Breast cancer effects one in 5 Australian women and we have only have a handful of lingerie stores that specialise in breast forms (prosthesis) and mastectomy (pocketed) bras. In this article I wanted to introduce you to some of Australia's best mastectomy and breast forms fitters from some of our lingerie stores outside of our city centre's.
Mary from Mary's Lingerie in Burnie, Tasmania.
Gillian from Colleen's mastectomy in Canberra.
Jenny from Horsham Undercover in Horsham.
Gillian from Colleen's Mastectomy Lingerie
1. Why did you start your business?
Mary: I had been working in department stores for about 15 years, I was lucky enough to work for many of those years with a wonderful old style corsetiere, who ensured I got the very best training. The time came for me to branch out on my own 35 years ago, giving me the opportunity to specialise even more.
Gillian: I bought Colleen's two years ago when Colleen retired after starting the business 15 years ago. I saw it as a great opportunity to use my own experience of breast cancer to help other women and to bring as much choice as possible to their options for pocketed lingerie.
Jenny: I had a fashion store and realised that women weren’t wearing the right foundations and their clothes weren’t working for them. I started my lingerie business and expanded into mastectomy.
2. What changes have you seen?
Mary: I have seen many changes, including the demise of the restrictive all cotton bra, the one with a little bit of “elastic” in the back, pointy seamed cups and solid straps. Available in short, 3/4 length and long. These were worn with old style side hook or lace up corsets. We progressed to more “elastic” than a wonderful invention by Dupont..... LYCRA.
Things had give, comfort and style, leading to the garments we know today.
Prosthesis when I started were sheep skin outer with a soft pocket on the back, that was filled with lanolin rich sheep’s wool.
In the bottom of that pocket were some crystals for the weight, and then anchored into a bra cup.
We then went to oil filled prosthesis, then a Spenco brand solid style through to the great lighter weight styles we know today.
Gillian: Even in the last two years I have seen changes to the styles and colours of bras, there are now bras which I'd like to wear. 8 years ago when I was diagnosed, this was not the case. It's exciting to see new brands such as Red Fern, designed by a young breast cancer survivor who offers exquisite bra and undie sets. Companies such as Trulife are listening to their customers and are adding new styles to their already extensive range of bras and breast forms. Breast forms have become lighter and with better cooling technology. I'm seeing younger women being diagnosed, some whilst pregnant and this poses questions around breast feeding, pocketed bras and breast forms.
Jenny: In terms of breast forms and mastectomy, Sublime has been a game changer. It is our go to breast form for most women. It offers some many things that other breast forms don’t.
Mary from Mary's Lingerie
3. What advice do you have for women who are going through this right now?
Mary: My best advice is to ensure you go to a properly trained fitter that can ensure your comfort, support and posture.
This can only be done with firstly a correctly fitted bra, then the prosthesis.
If the bra is the wrong style, shape and support, you will never be happy with the fit of your prosthesis and it can cause neck and shoulder pain.
Gillian: One step at a time. Reach out to someone who has experienced similar and ask as many questions as you can (breast cancer support groups are great for putting women in touch with other women). Accepting help (and as women we're not very good at this) is a gift you give to yourself and to the person helping. It's ok to have pyjama days and accept that some days things won't get done. It's ok to talk to a counsellor or psychologist. There are many experienced professionals experienced in listening to those with a cancer diagnosis and it does help to get your thoughts in order and realise you're not going mad! Be as positive as you can. I reminded myself that without hair I couldn't have a bad hair day, how much money and time I was saving by not going to the hairdressers and my beautician for waxing. It's so important to take time after treatment, if at all possible, to process everything, as we are hurled into a treatment regime with no time to think. The Otis Foundation is an amazing organisation which offers those diagnosed with breast cancer and their families and friends accommodation free of charge and a much needed respite and chance to recharge. I highly recommend a stay at one of their properties.
Jenny: Compassion is a must in our store and the scars no shock to experiences breast form fitters so don’t worry! We work closely with our breast care nurse because in country trust is important as is offering a great service, understanding who people are and what the have experienced.
4. For those of you who have had breast cancer please share your journey....
Gillian: At diagnosis in 2008 I was told that I was about to embark on the breast cancer journey. Journey!!!!!! More like climbing a mountain and there were many times I almost fell off but thanks to family, friends and Bosom Buddies (an amazing breast cancer support group in Canberra) I made it to the top, bald but I made it! I only wish that someone had told me climbing down the other side was just as hard, if not harder. Thrown into early menopause, my hormones and emotions all over the place, deprived of sleep, anxious, chemotherapy was a breeze compared to the aftermath! It took about 5 years for me to feel almost human again and that was thanks to the wonders of my naturopath who was able to re-balance me through targeted supplements. Now, I feel fantastic and I'm so privileged to be able to share my experiences with women who come to Colleen's before and after breast surgery as well as those in regional areas when I travel to do bra and breast form fittings.
5. One of our readers made a comment in a recent article about breast cancer said, "I have had breast cancer, when you are first told you have breast cancer, it's like you've just been given a death sentence. When you live it's like you've just been given a life sentence." Do you have any thoughts or advice around that?
Gillian: I never thought about my diagnosis as a death sentence and I certainly wouldn't advise women to think that but it certainly gave me a "life sentence" or at least it made me realise who and what was important in my life and changed my priorities. I was never really happy in my job and it made me do something about it, like buying Colleen's! I also spent 6 months in France, giving myself time to recuperate and process my diagnosis, emotions, faith and early menopause!!!! A diagnosis certainly catapults you into a whole new world and once I felt almost "normal" again I realised that life is about living, every moment of every day.
Jenny: Personally, I understand the shock and immediately you’re planning your funeral. You learn it’s a word and you can still live a great life.
6. What else would you like to share with our readers?
Gillian: I am passionate about showing women the choice they have in mastectomy bras and other pocketed wear and how a properly fitted bra and breast form can restore confidence and show women that they can still wear the same clothes as before. I love seeing the difference a first fitting makes to a woman's self esteem and hearing comments like "I feel "normal" again.
Jenny: Knowing your product is so important as a fitter, we fit a lot of women into Trulife bras because so many women prefer a non underwire bra. We service a large area for breast forms and mastectomy bras such as Horsham, Ararat, Hamilton and South Australia, we love being able to accommodate and help these women and like to offer them an experience.