When Diana had a single mastectomy without reconstruction, she couldn’t find a sports bra that fit. She calls on sports brands to empower women like her to embrace their bodies.
Running has marked milestones in my life
I think I was nine years old when my friend Katy and I decided we would run nine times round our local rec for charity.
I didn’t become a sporty youth, but when I was 22 I went for my first adult run. On holiday with my family, a forgotten swimming costume meant a two-mile run back to the hotel in a mid-calf pencil skirt, twinset and birkenstocks (it was the ‘90s). I loved it and decided I’d become a runner.
I’m not sure I ever achieved this goal, running sounds too impressive for what I do. I jog, with interspersed sprints. And I’ve done this on and off for 20 years.
In my mid-twenties, I’d run off hangovers, anxiety and a smoker’s cough. Later when I couldn’t run off the hangovers any more, I stopped drinking. My first half-marathon was a triumph of sobriety. It was followed by more on and off drinking, and on and off running.
My second half marathon was the real thing. I’d fallen in love in 2010 and stopped drinking for good in spring 2011. My family and shiny new boyfriend came with me in October of that year as I trudged round the course and sprinted over the finish line.
Married in December 2012, my husband and I ran along the Rhine on honeymoon on New Year's Day. Miscarrying in February 2013, I would get home from work, put on my trainers and run from our north London flat to the local park, round and back.
Eventually, three more pregnancies, two healthy sons, and a lot of couch to 5k-ing later, I found myself on New Year's Day 2017 doing my first ever 5k park run. Expecting to complete just one of the three laps, in fact I managed to cross the finish line and cried.
I felt an itch in my breast while running
In Spring 2018, park running again, I felt a strange itch in my right breast. ‘This could be the start of something,’ I thought, and ignored it for three or four months.
On 6 August I went to the doctors and at the end of the appointment told the doctor about my itchy breast.
On 13 August after a mammogram and sonogram, the radiographer gave me a grave look and told me I had breast cancer.
On the morning of 13 September I ran with my husband around our local woods and on 14 September I had a mastectomy.
Running has got me through the good and the bad times
I know it seems that I’ve given you my life story, maybe it’s too much information. But I want to try and explain that through my life, when things have been difficult, and when things have been good, running has always been there for me.
But now I’ve had breast cancer it feels like it isn’t.
Four weeks after my mastectomy, two weeks into a four-week period when I didn’t know if the cancer had spread or not (and so if my life was likely to be seriously curtailed), I went for another run: my first after surgery.
My sports bra didn’t fit – of course it didn’t. It was designed for a woman with two breasts. In fact, one of the straps came undone.
Why should I stuff my sports bra?
When I searched online I discovered that every sports bra in the world is designed for women who either have two breasts or want to wear a prosthesis, even while running.
I guess I could stuff my sports bra. But why should I?
Aside from the physical discomfort of running with a lump of silicone in my bra, I run to feel free, to be myself. I don’t feel ashamed of my body and I don’t think I should hide it when I run. All of you sports brands know this – your campaigns tell me to ‘just do it’ (Nike), ‘be fearless AF’ (Adidas), and ‘dare to bare’ (Sweaty Betty).
So why won’t you make me a sports bra? Why is there no sports bra at all for women like me? I’m not alone, one in eight UK women will have breast cancer at some point, and thousands of us end up having single mastectomies.
I will run in my lopsided way
I've been lucky. I found out on 23 October that the cancer hasn't spread and I’m currently having chemotherapy to make sure it doesn't come back. When it’s finished I will go running, in my lopsided way, in my sports bra that doesn’t fit.
And if there’s one thing running has taught me it’s tenacity. So I will keep carrying on about this sports bra until one of you decides to make it, to show breast cancer survivors that the world doesn’t really think that the mastectomies that saved their lives are shameful things that have to be hidden.
And do you know what? I’m not a sportswear brand, I don’t have a multimillion-pound empire with design engineers, money and expertise at my disposal. I’m a 42-year-old mum and chemo patient with not much expertise in anything.
But I think when a woman has survived breast cancer and the surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy it entails, then if she wants to go running without stuffing her bra she should be able to.
So if you don’t make it, maybe I will.
Hear more about Diana’s story and her mission to create sports bras that empower women with single mastectomies on our Breast Cancer Care podcast channel.