Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Long, Long Search

Turns out, choosing a bilateral mastectomy was far from the only choice I'd have to make along cancer's journey.  I was forced to think about many things never given any consideration before, and not just big decisions, such as mastectomy versus lumpectomy and treatment choices, but small, inconsequential things you'd never think would give one pause.  But, that's cancer for you.  It changes everything that was once commonplace, routine, so very much taken for granted.  I found myself surprised at what became an issue, such as, What to do with my pre-mastectomy bras?  Keep or trash?  Would they ever fit again?  Would I want to wear bras that came before?  Here again, was something I hadn't considered, but eventually breast cancer brought to my attention.

It didn't take long to realize, the old bras no longer served their purpose. Size and shape were significantly changed.  New ones were called for.

Earlier in life, before BC, bra shopping wasn't terrible.  As a matter of fact, depending on the situation, I liked it.  It was fun to shop around, try on different styles, some I'd never consider purchasing, some I might...hello pushup.  It's easy when you know your size, but after implant surgery I had no idea what size I was.  Well, that's not exactly true.  I'm 510cc's, but what is that going to buy me in Victoria's Secret?

I wish now I could remember the last time I wore a bra before the mastectomy.  I should have savored the moment more.  I didn't realize then how long it would be before I'd comfortably wear one again, if ever.  I never wore a bra while I had expanders.  Why would anyone?  What's the point?  They're hard as rocks and certainly not bouncing around, so I was basically starting from scratch with my new implants.  I needed to know my size, but how would I learn that?  Try a sample in every size from B through D?  Tried it.  Nothing fit right.  I never thought bra shopping would be such a pain in the ass.

My fear was the bra fitter.  Am I alone in thinking a bra fitting is awkward under the best of circumstances with the best body?  I wasn't ready for that.  I was determined to do this on my own without asking for help.  Help came with a whole slew of questions I didn't want to answer.

I entered stores with the best intentions, every time, but I began to see this as another cancer challenge.  One daring me to dress these boobs I never asked for, as if it were yesterday.  It didn't need to be fancy. It just needed to fit, like the old days, but the bras never did and I'd leave empty handed, bra less.

This went on for months.  Every now and then, I'd try again.  I thought I nailed it when I headed for the large department stores at the mall, where lingerie lives in some corner no sales person dares to tread, but still, bra after bra rejected.  Whatever I was looking for, I wasn't finding it here.  I'd leave again, defeated, sad.

Maybe, I wasn't as strong as I liked to believe.  The thing is, it was hard to face the mirror.  This wasn't like seeing the scars in my own bathroom mirror.  I can accept them there, but in a store trying to do something I did hundreds of times pre-mastectomy, I wanted to achieve the same results, but clearly, that wasn't happening.  It would never happen.  These new breasts, though nice, were different.  It wasn't possible to see a former vision of myself, no matter how hard I wanted to, or how many bras I tried on -- She's gone.

When I finally couldn't stand camisoles a moment longer, I drove 45 minutes to Nordstroms, where I'd heard they specialize in such things -- Us, nutty mastectomy patients, with the hope they'd understand and help me without it being too uncomfortable, and it was okay.  Except for the stripping part.  I tried to weasel out of that even then.

Me:  "I'll just keep this tank on."

Specially trained bra fitter:  "Honey, it's nothing I haven't seen."

So, I stripped, scars, implants, no nipples and all, for yet one more stranger in the long line of unexpected, unwanted, public disrobing that is cancer, but I left happy.  It fit.  It was nice and even though it didn't remind me of days gone by, it looked pretty good.  My search, at least until I need a second bra, is over.

9 comments:

  1. Stacey I think you really captured a depth of feelings here with this post. I too loath the bra thing and last time I went shopping for one found myself telling the fitter that I'd had implants but not for vanity's sake "if you know what I mean" wink wink nudge nudge. I'm sure she thought I was stark raving mad and needless to say I got a bra, which didn't really fit, all because I was too ashamed to say what I really wanted and was squeamish about being properly fitted. But you are so right that stripping off now is still such a stark shocking reminder that I'm still not really used to and wonder if I ever really will be. Anyway point of all this is that I've pretty much given up on bras because I just can't bear the whole sorry process and the discomfort. And it all just runs so much deeper than just buying a bra. Great post!

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  2. Stacey, there should be a group of we BC survivors/friends who go with other BC friends to things of significance, like your trip to Nordy's. Turn it into a fun event instead of something one dreads. If I lived near you, I would gladly be your friend who would take your hand and be a rock to lean on during trying times. You'll get there girlfriend!

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  3. Anna, once again, shared experience makes us agree on how crappy this feels. All those times I would wander the bra aisles, not knowing if there were others dealing with this stuff, the so called small stuff, but it's not small at all. Bra shopping should be easy, but unfortunately, we know differently. As Lisa commented below you, we need to band together and make it a fun outing, so no one need endure it alone. It's just too hard.

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  4. Lisa, you brought tears to my eyes. Just the thought of having someone to go with, someone that gets it, changes my opinion about the whole fiasco. Power in numbers. We need to organize group outings for women making their re-entry into the bra world. I'm going to investigate that idea. Enough about breast cancer sucks, finding a decent bra, shouldn't have to.

    Thanks so much for you kind words!

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  5. Stacey, I can't believe how so many times you tap into experiences and feelings so similar to mine! I have not worn a bra since before surgery and I'm not sure when I will again. I never even had a fitting when my body was "normal," so the likelihood of having one now, I don't know... I, too, have a drawer full of bras, I'm not sure why they are still in there, obviously they'll never fit right again. Sooner or later I suppose I'll have to face the dreaded dressing room mirror and when I do, I'll think of you and this post!! Thank you!

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  6. Nancy, it makes sense that we'd experience the same things. It's just too bad we can't band together when it comes to disheartening things like bra shopping. Who'd ever of thought? Thanks so much for writing. It's always good to know I'm not alone!

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  7. Another option is to find a boutique that specializes in mastectomy bras. (Amoena is one brand, and on their website you can search for stores that sell their bras.) The boutiques usually sell normal bras and lingerie, too, and have fitters especially trained to fit breast cancer patients. I've been to a couple, and they are much nicer than department stores. Those fitters have seen my mastectomy scar, and I don't feel awkward at all! They always find a bra (and breast form, in my case) that fits right. I've heard good things about Nordstrom's too. Glad you finally have a bra that fits!

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  8. Ginny, I didn't even think of mastectomy boutiques. Since I had reconstruction, it didn't occur to me to go there, but you're right. It's probably a great, understanding place to go. Thanks for the suggestion. I hope someone reading this will use it.

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  9. Great post Stacey. The whole bra 'thing' is just rubbish. (I have one natural breast and one DIEP recon). I've even tried nursing bras... it's just not have the CHOICE anymore and what should be fun ends up no fun at all. As if I needed the reminder.
    Well observed, thank you.
    Sarah

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