October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and in honor of this month of courage, we dedicated our first blog post to the survivors of this harrowing disease. As of January 2018, there have been more than 3.1 million women with a history of breast cancer in the United States, this number includes the women who are actively being treated…the fighters, and those who have completed treatment…the survivors. We often hear stories of the fight that involves the sickness itself, but we hardly ever talk about the changes that come after the healing. What happens to breast cancer survivors after they have had a mastectomy performed?
The LC spoke with breast cancer survivor, Tamia Hunter on her journey of dealing with the changes in her body after a double mastectomy and reconstructive breast surgery. Hunter was diagnosed with breast cancer 15 years ago in October of 2003, by November of that same year, she had her 1st mastectomy. Hunter wore a bra with a prosthetic breast after her mastectomies. A bra with one empty side that is filled with a silicone prosthetic breast to give the appearance under clothing that there are still 2 breasts. She went through 2 years of stretching her tissue and fat from her stomach to recreate a new breast. 3 years after reconstructing breast one, she received yet another mastectomy on the 2nd breast in 2008. This time using an implant to reconstruct the breast, which resulted in Tamia having 2 different breasts with different shapes and properties.
So how did this change her experience with bra shopping after the fact? It wasn’t until the reconstruction of both breasts that she found the challenge of bra shopping that she hadn’t experienced before breast cancer. “Before…my breast were real huge, I didn’t have the options. Now I’m a C cup, and if I really want my breast to look the same, I have to buy push up bras to make them both look the same.” Hunter states in regards to the fact that she has one breast made from tissue and on made from silicone. Because of this, even with her breast being the same size, they take form differently, one being more firm, one being naturally softer and more malleable. Hunter explains, “My doctor never thought I would have to get my other breast removed, but it messed me up when I had to get the other breast removed because I didn’t have enough fat left to create the 2nd breast, so I had to have one side natural and one side silicone.” For many women, this is the end result of fighting and surviving this disease, a body that has been forever changed and having to re-learn something about themselves that was once so familiar.
But there is another side to the journey of shopping for bras after a mastectomy, and this side is that of the bra manufacturers that help women after having the life altering surgery. For this perspective, The LC spoke to Meryl Kutzin, Owner of QT Intimates to gain insight into how they tackle the very important job of helping women regain their confidence in this area. OT Intimates has been making mastectomy bras for about 10 years now and Meryl explains how they have evolved over time, stating “Mastectomy bras used to be basic bras, mostly without a wire as they were used for a function only. Bra fashion has evolved, customers are more sophisticated and unfortunately many younger women need mastectomy bras today. Therefore the styles have changed to mirror regular fashion bras. We produce many different styles, using different cup shapes, colors and fabrics for our mastectomy bras.”
It’s easy to see that having more modern mastectomy bra designs that resemble what survivors were purchasing prior to their surgeries, can definitely boost confidence for many women who are struggling to find the beauty in their scars. With so many women now having to battle breast cancer and many of them surviving. I wondered if Meryl herself had known people who had to battle this disease and if that impacted the work she does at QT Intimates, she responded “I have many friends that have had breast cancer and our designer and sales manager also have close relatives that have had to conquer the disease. I don’t think we feel any differently about producing mastectomy bras because of these relations with these women. We do get feedback from these women about how their bras should fit, and what is important to them when wearing a mastectomy bra and we use that knowledge and information to produce a better bras for their needs.”
For courageous women that battle this disease daily and deal with all of the heaviness that it holds, I am glad that there are people who put care and concern into the designs of mastectomy bras. We may take things like this for granted, but for these champions of survival, walking into a store and putting on a bra after having your breast removed and/or reconstructed can be an emotional experience. Tamia explains that “My scars on my breast are terrible. I’m botched, so trying on bras…that part of me doesn’t feel sexy. So I just go in the store and pick up the bras and go.” It is inspiring to hear companies like QT Intimates using insight from their personal relationships with survivors to make sure they are creating designs that can help the bra shopping experience more comfortable for these women. It truly speaks to how the industry as a whole should be approaching bra design for all women, ensuring that no matter your story, that your voice as a customer is heard and considered in the design process.
WRITTEN BY: TIFFANY COLE-ALLEN, CO-FOUNDER OF THE LINGERIE COLLECTIVE
In the NYC area next week? Check out the Breast Cancer Art Project exhibit Bralliant Cause by photographer Teona Koridze at the 67th Street NYC Public Library, on showcase from October 22nd-27th. Click the link for details: https://www.nypl.org/events/programs/2018/10/22/bralliant-cause-art-exhibition