Wardrobe boot camp: dressing after a mastectomy

Editor’s note: I’m battling my email inbox after attending Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia and blogging for Maybelline NY last week. Helping me have been some of my blogging friends. Because I commission these posts and these bloggers are helping me to keep my blog running while I’m away from regular duties, I’ll also be paying them for their contributions. Today, say hello to the stylish Rachel from Redcliffe Style.

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Heather Mercer is a woman with a fighting attitude. Her life has been turned upside this year after being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing a mastectomy. She wrote to us because dressing after a mastectomy has been challenging for her and she thought others might either be facing the same challenge or know someone who is.

Heather Mercer

The Plea

I am a 46 year old mum to two boys and I discovered your blog during the Xmas holidays and have been enjoying your posts ever since. The best tip I have found so far was the coloured jeans – bought myself three pairs and loving them!

Unfortunately, about two weeks after I found your blog I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the space of a few short weeks my life was totally turned upside down INCLUDING going from being a petite but big breasted girl to, well, a petite flat chested girl (which has many positives let me tell you!). Considering that you asked for ideas about wardrobe dilemas, I thought it worth suggesting fashion options or advice for women who have gone through mastectomies and/or who are receiving chemo treatment (one of the common chemo drugs for breast cancer causes hair loss).

I am finding that shopping for clothes that suit me and looking good (even if I do say so myself!) throughout the whole situation helps me to stay positive and happy, which is so important! I have learnt is that breast cancer is, scarily, quite common, so although it’s perhaps a depressing topic it may well be one with which a number of your readers will relate.

At the moment, because its still soon after surgery I can wear a soft bra with padding if I want to. This is usually worn from about 7 weeks after surgery. Then later you can get prosthesis like weighted stick-on type breasts which actually stick to your chest or another alternative is bras with weighted prostheses in them. Right now I’m preferring going flat chested when it works with the clothes.

The Tips

Wardrobe

  1. Thank you Heather for sharing and asking. It would be an hard and emotional journey and sometimes it would be nice to push it to the back of your mind and focus on something a little lighter, like your wardrobe. It is possible to look gorgeous, feminine and fashionable post surgery.
  2. As you have mentioned, you can start wearing a soft bra after about 7 weeks post surgery. It is important to find comfortable and well fitting bras. If you are up for it, get correctly fitted but if you aren’t, there are some great Australian websites that specialise in mastectomy bras.
  3. If you have decided to wear a prostheses, find the right one for you. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes and it’s important to select the one that suits your lifestyle and, if you have had a single mastectomy, matches your existing breast.
  4. Everyone’s scar and breasts are different. Before you rule out certain necklines because you are concerned they will show scaring, try them on and have a good look at yourself. You may be surprised just how much of your décolletage you can reveal before anything is revealed.
  5. When looking for dresses or tops, look for gentle draping, soft ruffles, asymmetrical designs or patterns.
  6. If you’ve fallen in love with a dress or top but the neckline is too revealing, don’t automatically reject it. You can make it less plunging with a brooch, or by wearing a cami underneath.
  7. Embrace accessories. These can help camouflage, distract or just make an outfit pop.

Hair loss

You might also be experiencing hair loss if you have gone through or are going through chemotherapy and this can be a very traumatic experience for women.

  1. There are many options to cover your hair loss – scarves, turbans and hats. These can be beautiful and fun but look for fabrics that can breathe.
  2. There are also some amazing wigs. Human hair ones might look fantastic but are very expensive. Remember, your hair loss is only temporary. Synthetic wigs are cheaper. These can look nice too and are easy to look after.
  3. Consider cutting your hair short before you start chemo, this will make any hair loss less obvious. There are some hair products to help control and make the most of the remaining hair.

AND remember, The key to confidence is not to focus in your problem area but to show off your positives. Your breasts are way more obvious to you than to anyone else.

Here are some great Australia websites to help you shop or gather information:

essentialluxuriesforcancer.com
lgfb.org.au
jamumastectomybras.com
erilan.com.au
spiritoflifeboutique.com

The Shopping

Wardrobe boot camp - how to dress after a mastectomy

1. Veronika Maine soft georgette shirt $129.95 | 2. Chikara ‘Olivia’ 3 tiered ruffled top $125US | 3. Katies floral print top On Sale $19.95 | 4. Chikara ‘Bati’ Japanese dress $145US | 5. Chikara ‘Jillian’ Ruffled bikini $120US | 6. Chikara ‘Jennifer’ Ruffled shirt dress $150US | 7. Veronika Maine Ruffled top On Sale $77 | 8. Veronika Maine Ruffled front top On Sale $54.50 | 8. Veronika Maine Wallpaper floral print knot top $159

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Rachel Redcliffe Style Rachel Wernicke is a 40 year-old married mum of two girls. After working as a paralegal in Brisbane for 14 years, she left life in the big city to focus on family. Once the kids were both in school, it was time get back to work and seriously, why would she choose to go back into law? In a four-person house with five computers, two iPads, two iPhones, two iPod touches and half a dozen cameras there seemed only one direction to go. She decided to learn more about the world of blogging and indulge her passions for style and life. Redcliffe Style is a light-hearted blog about lifestyle, fashion, beauty and blogging. Follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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  • Oma Cordes

    I am a bilateral mastectomy survivor who is unable to wear any type of bra/prosthesis. The circumference of my body where my breasts should be is much smaller than the rest so any bra I wear rides up and ends up under my chin, lol. I need a dress for my granddaughter’s wedding and don’t know how to accomodate the no-breast/bra factor. Would appreciate any pointers anyone can give me.

