We have invited three of Australia’s and New Zealand's leading breast form and mastectomy bra fitters. They are going to explain…
- When is the best time to get fitted after breast surgery
- What you can expect
- The emotional experience for women post breast surgery
- The things that you need to know but wouldn’t have thought about.
- General advice from the fitters.
Now, firstly I would really like to acknowledge all of our Mastectomy Specialists and Fitters because their work is absolutely incredible. The level of service that they offer is exceptional and it takes a special person to do it so well.
Given the nature of this type of fitting and the knowledge needed to fit you correctly with the compassion and understanding needed, it is crucial that you go to a specialty store to receive this.
Breast care and prevention is an ongoing process, both fitters strongly suggest that research is a vital element in getting well rounded understanding before you make any decisions. Something that has become very apparent in our research for our articles on breast care and breast cancer is doctors are strongly urging women to get a reconstruction at the same time as the breast surgery, however at times refusing to remove both breasts at the request of the patient. (Personally I find contradictory, but that’s just me)
When you are in your doctors office and he has delivered what will be one of the most frighting news, all you will hear is breast cancer…. After that it becomes white noise. Doctors are in a very dominant and influential position here and it is important that you have someone with you to absorb the information. We strongly encourage you not to make any decisions on the day and research all options before you make any decisions. Speak to your breast care nurse, go into a mastectomy store and speak to the fitters and even talk to other breast cancer survivors if possible.
Whatever road you take is fine, as long as you do what is right for you and everybody is different. Trust your intuition.
Your breast cancer journey will be as mental as it is physical, so you can get a well rounded understanding beforehand you know what to expect. This could erase any anxiety leading up to the fitting.
Now, it is over to our mastectomy bra and breast forms specialists.
1. When to get fitted for a mastectomy bra and/ or breast form?
Josephine: “The recommended period from when you have your mastectomy is usually about 6 weeks, however I have fitted women from 4 weeks from their mastectomy if they have either go back to work and/or the scar is healing better than anticipated. But, we do recommend from 6 weeks onwards.”
Maralyn: It is preferable to wait 6-8 weeks after surgery before being fitted with a permanent breast form, this is to allow for any swelling at the surgical site to resolve. If they are unsure we advise them to check with their breast care nurse or medical practitioner.
At the hospital the Ladies are given a bra and soft breast form in the interim however these are not very flattering and because they are only filled with cotton wool they ride up and practically sit on their collar bone and I believe it gives some of them a wrong impression of how their life will be post surgery. It can be very depressing for some.
Normally it’s around the 6 week mark that a lady is mentally and physically ready to be fitted for their main prosthesis. Key physical sings are that she has no swelling and that her incision has healed and key is no physical pain especially around the sentinel node incision. She needs to feel comfortable to try bras on.
I do recommend that she has a good post-operative bra for wearing during this initial period. I recommend a pre-pocketed mastectomy bra as this are designed for a body after breast surgery and are pocketed to support a :”softee” post-operative prosthesis.
2. What should she expect?
Josephine: 9 times out of 10 the mastectomy patients have no idea what to expect when she visits the store for a mastectomy fitting.
The breast care nurse at the hospital doesn’t always inform the patient, as they also know very little.
At Nocturnal Designs after we welcome her and introduce ourselves, we always ask if she has seen and held a breast form before we get started, we then chat to her about what the visit will involve,
we show her some pocketed bras and styles she likes. We then very gently begin the fitting process and show her different styles of breast forms and bras.
If she has had a double mastectomy we always go for the lightest breast forms (Trulife have the best in the market for double mastectomies).
Timing is also very important, at the time when she’s made the appointment we always discuss how long it would take and the convenience of undercover 2 hour free parking.
We strongly encourage appointments, but if she doesn’t have an appointment we make the time to attend to her.
Maralyn: We are in contact with breast care nurses and Drs in our areas and we encourage them to suggest their patients come and see us before their surgery so they can see what their options are, to touch and feel the breast forms and to see how natural and life like they are as it gives them comfort and hope that there can be normality after surgery.
They usually come to the fitting with shoulders forward head down and very hesitant. However we soon change that.
The fitting process starts with getting to know our client and her getting to feel comfortable with us. We check her sizing body and body shape and her needs as far as how active she is etc and then fit a mastectomy pocketed bra that fits her remaining breast (mastectomy bras are higher to cover any loss of breast tissue in the cleavage area). Because of the different types of surgery we would need to inspect the surgery site to determine which breast form is best suited. Once we have her perfectly matched and balanced we turn them around to look in the mirror and when they see themselves looking the same as they did before the surgery they cry with joy, happiness and relief. They walk out with their shoulders back head held high and the biggest smile. We love our job.
They can also bring someone with them to the fitting family or friend.
The Casamia Lingerie Team
Karla: With a good fitter she should expect a good room with a large range of products so she can try different bras and prosthesis. She should expect to develop a good relationship with her fitter and spend a little time talking about what she likes to wear in bras, what sports or activities she does, where she is in her cancer journey. The room should have a good temperature for trying items on. She should have an opportunity to try different bras and prostheses on regardless on price points so she can see what products work best for her. She should be able to have space in the room to have a support person with her and an appointment of at least half an hour or an hour so she isn’t rushed.
3. Can it be an emotional experience for women post breast surgery and in the fitting room?
Josephine: Women respond very differently. I think the acceptance process differs for every woman.
There are lots of different styles of lingerie, sleepwear, swimwear, teddies (yes teddies!) available to women who have had a mastectomy.
We aim to help women feel as normal as possible by carrying stock that makes them good about themselves.
