I couldn’t wait to have my breast removed. As I packed my bag (pre-mastectomy) on operation day, I packed, unpacked, packed and unpacked my bras. One, comforting and practical, one seductive, lacy and uncomfortable, and one Lovely looking but impractical.
Oh crumbs, there was a problem – they had two breast cups. I would only have one breast. I threw them onto the bed and zipped up my case. Conventional frilly bras would be a thing of the past. Crop tops and chicken silicone prosthetist would be the way forward.
A few hours after I woke up from my mastectomy operation, I felt relieved. The cancer removed and my breast gone. I felt relieved and happy. And then, a small, perfectly square mirror was placed in front of me. I slowly opened my eyes and looked down at my uneven chest post breast removal. It wasn’t a shock, or a scare – in front of me was one breast. And then on the other side just a scar line. Like this —-
Annie’s book, ‘Love & Remission’ is available in Amazing and all good book stores now
It healed quickly and before I knew it I was given a leaflet on crop tops and care and healing after mastectomy. I hated crop tops. I had begged my mum at 11 years old to buy me one. They were so cool! One step up from a frilly girl’s vest and one step down from a full-blown bra. Never did I feel so proud to wear a crop top under my white shirt in my first year at secondary school. It was symbolic – a sign pubity was hitting and breasts were growing. Little did I know that in ten years’ time those breasts would try to kill me.
It’s bad enough having your hair fallen out, boobs gone and dignity stolen after cancer. But fashion? That was a whole new chapter in my life.
I have a degree in Fashion and Marketing and clothes are very important to me – they’re fun. The chicken fillet breast replacement I was handed would sit nicely in one side of the crop top, but my goodness it moved around. With every pace of a walk. I felt very conscious. And what to put on top? In mid-summer during a heat wave? A long sleeve t shirt? A jumper? I wanted a full-blown bin bag over my head. I had felt so liberated having my breast removed. Cancer clear. But I also felt so hideously uneven. No advice was given on how to still pull off ‘looking like a woman’ with a secret chicken fillet. No fashion advice, not to mention clothes to wear to feel sexy on a date.
Taking all this into account, I quickly began to feel depressed. I felt worse and worse and worse as nothing seemed to look good enough.
‘We’re going to kit you out!’, my Mum said one morning. As we walked into a boutique mastectomy underwear shop in central London, I felt hopeful again. It was like a designer lingerie shop – every colour and size for every customer. Only none of us clients had a cleavage. I felt exclusive at my appointment only visit. Picking out three bras that suddenly made me feel feminine, buxom – and like a woman again.
‘TWO HUNDRED POUNDS?’ my mum exclaimed. Quickly ruining my princess moment. She paid and we left feeling happy but marginally short changed. These bras changed my life. But what would a woman do who didn’t have a kind mother who could just fork out the best part of £300, I wondered?
It’s bad enough having your hair fall out, boobs gone and dignity stolen after cancer, but fashion? That was a whole new chapter in my life. As most women want to feel good, it was so important to me to look nice, to receive compliments and to feel attractive during my lowest times. I searched high and low for underwear and clothes that I could fit into, get away with, feel confident in – and it was tough! The range of underwear for mastectomies was surprisingly easy to find. From budget supermarket wear to high end special designer wear – there seems to be a budget for everyone.
Low neck tops are a no-no in all mastectomy wear. But why? Are we scared of revealing our secret? Our dark past? Or terrified perhaps of our chicken fillet popping out of the top of our bra?
Fashion and clothing however was different. Lots and lots of thought had clearly gone into the design, material and make of each self-titled ‘Mastectomy Wear’ garment, but I couldn’t help but feel a little patronised at the choices on offer. Nice material, size and feel, but to look back, a reflection of myself in an olive-green upside-down Christmas tree adorned with ornaments with my head as the fairy on top left me feeling angry! ‘It’s not worth it, the price I mean’ I would say to the poor family member, friend or whoever was unfortunate enough to come with me on my ‘mastectomy’ shopping trips.
The hours we spent trawling the internet were endless. Jumpers and dresses with ruffles from Australia, or polo necks with a baggy front from an exclusive post-op online shop. They just didn’t sit well.
So, with this, I decided to make up my own wardrobe. I would choose any shop, item, colour and brand I wanted and make it work. Just like that. Low neck tops are a no-no in all mastectomy wear. But why? Are we scared of revealing our secret? Our dark past? Or terrified perhaps of our chicken fillet popping out of the top of our bra? I know I was terrified! But It scared me more to fit into a category of overpriced clothing because I was a victim of cancer.
I chose low neck tops and slung a scarf around me. I picked sequin dresses and wore a long wig. Or on some days I would wear a big baggy jumper dress just slightly off the shoulder. I felt like me again, I felt like a woman. Just because you have an illness or a change in your body doesn’t mean you need to categorise yourself. Cancer froze my life but wouldn’t stop me having a choice.
Since my first operation, I have gone on to have reconstructive surgery. The wedding dress I chose had cleavage, and I felt amazing wearing it. Walking down the aisle in my huge Justin Alexander dress with a three-inch scar across my chest was one of my proudest moments.
I chose to wear low-cut gowns to work events and fancy balls with my husband. Swimming was my favourite thing to do. The feel of the salty freezing water on my body – but swimming in the sea just isn’t the same in a head to toe cover up. So I always wear conventional swimming costumes – bearing my scars to all. I now have no fear of showing them. Why should I?
I have never felt more attractive.
I’m proud of my scars.
They are like tattoos – only with better stories behind them.