Diana struggled to find a sports bra after she had a mastectomy, and asks why women aren’t encouraged to love their bodies as they are.
Where’s the body positive movement for mastectomies?
I’ve just got back from my first run after having a mastectomy and I feel great. My scar is fine, my seroma is gone and I’ve just run (maybe jogged would be more accurate), for 20 minutes.
I wasn’t bothered by my lopsided appearance as I bumbled along. I’m a bit of a daydreamer so when I’m out and about I don’t notice much whether people are noticing me. I’m also quite stubborn, so if they do notice me and disapprove I don’t care.
However, I am bothered that my sports bra doesn’t fit. On the right side I’m now a slenderish ‘no-cup’, while on the left I’m still a support-needing DD. And, despite being one of thousands of women going one-breasted after a mastectomy, despite the body positive movement’s call to love our bodies as they are, and despite sports brands’ female empowerment messaging, there is no sports bra for me.
I thought my sons would have to grow-up alone
The five minutes after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and before the nurse calmed me with the disease’s survival statistics, were awful. I thought I was going to die – to leave my four- and two-year-old sons to grow up without me.
I made my sister, who’d come to the appointment with me for moral support, vow to always look after them, which now seems a bit melodramatic. I think I urged the consultant to ‘just chop it off’ there and then, which would probably have been quite difficult for her.
Maybe those five minutes were why a mastectomy didn’t bother me, I was so relieved the cancer was treatable.
I knew that breast reconstruction wasn’t for me
I had an immediate and strong sense that reconstruction wasn’t for me. With an intense desire to be rid of the foreign cells inside me, the idea of inserting something else (silicone) didn’t appeal. I was offered a procedure where the fat from my stomach would be formed into a new breast. But to me, it wouldn’t be a breast, it would have no sensation and no nipple. I felt it really would just be moving my tummy to the top of my torso.
I also didn’t particularly want to wear a prosthesis. My thoughts were:
- Imagine trying to leave the house in the morning with two small children – ‘Have I got keys, wallet, nappies... prosthesis?’
- It’s hard to keep track of. I’ve currently got a ‘softee’ and my children either like cuddling it or, in their more energetic moments, throwing it round the room. Consequently, it’s never where I think it is.
- The heat – I live in London where, this summer, temperatures reached 36 degrees. On the tube into work temperatures reached 40 degrees. It can be pretty disgusting. One time I felt water land on my face, looked up and a man was literally dripping sweat onto me. In addition, when I’ve finished chemo and radiotherapy I’ll be taking tamoxifen. My understanding is that one of the major side effects is hot flushes. All this with a winter-weight duvet strapped to my chest? No thanks.
These are the things I say if people ask. But really, although I’m glad these options are there for others, for myself I feel a sort of intuitive stubbornness, a sense of, ‘Why should I?’.
Why should I hide what has saved me?
The people offering implants, other types of reconstruction and prostheses mean kindly, they say nobody will be able to tell I’ve had a mastectomy. But I think, why should I hide it? It saved my life (fingers crossed).
My friends and family know I’ve had one, and what do I care if some random bloke in the street can tell too? Surely this hypothetical person should either congratulate me for not dying, or mind their own business.
Where are the bras for women like me?
So, here I am, going running in a sports bra that doesn’t fit. Loose on the right, full on the left, it looks and feels odd. I search on the internet and find inflatable bras, Halloween pumpkin bras, Christmas tree bras, Easter chicken bras and a lot more festive and animal-themed bosom supporters (Google it - it’s fun!). You can also find a lot of, let’s call them niche, items (don’t Google this - it’s rude).
But nowhere is there a bra for women like me who just want to be as they are, with one breast.
Maybe nobody else feels like me, and maybe if Sweaty Betty, Nike or Adidas made such a bra I’d be the only one wearing it.
I want to love my body as it is
But I’d like to think it’s possible that as well as being offered reconstruction, realistic prostheses and knitted softees, women who have had a mastectomy could be offered a sports bra that works for them.
So that we really could love our bodies as they are. So that rather than hiding our mastectomies, we could celebrate the survival they’ve given us.
Read more stories like Diana’s and find information and support on adapting to life beyond treatment in BECCA, our free app.
Follow Diana on Instagram @matriarchalsuperstate