  • Pinxwear Pinxwear

    Pinxwear.com is good place to start to
    get comfortable post-mastectomy basics. We tried to think of everything, even
    managing the surgical drains. Our mastectomy camisoles with surgical drains and
    pouches are soft and comfortable and can be worn under anything.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/heather.mercer.5811 Heather Mercer

    Thank you Nikki for responding to my request to blog about fashion for women getting treatment for breast cancer. I think it’s a great way to raise awareness of what some women are going through and provides an opportunity to share ideas. Even though I’m going through the experience myself I cannot claim to know anything but I love the suggestions to help me look fab!! Also thanks to everyone for the positive messages of support! xx

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Thank-YOU, Heather. The more we talk about things like this, the more understanding we have when people close to us are going through battles with cancer.

  • Lucy the Lump

    How is this fair when you delete negative responses. But at least you may get the idea that not everyone agrees.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      I haven’t deleted any negative responses Lucy! They are all below. As I’ve repeatedly said, I would really like you all to offer up some positive advice based on your experience. Blogging is a conversation and sharing of information.

  • Lucy the Lump

    Obviously you know absolutely nothing about having a mastectomy. You give blase opinions about something you have no practical knowledge of and your glib advice is highly offensive. I don’t doubt that you will delete this post to keep yourself looking nice. But please believe that as someone who has has a mastectomy you are not heling the cause.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Hi Lucy, I won’t delete your comment because I would really like you and the other women who are not happy with this post to share some of YOUR tips here. If you could do that you would really be helping Heather – and other women – out. We never claimed to be an expert and I’m sorry if you think the post is glib – that was never ever our intention. Cancer is not a glib subject – I know that all too well as I lost my gorgeous mother-in-law to it 6.5 years ago.

      Heather was happy with our suggestions. Blogging is a conversation – I would love you to be helpful by joining that conversation and helping other women who are facing – or who have had – a mastectomy.

  • Angie Belle

    Are you serious?!! How deplorable to write a vague article about a topic you have never experienced and give ‘handy hints’ which are not handy but patronising at best. I have Breast Cancer and vague statements like ‘not to focus on your problem area’ and ‘your breasts are way more obvious to you than anyone else’ is simply bloody insulting!! I whole heartedly agree with Candy Lawrence!

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Hi Angie, it is not our intention at all to be insulting and I am very sorry you feel that way. What would be wonderful is if you can please add your tips here in the comments. That would continue the conversation in a positive way.

  • Candy Lawrence

    Phew. I’m somewhat startled by the other comments because honestly, as a breast cancer sufferer who has had a mastectomy I expected something a little deeper than what I found here. The advice about hair loss is almost offensive in its complete lack of understanding of how traumatic it is to be suddenly robbed of your hair. It is actually incredibly hard to find a wig that makes you feel good. It never looks or feels like your own hair, and many tears are shed by sufferers as they try to find something that they can live with for up to a year of their life. The truth is that wigs are hot and often uncomfortable to wear, but if you just wear a scarf or hat then people tend to stare and sometimes even ask invasive personal questions (personally I’m fine with that, but many people aren’t).

    The comment about ‘great websites’ for mastectomy bras also shows a lack of actual experience. Many women who’ve lost one or both breasts have larger busts, and yet these fashionable websites generally only have suitable bras in sizes up to about a 14D (if you’re lucky). Trying to find a mastectomy bra that doesn’t look like it belongs on a granny in a nursing home has been a major frustration for me and for many other women.

    So, sorry, but I don’t agree that this is a useful article. I suspect these sorts of articles should be written by women who have actual experience of living with breast cancer.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Candy, we are not claiming to be experts in this but to open a conversation that should be had. We should – as women – talk about this. You never know when you will be affected or someone close to you is. As everyone’s experience with any form of cancer and its treatment is different, I value and honour input from others. I would love you to add to that positive conversation by including links to products you’ve found helpful. There are other breast cancer sufferers commenting below and they’ve added advice. I think that would be more helpful to everyone.

    • Lucy the Lump

      I agree with this post. Only someone who has walked the walk would truly “know” what is helpful advice here.

