Breast cancer lesson 135: Why I won’t be binning my bras just yet!

Breast cancer surgery does present most women with a bust-sized dilemma. Can I – and should I – get back to wearing the bras I lovingly selected for myself before cancer stole my boob? The answer, it seems, like a lot of other cancer-related questions, is that there are no hard and fast rules.  

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Having had DIEP surgery, it seems surgeons, breast nurses and patients alike all agree that you should steer away from under-wired bras for a good six months after the operation. This I have done – in fact I can’t stop wearing my post-surgery bra in bed, which I was allowed to remove at night after six weeks!

What happens after six months, however (a marker I am about to hit), is the subject of much debate. Being a big fan of my underwear drawer, I was delighted to hear from both my plastic surgeon and a fellow survivor that, in their view, the question is not whether or not you should wear under-wired bras, but more whether wearing under-wired bras is actually comfortable. In fact, the best piece of advice I received was from an event speaker who suggested you try on everything in your underwear drawer before deciding to burn the contents (with Suzie the wig in tow, it would make an impressive fire though).

The fact my bras may get a stay of execution makes me very happy for a number of reasons. Firstly, if you’ve actually had the joy of scouring the racks in a department store for something without a wire, you’ll discover it’s not really a joy at all. The selection is limited (think 20 racks of wired to 1 rack of non-wired and you’ll get the picture) and it seems you are suddenly categorised alongside breastfeeding mothers and teenage starter bras, which is not particularly sexy for a lifetime choice. Building up a new collection is not something I fancy doing overnight either, especially when I have a tummy fat-filled new boob, which has a tendency to grow when it feels like it (if you’ve been following the blog you will know that the fat never actually forgets its origins and can grow considerably if you put on weight).

Of course, with the help of Google, I have found a few non-wired bras that make me feel my age (and feminine as well, which is a bonus). M&S, Gap and Fig Leaves have been my shops of choice and I am delighted to have found some that are navy and pink (rather than simply beige, beige, white and more beige). Amoena also has some nice styles, which I may try if the post-surgery bra fashion parade doesn’t go according to plan. My advice is definitely to try out some different non-wired styles in the months following surgery (for morale more than anything else) and avoid the stores (mail order is much more satisfying and you don’t risk dragging yourself round the shops to find the only one you like isn’t available in your size).

If the under-wired option does prove to be a little uncomfortable, I do have a few back-up plans. Firstly, I am attending a meeting with a bra manufacturer one evening in September to discuss wearer trials for some post-surgery bras (that don’t make you feel like you’re either 70 or 12). Secondly, I have signed up to a lingerie evening with Breast Cancer Care in October to get a proper fitting (let’s hope new boobie plays ball) and some tips on choosing right bra for your body shape. They are held across the country and come highly recommended for those looking for a bit of comfort and style! 

I will let you know how I get on when I can extract myself from the comfort of my post-surgery bra. It may take a while, given I have to minimise friction while going through radiotherapy (am just hoping I can run and wear clothes for that period at the moment).

As a quick aside, for those of you worried about whether or not there is a link between the type of bra you wear and breast cancer, please do not despair. There is a great piece by Cancer Research UK (click here to read), which explains that there is no scientific evidence to link the two. It appears that some people believe under wired bras can have a negative effect on the lymphatic system (causing toxins to build up in the breast area). Cancer Research UK explains that your bra would have to be unbearably tight to start to have any impact at all.

The underwear drawer is safe for now – and long may it remain so!

Breast cancer lesson number 72: Set your boobs free!

Nine weeks ago today I was on the slab being separated from my cancer. Nine weeks on and I have been celebrating in a small, but meaningful way. Firstly (and not really related but worth a mention) by not vomiting for 24 hours straight thanks to the anti-nausea medication. And, secondly, by sleeping without my post-surgery bra for the first time.

Going ‘au naturel’ or braless in bed is another of those cancer milestones that doesn’t often get a look in, surrounded as it is chemo sickness stories and hairless updates. But, as a step towards the new ‘post-active-treatment’ normal to which I am heading, it feels like another great big tick on the cancer checklist.

My post-surgery bra and I have had some good times together. It may have aged me in the bra department by a good 30 years, but with its healing fibres and its soft fabric, it has been a loyal friend. So much so, that I could have stopped wearing it in bed a few weeks back, but chose to extend our relationship just that little bit longer. I have purposely chosen not to post it here so as not to scare off the male followers among you.

Before you question my hygiene levels, I did have two identical post-surgery bras (best to go up a back size when choosing just to give you added comfort around the swelling). I am delighted to report that they are now both in a drawer, replaced with a new non-wired bra for the daytime (another mini milestone). A good three months without wire is the recommendation and then I get to take a call on whether to return back to the underwired bras of my pre-cancer life, or opt for a lifetime of comfort. As someone who only wears heels on special occasions (and is known to walk like I’m drunk before I’ve had a drop when I do due to my rather special hips) it might be comfort all the way from now on. Last thing I want is a bit of wire digging into my new fat-filled boobie.

It will be a while before I get a nipple and any final nips and tucks. I will have a fleshy mound for a good six months post radiotherapy, so the tissue and skin have time to settle down. I should be seeing my surgeon again in a few months, however, to discuss these little reconstruction extras and, most importantly, get me added to the waiting list for day surgery next year. When your life is no longer dependent on surgery, the NHS waiting list system comes back into play. I wonder just how many nipple-less woman are currently waiting their turn for a manipulated bit of skin and a pinky tattoo?

So, to all reconstruction ladies out there I say, love your post-surgery bra (and pick wisely – I highly recommend my Royce one), but also love the day it comes off. It means you’re one step further away from the ‘patient’ label and one step closer to those post-cancer comforts.

As a side point, if anyone knows of any beautiful and comfortable non-wired bras, please do get in touch. They seem a little hard to find.