Finding the right kind of bra for you, after you’ve had a mastectomy, lumpectomy or any kind of breast cancer treatment (including radiation), can be confusing.
In India, there is very little information and choice available, which makes it even more important to educate yourself on the most comfortable options for you.
After your breast cancer surgery, you are likely to have some swelling and scar tissue. After radiation therapy, your skin could be sore and hurting. The right kind of bra can help ease these side-effects to some extent, till your body eagles completely.
Can I use my regular bras?
Yes, if your size and shape have not been altered, then you can continue using your bras. However. You might want to avoid tight, under-wired or synthetic bras as they may aggravate any side-effects you already have.
However, it is important to ensure that your healing breasts receive the right comfort and support during this phase.
Here are three simple steps to finding your right post-treatment bra:
Measure yourself again
Your bra size can change post surgery. Swelling can increase your bra size, temporarily. So find a bra that fits well on the last (loosest) hook. That way, it will still fit you when the swelling reduces and you can use the closer (tighter) hooks over time.
If you have trouble measuring your own bra size, go to a lingerie store. Most stores have an experienced fitter who can give you your right measurement.
Choose cotton and full coverage
- For sore post-radiation skin, pick the softest and most comfortable cotton wear you can find.
- Choose broad, adjustable straps.
- Choose soft seams, with stretchable fabric.
Choose front open
For some time after your surgery, you might have restricted arm movement. This means you will find it a bit difficult to bend your arms backwards to hook your bra. For the initial year, use a front open bra to make it easier to wear it.
Do you need prosthetics?
If your one breast now has a noticeably different shape or size to the other breast, then you might consider using prosthetics for comfort.
Some women may have breast reconstructive surgery after breast cancer treatment, and after that, they will not require prosthetics. However, some women choose to avoid breast reconstructive surgery and in some cases, their oncologist might advise them against it for certain medical reasons. In such cases, prosthetics can help you regain your confidence.
There are many different types of prosthetics available in the market and they come at very varied price ranges. The materials used vary from silicon to microfibre.
Knitted Knockers is a charity that delivers hand-made, prosthetics made of cotton yarn. These are also washable and their size and shape can be altered as required.
If using prosthetics, here’s what you need to remember when choosing your bra:
- Go for bras with cup pockets if using prosthetics so that they can be inserted into your bra.
- Choose bras with cup separation. This means the middle part of your bra (the part between the cups) should be flat against your body. This ensures that your prosthetics stay in place.
- Choose full coverage bras so that your prosthetics stay covered and in place.
What options do we have in India?
In India, you can order post-surgery bras in cotton in the price range of INR 350 – INR 3000 from online websites like Amazon.
Among your options, you will find front-open bras, and those padded with micro-fibre filling for post-mastectomy wear.
However, the problem you may encounter is limited choice in available sizes and lack of choice in the patterns. Many women also find the quality of these post-surgical bras to be below what they were used to before surgery.
Most of these post-surgery bras come with front seams, making them unsuitable to be worn with fitted clothes like t-shirts.
These are usually available only in white and their drab look does not help women who are already struggling with body positivity post surgery.
Certain foreign brands like Marks and Spencer also sell their post-surgical bras in India. These products tend to cost more, about INR 3000 per piece, making it unaffordable for many women in India.
Since options are limited, many women opt for buying regular bras and then adding fabric pockets for prosthetics themselves. They usually do this by hand-stitching the pocket themselves or use the help of their local tailor to do so.
If you are also planning to do this, then here are some pointers to help you.
Check the band
Make sure the band at the bottom of the bra is parallel to the floor when you are wearing it. If it rides up with movement, then the size of the bra is incorrect. Opt for a broad, elastic band.
Check the Cups
If the cups are sticking out at the corners, then the bra is too big for you. If the top of the breasts are spilling out, then the bra is too small for you. Go for full coverage cups so that your breasts (and prosthetics) are covered and kept in place.
Check for wires
Avoid bras with wires of any sort. Wires can poke your skin and sometimes you might not even notice this due to numbness or due to other side-effects that take up your attention.
Ensure that the adjustable buckle in the straps do not cut into your skin in a similar way.
Prepare yourself mentally
Breast cancer treatment might result in changes to your body, that you will need to adjust to, not just physically, but also mentally.
Some women may find their sense of femininity and self-image being challenged post-surgery.
Give yourself time to adjust. This process of letting go of some of your old clothing and bras, and replacing them with new ones might not be easy for all.
Learning to recognise your new body size and shape might help you come to terms with some of the changes.
The process of finding the right bra and the right prosthetic could be a trial and error one and it might take a few attempts before you find something that you are satisfied with.
Here are some ways in which you can make this transition an easier experience for you:
Compare notes with other breast cancer fighters
There are many online communities that connect you with others who have walked the same path and faced these same challenges. For example, our online community Breast Cancer Talk is a safe place for breast cancer patients and survivors to share their doubts and feelings.
You might find it useful to know how they dealt with these issues and where they bought their best post-surgery bras.
You may have a lot of questions right now: Should I use prosthetics? Which prosthetic is the best? Are sports bras better than other bras?
It’s likely that you are not the first one asking these questions. Many have asked the same questions before you and some answers will be available online, from trusted sources.
You can find online videos that teach you how to measure yourself to find your correct bra size. Similarly, you will also find online videos where breast cancer survivors discuss which type of inner wear worked for them and why.
Explore these answers but remember to always double check with your own doctor when in doubt.
Involve a friend
Even though you may have never needed a friend’s help to pick a bra till today, you might want to make an exception. Take a friend or family member into confidence and let them help you make a selection.
Since there are quite a few factors to keep in mind (like the band, the fabric, the coverage, the straps etc), it might help to have someone run through the checklist with you, in case you’ve overlooked something.
More importantly, they can provide the emotional comfort you need, if this process bothers you.
On a lighter vein, remember the saying “selecting the right post-surgery bra is not a science, it’s an art.” This means, there is no right option. It all depends on what you like and feel most comfortable in.