    • http://www.facebook.com/heather.mercer.5811 Heather Mercer

      Have you tried Starkles, Candy? I found a gorgeous wig there..it definitely feels different to my own hair but I’m getting used to it and it does look good (even if I do say so myself ;) )

  • http://www.redcliffestyle.com/ Rachel from Redcliffe Style

    Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to guest post today. xxx

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      You’re very, very welcome Rach x

  • Trish

    Thank you Rachel , the advice is perfect.Most hospitals have wig libraries too. Now I am coming out the other side after a double mastectomy I am finding clothes hard to shop for . My scars are healed but I prefer not wearing a bra because it puts pressure on my portACath (because I am still having I’V treatment different to chemo).
    I wish Heather all the very best.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Hi Trish, this is a very good point … bras just won’t be comfortable if you have a portACath. Hope you’re doing as well as you can be xx

      • Trish

        I am going well thanks Nikki. Feeling feminine in nice clothes makes all the difference like Heather said. It is really a great post.

        • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

          xx

  • Mac

    My friend was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double
    mastectomy. She is currently half way through her chemo and is doing it tough. I send her a little gift in the mail each week like a bright nail polish or lip gloss etc along with a card letting her know I am thinking of her and I am here if she needs me. She is not really up for visitors and it is so hard when you want to help but also don’t want to be in the way. Sending my little card and gift each week is my way of saying hi.

    Thanks for the links to the retailers. You have given me some more options of things to buy for her.

    Good luck to all who are touched by cancer. I pray that you all make a full recovery.

    Cancer really is a bitch. It takes way too many good people each year.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Oh Mac, what a beautiful friend you are. This is such a good way to brighten up a girlfriend’s day when they’re not up to visitors.

  • Mrs Woog

    Fantastic post Rach and all the love in the world to you Heather x

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Rach has done a great job!

  • http://www.jfgibson.com.au/ Jodi Gibson

    All the best Heather. I can’t imagine what you’ve been through, but your positive attitude is inspiring to others in similar situations I’m sure. Great post Rachel.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Love Heather’s attitude Jodi.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nicoll.heaslip Nicoll Heaslip

    Heather, best of luck with your ongoing treatment! Rachel, great advice, such lovely fashion. My Aunty Carolyn, who is in remission from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, has started a charity making caps for women undergoing chemo treatment. When she was undergoing treatment she found what was on offer was not practical or comfortable so set about making something better, that also was a little more fashionable. She now has teams of people helping to make these caps and they give them to hospitals and people undergoing chemo, and you can also purchase them for a very small price to pass on to someone in need. She has a facebook page – you can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/CarolynsChemoCaps

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Thank for sharing your Aunty Carolyn’s awesome initiative, Nicoll!

  • Kathryn

    This is a great post to which I can relate all too well. I underwent a double masectomy and 4 months of chemo nearly 4 years ago at age 39. To counteract that post chemo green tinge I can recommend Clinque’s Fresh Bloom All Over Colour in Posy (my go to product) and agree that ruffles can be your best friend . I also recommend using scarfs and necklaces to detract from a flatter chest and I loved my stripey tops. Also Ambra (Big W and Myer)make some great soft bras that are really comfortable to wear post op.

    I have since had a reconstruction which makes dressing my figure a lot easier.

    Agree with Heather the positives include being able to wear any top without a bra, and you never have to deal with the effects of gravity (well at least in that area anyway).

    In so far as my overall health goes the best thing I did was start going to the gym last year and take up pump classes…. completely sorted out my issues with residual muscle weakness and scar tissue……also stopped the side effects of tamaxifen induced menopause such as leg cramping…. I highly recommend it

    Wishing you all the best Heather!

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Oh Kathryn. Thanks for sharing your story and your recommendations here.

  • katypotaty

    This is a fantastic and thoughtful post, Heather. I’m forwarding to a friend in a similar situation right now!

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Oh, thanks Katy x

  • Kelly

    Oh Heather what a great person you are to still think of others when you have so much going on with yourself! I agree when you are not feeling well (not that I have been this unwell), sometimes you do just feel better when you look better. Rachel … love those suggestions, I think I would wear them all excluding the bikini of course!!

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      I know – right! That’s why I was particularly taken with this request.

  • Lisa Mckenzie

    Heather the best of luck to you hon,Thank-you for sharing your story,looking nice makes you feel better,and helps those positve vibes keep going.I love the tips and the fashion Rachel has chosen ,especially the ruffled shirt dress lovely ! This is a great topic and I’m sure it will help many women.
    I will have a look at your blog Rachel it looks like it is right up my alley ,thanks for this post.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      You will love Rachel’s blog Lisa!

  • Cilla

    Big virtual hugs to Heather, a gorgeous lady. Beautiful couture too!

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Thanks Cilla … love Rachel’s picks.

  • http://kimbalikes.com Kim-Marie Williams

    Great tips, beautiful outfits and Heather, I wish you the best of luck. I just love your caring attitude towards other women who may be going through the same battle. I love that you’ve found a silver lining x

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Amazing lady!