Last year I wrote that I was quite happy not to draw attention to my breasts, but unfortunately this year means that I’ve had to talk about them a lot – along with losing one, and flashing the other at a variety of medical staff! Anyway, having made it into the swimming pool yesterday for the first time since my mastectomy – as part of my new gym membership… although I’d already given the new swimming costume and prosthetic a test run in Jersey on this lovely beach:
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Apparently these days surgeons are not so fast to whip the boob off, and try and undertake ‘breast-conserving surgery’. I was offered the option of a lumpectomy, rather than a mastectomy, but I just ‘wanted the cancer gone’ – although the surgeon really questioned me about it! Originally we thought it was a Grade 3, unknown stage, 3cm tumour, but it turned out to be Grade 3, Stage 3, 12cm tumour.
There is always going to be the option of a reconstruction, and the surgeon wants to know what I think I’m going to do when I next meet him in November. If I do want one, I go on a waiting list for a year-two, and I would be expected to lose a lot of weight (because any surgery is risky). The surgery, I think, is longer and more risky than the mastectomy was, with a longer recovery process.
With prostheses, however, the intention is that – under clothes – no one can tell (and some of my close friends have said they looked!), and nothing so far has convinced me that I need to go through further surgery (and I’m now in the Flat Friends Facebook group), so here are the options I’ve worked with:
One of the BCNs came to me the morning after the surgery, and gave me a ‘softie’ to wear. This is most suitable for placing over the raw scar tissue that has not yet started healing:
The softie is stuffed with what looks basically like cushion stuffing … and as it’s not very heavy there is a risk that it can end up under your chin!!
The pen marks are from when I got an infection, and the surgeon drew all around the ‘heated area’ to see if it was expanding or reducing.
I laughed when someone told me there was something called the a ‘knitted knocker’, but they are actually FABULOUS. Knitted by a wonderful group of people, literally all one needs to do is tell them what size bra, give them the address, and within a couple of weeks they promise to have one with you. One of my friends made mine for me, but if you need one – check out Knitted Knockers (and see this short video).
There’s the option to have with/without a nibble, extra bits of thread and stuffing are also sent in case your size changes. My friend also put a pebble in one to weight it down, so it doesn’t spring up under the chin .. although she warned me not to wear that one through the airport!
I am still using these within the gym bra, so I don’t have to keep swapping in/out, and it allows that ‘tighter to chest’ feel without feeling like you’re wrestling an alligator into the bra!
My prosthetic breast was ordered a couple of months after surgery – it was recommended not to do this before this time because the skin is still so swollen and we’d end up with the wrong size. There was some kind of staff changeover within the prostheses team, and I ended up ‘chasing the lost boob’ around the hospital until around Christmas, and then it was the wrong size (too small) and then the wrong shape (tear-drop rather than oval) and I looked quite lop-sided … I’d been wearing it though, so it’s in the attic in case it comes in handy in the future!
We’re entitled to one free prosthetic roughly every 2 years (unless we have drastic weight change), and they cost around £145 each. We’re told to treat them rather like they’re skin, so they can be washed in the sink! If we manage to get any kind of hole in them, we’re told to put a plaster on and see if it survives!
The prosthetic is quite heavily weighted – they try and get the balance between lightweight for ‘comfort’ and weighted to ensure it balances with the other side. It’s quite ‘tactile’ in a skin-like way… I’ve had friends tell me they’ve been sat at friends who have these and ended up sat twiddling the nipple!
It leaves your skin quite warm when at the end of the night you hear it thump onto the floor… or if I’m being more appropriate, putting it for safekeeping (and shape-keeping) in its box:
All of these prostheses have to be worn within a ‘pocketed bra’, as explained by Breast Cancer Care:
It is recommended that we don’t wear underwired bras, as I understand it mostly because the skin is still healing/pretty numb, so we wouldn’t find the wire poking, although Geraldine from Betty and Belle said that as technology is improving there are more flexible wires that we can look at a year or so down the line. She was also highlighting that the choices are so much better now!
I purchased a swimming costume from Nicola Jane – I had bought one from Asda but when I tried to put the prosthesis in, it sunk to around my belly button – so a more expensive one that holds the prosthesis in place (and doesn’t float off, as I’ve heard has happened to others!).
I was told that I was also entitled to one swimming breast form. These are designed to squidge in a bit more, and not absorb the chlorine in the way that the regular one does.
I’ve check it fits, but when I was off to Jersey the other week, I suddenly thought, I’m on hand-luggage only, and this is clearly more than 100ml, so wasn’t sure I could take it! So I got back onto Knitted Knockers:
Even though I was short on time. Amazingly, I ordered on Friday, and when I returned home on Monday it was already waiting for me, with a lovely note and a chocolate, and packaged beautifully:
It worked really well, and so far I haven’t yet used the swim form … although there is a lot of water to squeeze out post-swim!
So many things that I never wanted to know about, but now I do!
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.