Post-Surgery Problems… and how to fix them:
Although the pink exterior of our Royal Oak store may have you believe we’re a specialist post-surgery fitting company, we’re not!
We like to think we have something for everyone without exclusion. Sadly however, as 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, we are seeing more and more customers who have either had full or partial removal of their breast(s) and we hope that by freeing women from ill-fitting bras, we can offer even greater comfort to those who have undergone breast cancer surgery.
In this blog, we’ll be looking at some of the issues faced by those who have undergone breast cancer surgery and ultimately how important it is to get properly fitted for bras at this time. The post-surgery landscape can be confusing. Add to that the emotional toll of undergoing breast cancer treatment and it can feel extremely overwhelming. Let us be your guide through this challenging time and offer our support and expertise on how best to fit your new shape.
Please bear in mind that the recommendations we make in this post are intended for ladies who have healed without issues or complications following their surgery. The points raised are not for immediately after your operation, as we understand that depending upon the type of surgery received, compression garments are required and the feeling of anything too firm around you may be extremely uncomfortable.
As you recover during this time, you may feel like wearing a very simple lightweight cotton, modal or microfiber front fastening bra top that allows for easy on/off and is extremely soft against the skin. It’s always advisable to check with your surgeon or breast care nurse for further information on this.
First let’s break down the terminology we’ll be using:
- Post-surgery: after surgery. This can mean after removal of one or both breasts, a partial removal of tissue or reconstructive surgery. It can also include those who have had augmentations or reductions of the breast.
- Mastectomy: removal of one or both breasts, called a double mastectomy. No breast tissue or nipple remains unless a nipple saving surgery was performed. In some mastectomies lymph nodes are removed, including those from the underarm (often called a modified radical mastectomy) and also the muscle from the chest wall, known as a radical mastectomy.
- Partial Mastectomy: also known as a lumpectomy. Part of the breast tissue has been removed; however this can still be a large percentage from one or more quadrants of the breast(s).
- Reconstructive surgery: breast tissue is removed and replaced using either an implant or tissue from the tummy or back to construct a new breast. This procedure can be done at the same time as a mastectomy.
- Prosthesis/Prostheses: a breast form/s. These are available in a multitude of sizes, shapes, colors, textures and materials to mimic the appearance of a breast.
Why a good fitting bra is essential after a mastectomy:
We’ve spoken in great detail in previous blogs as to what the benefits are of a properly fitted bra. The support and shaping received from the right bra means you’re going to look and feel better in your clothes and not have to worry or adjust undergarments constantly. It’s like wearing a comfortable pair of shoes – you just carry on with your day no longer aware you’re even wearing them. For ladies with a larger bust size this is amplified, as the physical strain a heavier bust can put on the body results in aching necks, backs and shoulders.
One of the main issues facing ladies we saw after surgery was Body Dysmorphia and not feeling comfortable in your own body. This seemed to be especially true for ladies who had a single mastectomy and or were fuller busted, with a breast now pulling clothes and garments to one side. Ladies would speak of feeling lopsided and uneven and not feeling confident in their bodies, forever having to adjust clothing.
They would say that it was enough to have undergone the surgery but ideally to not be reminded of it every time they looked at themselves in the mirror with clothes on, just for a moment to forget and continue with living life.
Having the right bra that is holding firm around the body ensures that your bra remains in place. If the underband is too loose, the bra can move (think of it like a hula hoop rather than a harness that stays put) not giving support to the remaining breast and potentially causing rubbing or chafing around the body.
The correct cup size also means that you won’t have spillage or breast tissue where it’s not meant to be. Everything has its place within the cup so that you are contained, lifted and supported and the bra will stop pulling to the one side, taking clothing with it.
Why you don't always need a pocket fitted into your bra:
If you have a full bust and a full cup bra with a central gore (the bit in the middle) and the frame of the cup that sits high enough to contain your bust naturally, you usually don’t need a pocket to help keep a breast form in.
Often, we see pocketed bras being used when the shape and fit isn’t right for the customer. For example: if the cup is too big and gapes, or too small and forces the bust to spill out – a pocket is the only thing that prevents the breast form from popping out when a lady bends over or reaches up.
Thanks to a wonderful customer many moons ago who told us the story of being at the grocery store and this situation happened to them – they reached up for a product on a high shelf, the bra lifted away and out popped their prosthesis onto the shop floor, much to their embarrassment but recalled in good humor afterwards. We made sure that the right bra contained their breast form and it would never happen again!
Of course, we understand that some ladies might just prefer the feeling of a pocket against their skin or surgery/radiation scar and can recommend modal or microfiber that feels super soft but allows the skin to breathe and wicks away moisture from behind the prosthesis.
The right bra doesn’t have to be limited to non wired or underwired – there are plenty of choices depending on your bust size. What we have found at Bra~vo intimates is that we work with you to select what’s right for your comfort without compromising on fit. Some customers prefer to remain out of underwires and find the thicker underbands on wire free styles help them feel contained, whereas some feel a softer, more flexible underwire gives them the best of both worlds in terms of support and agility.
