I had never heard of women burning bras as feminist protest until I got to college, and it confused me. I had always thought of bras as a functional and necessary garment, not an optional item. I noticed that women’s magazines would sometimes discuss whether or not it was appropriate not to wear a bra. The mere idea of this boggled my mind. I came to realize that there is a divide between women who wear bras for fashion reasons or societal conformance; and those, like me, who really need a bra.
So when I got the news that I’d have a single mastectomy, the bra question was a big one for me. Ok, sure, Righty would become Stumpy, requiring bandages and time to heal, and presumably no longer needing support. But what about Lefty? Lefty could not go bra-less, flopping around uncomfortably, while waiting for Righty to heal! None of my doctors seemed to be very concerned with this issue, as if for most women bras were nothing more than a fashion accessory.
I was aware that there is something called a “mastectomy bra,” but upon Googling this, they seemed to be just normal bras with a pocket in the cup for a prosthesis. Speaking of which, then there is the whole issue of getting a prosthesis. I wondered, do they make adjustable prostheses that can be modified as the breast expander is expanded?
As it turned out, I was sent home from the hospital after my surgery with a large, elaborate vest that clipped AND zipped in the front. It did not support Lefty that well, but was comfortable enough, and after all, I was not planning on jogging anytime soon. About a week later I graduated to a post-surgical bra that also clasped in the front and was a bit less vest-like. (Wearing the vest over the top of the new bra allowed me to wear an ice pack, which actually made a pretty decent prosthesis for a while…)
Eventually it was clear I needed to find a more supportive solution. The problem was that all my regular, pre-surgery bras have underwire. Underwire interfered with my drain tube; and it hurt. The nurses at Dr. Fix-It’s office suggested wearing a sports bra, but this was even worse; I don’t know about you, but I want my most supportive bra to be the one I wear jogging! And, of course, they too have underwire. I did own a few soft, wireless bras, but they went on over my head, an impossibility with my restricted range of motion.
Eventually, once the drain was removed and everything was a bit less gross, I went to Nordstrom to check out what they had to offer. I was advised to go to the UTC Nordstrom, as a fellow “survivor” had a horrible experience at a different one, where the very young sales clerk saw her stumpy Frankenstein boob and ran crying from the fitting room! At Nordstrom I bought a couple of comfortable, supportive bras without underwire. With that, a few weeks after my surgery, my first problem was solved.
Next, on to the question of the prosthesis. Nordstrom had a few that I tried on, but they did not look right – my boobs are just not that pointy! Also, $200, holy shit, this is health insurance robbery!! Ridiculous. I decided to pass.
Back home with my new purchases, I decided to try to improvise something. A nurse had suggested going to Jo-Ann Fabrics and getting shoulder pads, but I had not gotten around to doing this. I scrounged around my closet for something that would work and ended up using bandanas folded into neat squares. This actually seemed to work pretty well, with the advantage of being fully adjustable. And free.
This was all several weeks ago now and this seems to be working out fine. In retrospect if I could give advice to a busty woman about to have a single mastectomy, I’d say to go out ahead of time and buy some comfy, underwire-free bras, preferably that clasp in the front, and maybe some shoulder pads. I wish someone had given me this advice!
I should add that they also sell post-surgical bras with pockets for your drain. I did not find this necessary, but I also could not give a shit if someone saw my bloody drain peeking out from under my shirt. For the more self-conscious or squeamish, this is a neat product to be aware of.