Breast cancer is stressful. No one will deny or question that. From the initial diagnosis, to the treatment course unknowns, to the fatigue of post-surgery and treatments – all are undeniably the key elements of the fight with breast cancer. I sort of expected that. What I did not expect was changing the way I view lingerie in this new, challenging, and always-changing time.
I will admit it – I love great lingerie. I love the lacey, intricate, smooth, mysterious, seductive, innocent lingerie. I love corsets, bras, teddies, and basques of all shapes, textures and colors. Having grown up in the scarcity of the former Soviet Union with its utilitarian approach to underwear (lingerie cannot be used to describe the stiff underpinnings of non-descript color), over my many years in the US I have developed a true love and appreciation for well designed, beautifully-crafted lingerie.
I have spent a lot of money and efforts to curate my lovely collection. All of it for my own pleasure to be worn under my uniform of crisp white button-downs, cashmere sweaters, denim, and leather. Lingerie has always been my way to bring color and femininity into my minimalist, androgynous wardrobe.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 46, I did not think that it would change my relationship with my breasts, myself, and my lingerie. When one is diagnosed with breast cancer, it takes some time between the diagnosis, the surgery, the treatments, and then, if one chooses, the reconstruction.
I contemplated preventative bilateral mastectomy but both my US and French doctors said no need to (“Would you preventatively remove an arm?!”). In my case, I went for a lumpectomy, followed by radiation. What I did not realize at the time was that my days of simply grabbing a bra that suits my mood, fits my outfit, and serves its purpose were over. The cancer was gone, changing the breast in ways I did not expect at all.
The breasts and the bras became symbolic of that period of my life. I ended up discussing my reconstruction options with my surgeons, both in California and in France where I flew for a second opinion. Two surgeons lost themselves in discussing my future breasts in that most romantic of languages. The options were given, then confirmed by my amazing surgeon in California. And the adventure began.
With a plan in hand and a surgery date set, I started looking at my collection wistfully, imagining wearing my favorite lace bras and mesh teddies.
No one told me that breast reconstruction even for a lumpectomy and radiation fibrosis defects is a process that would require patience, tolerance of the unexpected, and new bras for all kinds of changes and stages.
Not to sound like breast cancer is some cosmetic thing, I would say though that the change in the appearance that occurred affected the way I see myself. The need to find something that fits after surgeries, does not irritate the scars and the skin, supports and yet does not make me profoundly sad, was a challenge.
The things I learned and wish I knew:
Breasts were never the focus point of my individual style. I simply had them. Then I realized how much they matter to me, giving the sense of whole, complete, relaxed. After the latest surgery, I told my surgeon that I would treat the “new” breasts as a piece of art that he created by using different surgery techniques. They look and feel natural! They move! They have sensation! I got to love that they are imperfectly perfect – scars, shapes, and color.
I now have to think of where the underwire starts and ends so that it does not mess with the circulation on one side and does not irritate the scars on both. I have to find the softest fabrics, fewest seams, flattest embroidery, and silkiest lace, so as not to irritate the skin on one of the breasts. All these things could have irritated me before, now I find myself immersed in the process the way I used to be immersed in champagne tasting and selection. It is such a difference from where I was just a short time away – shopping for all items post-surgical with their utilitarian esthetic that clashed with my sense of the world.
Seeing my reflection in the mirror wearing a beige post-surgery bra was like seeing the unwell version of me, settling for less, something I do not think is healthy for one’s emotional well-being. The colorful array of lingerie on my “To Buy” visual board is an interesting way to give myself a much-needed fresh start and hopeful outlook on life.
In the end, breast cancer has led me to a new realization how such simple pleasure as putting on a bra of one’s choice and liking on the imperfect set of breast can give hope after the disease is gone, hopefully for good.
Originally published at www.thelingerieaddict.com