This can also depend on whether the customer suffers from Lymphoedema (a condition which causes swelling of the upper and lower limbs due to a blockage in the lymphatic system) often seen in ladies who have had modified or radical mastectomies. Lighter garments with deeper supportive sides may be more comfortable and also be required to be shallower under the armpit to stop the fabric from catching and chafing.
Why your prosthesis needs to be right:
From the super light foam or fleece filled softie given to ladies immediately after surgery, to the teardrop or U-shaped breast forms specifically made for underwired bras, to the Left or Right tailed styles for those who have had modified or radical mastectomies there are a LOT of prostheses to choose from.
There are styles with natural sag, ones with a much fuller projection, there are lighter ones specifically designed for swimming and activities there are even adhesive options to mimic natural movement.
This is mainly because there are so many different shapes of breast and so to try and match in the best way, companies invest in designing for numerous situations, [here comes that shoe comparison again!] just as we would have different shoes for different situations!
In an ideal world, it is best to get your bra properly fitted first and then get your prosthesis. This way, your breast care nurse or prosthesis provider can immediately see what size, style and shape of prosthesis you should be offered to match your remaining breast and see already what they are trying to complement.
For example, if you were someone with a very naturally full bust who wanted to wear underwires, but the prosthesis given was with a ‘tail’ for the side, we would have to fit you in non wired bras as the underwire could potentially damage the breast form, leaving you uncomfortable and out of pocket.
Likewise, a customer who didn’t have as much fullness and wore wider, balcony styles would be ill suited to a breast form that was very long, was too forward and sat too high in their bras and into their chest wall.
The right prosthesis in a fuller bust will ensure that the weight is evenly distributed within the cups of the bra and also give the right amount of projection forward so that any discrepancy is minimal. The right prosthesis can account for where there is missing muscle on the chest wall after a radical surgery and ensure that the hollowness left after the mastectomy is counteracted when in a bra and under clothes. The right prosthesis together with the right bra will ensure that clothes no longer move about.
We don’t want our customers to come to us feeling awkward or worried about breast asymmetry, we want you to feel confident and comfortable and forget about wearing a bra or prosthesis!
Are there difficulties fitting bras after reconstruction?
No surgeon can fully recreate what was once before, we are all perfectly imperfect in our bodies. However, advancements in surgery techniques now mean that reconstructions can be almost unnoticeable without clothes and giving ladies their confidence back with breast symmetry and appearance.
Fitting an implant reconstruction is much like fitting implants or augmented breasts, however we always need to ensure that the larger cup (usually the natural side) is correctly fitted. This is to ensure that there are no underwires digging into the breast tissue at the side or in front, or the cup digs into the fuller part causing the double boob effect. There’s a certain lack of movement in the artificial breast that means fabrics like stretch lace or microfiber fit better and a softer, more flexible wire is necessary.
Tissue reconstructions have the mobility of a natural breast, but can sometimes be a wider, shallower shape that again, a stretch lace or microfiber cup works better against.
Often, ladies with extremely full busts opt to have a reduction at the same time to allow for better breast symmetry. After surgery and healing, bear in mind that a slightly wider shape of bust is common as is a higher placement, so either a flexi wire or wire free option with a shallow underarm may be more comfortable.
What’s most necessary is that you are properly fitted to ensure your new bust is supported and comfortable, and you can treat yourself to a whole new bra wardrobe too!
What about lumpectomies?
Partial removal of the breast can still mean a rather large amount. Breast asymmetry is natural in busts across the globe, with the average woman having a breast one to two cups sizes difference. However, with less tissue available, it can feel like it is more noticeable in smaller busts.
Depending on where the surgery has removed the tissue, there are very clever fillers or partial prostheses that can hide the difference in your bra or under clothes.
If tissue has been removed from the lower half, a push up “chicken fillet” can often do a great job in filling in the area and helping to push the bust upwards in the cup. With removals of tissue that leave one bust less projected, a filler style with a hollow back to allow for the natural breast underneath can give back the fullness. If a lot of tissue was taken from the top half of the breast, teardrop shapes can be worn upside down to mimic the fullness.
Many of these specialist filler or partial prostheses have thin edges that help them transition to the skin without an unsightly bump and can have adjustable interior filling for a fully personal fit.
The most important thing for our ladies who have had breast surgery is that they are properly fitted to ensure their comfort and confidence is not affected. At Bra~vo intimates we want to assure our post-surgery ladies that our years of expertise and training mean that we are compassionate and caring and fully professional in our manner offering you as much privacy and modesty as you require and having the full Bra~vo Experience!
If you would like to chat with one of our team members about post-surgery options, please do give us a call on (248) 582-7286 or click here to book an appointment at our Royal Oak store.