, though, it can still be hard to find mastectomy suits that aren't too big on top. Hopefully, the future will bring even greater selection and options for different cup sizes. In the meantime, for smaller women, wearing regular suits that feature removable soft cups may offer a viable alternative.

So, things are looking up when it comes to swimsuits for those of us who have chosen to live breast-free but still wear breast forms. If you prefer to go flat, some of the Chikara suits could work for you, as well as many simple tank suits and other designs. Happy swimming!

I welcome your comments, suggestions, and feedback about swimsuits that have worked well for you.