I'm still off work at the moment - waiting for things to fall in to place so I can be re-skilled before being let loose on live patients again, and that means a lot of time at home during the day, and I might watch the odd Friends repeat every now and again just to pass the time. And that means I see a LOT of Christmas adverts. And one in particular made me feel quite sad and teary. It's a lingerie ad featuring 3 beautiful models prancing around in beautiful underwear. And it killed me - knowing that I'll never be able to wear bras like that again.
For a lot of women after a reconstruction, their new breast matches their old breast and they can carry on wearing the same stuff that they did before. For women who chose to go flat and want to wear a bra, they need to wear full-cup bras to keep the breast prosthesis in place and stop it falling out. Low-cut, plunging bras are now out of the question, as the cleavage has gone.
In my case, my implant, which looked fantastic after surgery, has suffered due to radiotherapy. It's contracted (so it's more of a small ball rather than a teardrop breast shape) and has moved up and out, so it sits about an inch or so higher than my normal breast. This makes it really difficult to find bras to fit both breasts. When I don't wear a bra, I have a high round ball on one side and a flatter lower breast on the other.
I found wired bras really painful as the wires kept digging in, and the thought of wearing plain cotton crop tops forever was not a good one. I'm 42, not 14, and want to be able to try to look and feel sexy at times.
In despair, I went to Rigby and Peller in London for a free fitting. Their fitters are amazing. They don't use tape measures - just use the eye of experience, and it was life-changing, both good and bad.
The good - they managed to find me 1 bra (yes, that's just 1 our of everything in their shop) that fitted me 'perfectly'. The bad - it's a 30E. Now E cups normally mean huge breasts, which I don't have. I'm an E cup because my implant sits quite laterally, so I need an E cup to stop the wire digging in to it. This also means that my normal breast is floating in the breeze, and this is where we had a bit of trouble finding a bra that doesn't gape when I lean forwards. Marie-Jo to the rescue. They do a sweetheart bra which is flat on my chest wall and doesn't gape. The bra is padded so I don't go about with just one nipple pointing. I didn't realise how small my back was, which is why all my old bras in a 32 and a 34 never fitted properly because they weren't tight enough. But how many high-street chains sell 30E bras? Zero. It's mail order, and expensive mail order, but it's worth it to feel confident in clothes again.
But I can't be arsed wearing bras all the time - as I don't really need them, and Rigby and Peller found a beautiful alternative. This gorgeous lacy navy crop top from Stella McCartney - finally something feminine that doesn't make you look like a teenager.
Stella did a post-mastectomy bra last year, and she now does a lot of lacy bralettes which are reasonably priced - as most mastectomy bras cost £50 or more, and that's without the VAT.
I have also been contacted by a couple of start-up companies who are making beautiful underwear for breast cancer patients. Standard Drawers make gorgeous pull-on bra tops in black and peach to fit most cup sizes (including me!) with matching briefs and robes.
Millie Lingerie is a new company based in Nottingham who have created a gorgeous supportive bra to wear after breast cancer, which should be available to buy soon. Finally, I've also discovered the new Elle Macpherson range which has sexy sporty crop tops, bras and briefs for the more athletic look.
There are bras out there for all of us - it just takes a bit of time and effort to find them. I hope this helps a wee bit…