Kate and Sarah became friends after being diagnosed with breast cancer around the same time in 2018. They faced a lot of the same problems during and after treatment – but, together, they’re trying to solve one of them.
We both had bad experiences with bra fittings after cancer
I was diagnosed in the summer of 2018, aged 36. I had invasive breast cancer and early-stage cervical cancer (which was detected during my treatment). I had a double mastectomy with reconstruction, six months of chemotherapy, and a hysterectomy.
I found it bewildering trying to work out where to be fitted for a bra after my double mastectomy. I decided to try a department store fitting, and as soon as I mentioned the words 'breast cancer', I suddenly felt like I had the word 'death' tattooed on my forehead!
I left feeling embarrassed and with a bra I never would have worn before cancer. It was such a disappointing experience, as I had hoped it would help to make me feel like myself again - but it did the exact opposite.
I was diagnosed in June 2018, aged 37. I had invasive breast cancer which had spread to some lymph nodes. I had a single mastectomy without reconstruction, followed by six months of chemo and three weeks of radiotherapy. Now I’m on letrozole, Zoladex and six-monthly bisphosphonate infusions.
I was fitted in my first post-surgery bra in my hospital bed by a lovely breast care nurse. It was the wrong size but the closest they had.
I waited a year for my next fitting. This was done in a very clinical consulting room, with the fitter using a suitcase of bras and a makeshift mirror. Although a trained specialist fitter, she talked about herself constantly and even dealt with her shopping delivery! It was surreal.
We deserve the same range of options as before
Sarah and I were introduced by a mutual friend during our treatment. Then, over many coffees and a few glasses of wine, Bra Sisters was born.
Bras were important to us before treatment (be it squeezing them into a push up bra for a night out or into a comfy one while breastfeeding our children), but they became even more important after breast cancer.
The impact of surgery, both physically and emotionally, can lead to feelings of loss of identity which makes it difficult to move on from cancer. We want to empower women by providing them with a feel-good fitting service and range of bras and lingerie to help rebuild confidence and make them feel like themselves again.
We’re still the same people we were before our diagnosis and treatment. We have the same likes and dislikes. Why should choosing lingerie and being fitted for a new bra be any different? Why shouldn’t we have the same service and options as women who haven’t had surgery for breast cancer?
We deserve options that don’t include a darkened, one-rail option of a department store with a (quite often) inexperienced post-mastectomy fitter.
Breast cancer has changed us in good and bad ways
I'm definitely sweatier, thanks to my hysterectomy and letrozole! I’ve found one of the hardest things has been losing my innocence in my health and the panic which comes with any change in my body.
However, I have found that it has made me even more positive in certain ways. I lost my mum to cancer. She was also in her 30s when she was first diagnosed. It was always one of my greatest fears that the same would happen to me. Facing my fear and coming through it gave me a feeling of resilience. If I can get through this, I can get through anything.
I echo the hot flush complaint! It’s very odd to suddenly experience menopausal symptoms in your 30s.
I also have to deal with the lingering feeling that there’s a chance of recurrence. It’s strange to get your head around at first, but that feeling starts to lessen as time goes by.
More generally, I really don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. After all, what’s bigger in life than dealing with cancer? I’ve a newfound confidence in my approach to every day and work situations: we even boldly took our Bra Sisters idea to the Chief Exec of The London Clinic (who loved it!).
We want to help women re-build their confidence
It’s completely normal to feel self-conscious after breast cancer, and it's really important to speak about body image and seek help and support.
Lots of women we speak to suffer with asymmetry after surgery, but there are lots of options you can go for in terms of breast forms and lingerie to help with this and rebuild confidence. You might be surprised at how many other women feel just like you, which is why it is so important that we provide a positive empowering experience for breast cancer patients.
We hope that we will be able to do this with Bra Sisters.
To anyone feeling down about their bodies, I want to say that you’re not alone. It’s a valid feeling to have, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. The shock of your post-surgery or post-treatment body is something we don’t really talk about.
If you’re able to access any specialist oncology counselling, take it. I found it life affirming and have been able to draw upon the advice and techniques I received during my sessions.
If you are looking for a new bra (or a self-confidence boost!) be sure to visit the Bra Sisters website and check out all of Kate and Sarah’s brilliant work.
For more blogs about body confidence, tips on moving forward from a breast cancer diagnosis, and help on dealing with common side effects, check out out free Becca app.