For breast cancer survivors who undergo a mastectomy, their "new normal" includes struggling with getting dressed every day. Read how one woman took control of her life and wardrobe after cancer.
There is a phrase that often gets tossed around when people talk about life post-cancer: "The New Normal." And while I'll admit I am not the biggest fan of that phrase, it is the best way to describe the void I entered when my doctor released me from care and encouraged me to run with gaiety through the fields of "all clear. Because despite the good news of being "finished" with cancer, and despite being given permission to press play on my life, the mark of breast cancer was still very much with me. Though I may have escaped its grip, my body was forever altered.
I had charged my way through a bilateral mastectomy, the reconstruction process, chemo, fear, loss of self, and loss of confidence. I had the scars, both emotional and physical. I had the appearance of a woman in limbo between illness and health.
With Tamoxifen weight gain and sensitive, stiff implants, my wardrobe became my nightmare. As a woman, it sucked. As a fashion designer, it was devastating. I wanted to wear my button-down shirts, my sweetheart necklines and, most of all, my delicate, underwire bras. But, my God-given breasts had been replaced by my McDreamy-given breasts, and I felt as though I was 13 again - trying to figure out how to dress these foreign objects.
Some may think this sort of vanity is a selfish and silly emotion. I had come out of cancer with clear margins, a loving husband and a great job. I was luckier than most. I knew I wasn't supposed to be re-living the fashion angst experienced by a teenager, but I was. And getting angry with myself for feeling so stupid wasn't making things easier. Every morning, getting dressed for meetings or client lunches, became moments I so stressed over. I couldn’t sleep. Something had to give.
I told myself I could continue to try stuffing my square breasts into my formerly circular life, or I could just change my perspective. I said goodbye to button-downs, to shift dresses, to restricting waistbands. I packed up my unwearable, but beloved bras and donated them. I started embracing maxi dresses and pieces made from modal or jersey fabric. I thanked Diane von Furstenberg for making wrapped garments fashionable. I found myself wearing more skirts and fewer pants. I began playing with necklines and clothing without structure - and discovered my love for belting and long necklaces. I turned my eye toward bohemian and billowy cuts, knowing I could dress them up and create my own tailoring with the right accessories. I learned power comes from within, not pencil skirts and four-inch pumps.
And I started designing my own lingerie, AnaOno Intimates
. The way I saw it, at the very least I could have my pretty underpinnings back and control whether or not I wore a sports bra forever. And the day the prototype for my first bra design came, I cried. I cried for everything I had been through, and for everything I was about to experience. Then I started scooping up any item that was open-backed or showed it off.
I knew I was on my way back to my former self. Not my normal. (NEVER my normal). Just my new trajectory; my new chapter.
And not only was the bra looking pretty darn good, but, for the first time in a long time, I felt like I was too.
Did you lose your self esteem after a mastectomy? Share your experience in the comments below.