At Nocturnal Designs the store is designed to make women feel that they’re not different to another woman tho she’s had a mastectomy.
I think the surroundings of the store and the environment has a lot to do with the healing of the mastectomy process. It’s non clinical and also
I know that there some mobile services available to women who have had a mastectomy BUT our experience and feedback from women is that they
love going shopping in an environment that has lots on offer as well as grab a coffee with their friend/husband/partner after their visit. All very positive!
Of course if the customers is elderly or for some reason can’t get to a store then when we can visit the customer in her home.
Our staff, fitting rooms and range of products we stock help women feel comfortable about their body change and accept their new style of lingerie.
Maralyn: At Casamia we appreciate the physical and emotional trauma and stress that can be experienced when diagnosed with Breast Cancer they may experience loss of confidence and self-esteem along with feelings of anxiety. It is our aim to help relieve that pressure.
It takes a lot of courage to take that first step to fitted for the first time,
They are embarrassed, usually not feeling well from treatment.
They cannot envisage that they will ever (look normal again) or feel feminine again. They usually cry when they tell you their story, some just stand there still in a state of shock and disbelief, others are angry. But there are those that appear on the surface to be handling it very well and even joke about it. But they all eventually go through the 5 stages of grief: “denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost.” In their case it is the loss of their breast, which in turn results in the loss of their femininity, self-confidence and self-esteem,
Our role as fitters is to make this experience easy, pleasant, and enjoyable, with no embarrassment or discomfort. To make sure that we have at least restored their physical appearance which then helps with the mental healing.
Karla: With a good fitter the lady will have a very positive psyche when returning to shopping, a good fit no one other than who the lady choses to tell will be able to tell. There are so many wonderful bras available now that are super comfortable to wear, that disguise the fact that she has had breast surgery and also fashionable and available in some great colours. She won’t even need to change what fashion chooses she needs as there are bras for all occasions now.
4. Is there something that women should be aware of, however wouldn’t really think about it before experiencing it?
Josephine: If possible women should be encouraged to explore breast forms and mastectomy lingerie and other products before their mastectomy.
A lot of the time we see women who have been fitted for breast forms that are too heavy, too big and really unsuitable.
After having a mastectomy a lot of women go though a grieving period and because of their state of mind just accept whatever breast form they’re given when they visit a store.
(Department stores are notorious for this) Apologies for say this but department stores should not be servicing mastectomy patients.
I see it all the time where the customer has been fitted for the wrong breast form and didn’t question it, as they knew very little about the whole process of being
fitted after having a mastectomy. Nocturnal Designs always ensure that we offer our customers choices.
I love Trulife breast forms as they are lightweight and now with the new Sublime breast form the choices are even wider with Trulife.
We always highlight the features of each and every breast form, to keep the customer informed.
Maralyn: To me balance is important. The breast form doesn’t necessarily have to be the same weight it can be up to 25%-35% lighter without affecting the balance. If they choose not to wear a weighted breast form they may experience back pain, neck pain, and shoulder turning inward or forward, Can also affect their posture and defiantly affect their appearance. The annoying thing that happens is their cloths will keep turning to one side. Of course all of the above will vary depending on bust size. Larger bust sizes being affected the most
Contact breast forms are fantastic for reliving shoulder pain and pressure as the weight of the breast form is distributed evening on chest wall and not on the bra and shoulder strap
With a Double Mastectomy there are none of these problems. They have the best choices. They can choose what size they want to be. Or, not ware any if that is their choice.
Karla: The biggest change is the coverage of the bra. For full mastectomies the biggest change in her bras is that in order to get an amazing unseen fit, is that she will have to have a bra that encloses the majority of her breast, therefore she can have a even match with a breast form. For ladies who have had a full mastectomy with lots of upper breast tissue removed this can leave a little hollow when looking down or leaning forward. This is easily overcome with the amazing Trulife Jessica 4019 bra which has a beautiful built in lace cami.
Also when getting fitted on returning home and dealing and cleaning your breast form for the first it can be an emotional time for ladies. For many this is a great healing and closure time however for some this can make it real. So I have a chat to my ladies and make sure they have some support and that this isn’t a shock for them if it occurs.
5. Anything else you would like to add?
Josephine: I also visit hospitals to introduce Nocturnal Designs to breast care nurses.
By showing the breast care nurses the latest products and also leaving them brochures helps
the breast care nurse help their patient. Along with having presentations at a hospital this also helps women make choices as to where to go for their
We also service patients who have had a lumpectomy, reconstruction, reduction, augmentation and every type of breast surgery.
Often our existing customers become our mastectomy customers or reduction customers or augmentation customers. So for some they do feel like they’re
coming back to familiar store where they already know the staff.
We make certain that we carry sleepwear that is buttoned at the front for woman having any type of breast surgery.
Looking good and feeling good is such an important part of a woman’s journey when having breast surgery.
Regaining confidence helps her with life no matter what she has to face.
Maralyn: I have been fitting women post mastectomy for over 20 years now and have seen not only the physical pain and suffering but also the mental effects that losing a breast or breasts can have.
Being fitted can be a happy experience for some but usually it is traumatic and takes a lot of courage to take that step to get fitted for their first prostheses.
The cost of Breast forms are reimbursed by Medicare up to $400 for each every two years.
A big thank you to Josephine, Maralyn and Karla for sharing their experience and knowledge. If you have any questions for Josephine, Maralyn or Karla, please feel free to write them in the comments below or email them.
IMPORTANT NOTE: BreastAware is about educating women to take control of their personal health in the fight against breast cancer. To improve early breast-cancer detection – by empowering women and girls in breast awareness and self-examination. You can keep up to date via their Facebook page.