Summer is here. Time to enjoy the pool and tennis, short sleeves and sundresses. I love summer, but I confess I loved it more before breast cancer. Finding summer clothes that don’t show my scars and a prosthesis that lets me enjoy summer activities can be a challenge. Here are some tips that may help you if you have similar problems.
The right prosthesis. Salt water and chlorine can damage many breast forms, so at first I just used the fiberfill prosthesis I was given right after surgery to fill out my swimming suit instead of my "good" one. It soaked up water and then dripped embarrassingly when I climbed out of the pool. The first official "swim prosthesis" I bought was filled with air and floated up to my chin when I submerged in water–even more embarrassing The first success I had finding a prosthesis to work in water was using an old regular one, so that I didn’t have to worry about possible damage from chlorine, but that one was heavy and uncomfortable in the pool.
Last year my prosthesis fitter showed me a "sports prosthesis" that is hollow at the back. It’s designed to be light and cool for sports and swimming. I’m wearing it regularly now to exercise and swim. Earlier this month she showed me a new model that is really light and designed to wear all the time so that there is no need to change out prostheses for separate activities. Since most insurance policies limit the number of prostheses they will cover, this concept should help many women.
Check with your insurance and find out how prostheses are covered. Over the years, I’ve had several insurance companies, and they each approach this issue differently. Some will pay a percentage of the total cost; some will cover the entire cost. Most have a limit on how often they will replace a prosthesis. Your insurance may also dictate where you can buy your breast form.
Once you understand your financial liability, choose a shop with a certified fitter and good selection. The fitter is your key to finding the prosthesis that is right for your life style and body type. If you spend a lot of time working and playing outside, ask specifically about the new, cooler breast forms.
The right bra. Usually the bras you wear all winter will be fine in the summer, but you might want to ask for bras that come in fabrics that are especially designed to be cool and breathable. My main summer challenge was finding summer tops that didn’t show the concave area where I used to have a breast. My solution to the problem was layering–a high-necked tank under a summer vee-neck blouse. Unfortunately, my solution was hot!. Recently, my bra fitter showed me some camisole bras that are high enough to fill in the gap. Even better yet, the camisole bras come in colors, so I feel both cool and pretty.
The right swimsuit. Finding a flattering swimsuit is a challenge for almost every woman. After breast surgery, it is an even greater challenge. A mastectomy swimsuit has a higher neckline and pockets for breast forms. Some mastectomy supply shops stock swim suits so that you can try them on.
In the support groups I belong to, Landsend is frequently mentioned as a supplier with a good selection of mastectomy suits. On the swim suit page of their website, under "Bra Cup" there is a box to click for "Mastectomy" to see which styles come with pockets. Some manufacturers of pocketed bras also make swim suits. Typing "mastectomy swim wear" into a search engine will give you quite a few choices.
It helps to be handy with a needle or know a good seamstress for alterations. Last year the mastectomy suit I bought had a neckline that was still too low for me, so I took it to an alteration shop and had the shoulder straps shortened. Some women like to sew their own pockets into a swim suit they buy off the rack, giving them more options for style and price.
A friend recently posted a link to a design firm called Chikara, that makes clothing, including swim wear, for women who decide they don’t want to wear a prosthesis. The designs create "a sense of symmetry via three-dimensional design for women who want to resolve any unevenness as a result of breast cancer." It’s an interesting concept that might be right for you.
Previous breast surgery needn’t keep you from fun in the sun. Whether you are working in the garden or lounging around the pool you can find attractive, comfortable options that will keep you cool.
Phyllis Johnson is an inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) survivor diagnosed in 1998. She has written about cancer for HealthCentral since 2007. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the oldest 501(3)© organization focused on research for IBC. She is a list monitor for an online support group at www.ibcsupport.org. Phyllis attends conferences such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD® Institute. She tweets at @mrsphjohnson.