It’s officially Breast Cancer Awareness month, and one aftereffect of the disease that many of us might not be aware of is the wardrobe implications of having a mastectomy. This is just one of the topics to be discussed in Rethink Breast Cancer’s new digital video series, Live Laugh Learn, to be launched today on the charity’s brand new YouTube channel (the first of its kind!).
Ottawa-based master’s student Laura Murton, 36, is one of Live Laugh Learn’s contributors. After a breast cancer diagnosis five years ago, she underwent a bilateral mastectomy and then reconstructive surgery in the span of a year.
In a symbolic gesture to mark the transition, she gave away some of her favourite pieces—including her ivory lace wedding bustier and some sexy padded bras—“in meaningful ways to people that I cared about,” she says. “I have experienced a lot of joy (and had some tears!) at clothing exchanges.”
The experience was “cathartic,” and helped her deal with her new shape.
“When you get reconstruction, you can have really nice cleavage, which is one of the perks, but the shape of your breasts is not the same,” she explains—scar tissue can affect symmetry and create folds and lumps.
Murton’s new breasts demanded a new style. Her formerly “feminine” approach to dressing (think body-skimming designs) gave way to a sportier look to accommodate her choice of smaller, more manageable breasts. “I do try and wear stuff that accentuates what’s good about my breasts and I’m not afraid to show off my cleavage even though I know people might be like ‘Oh, she’s got fakes,’” she laughs. “I still love accessories, colour and interesting cuts…now I just make sure they match with what I feel is the very sporty size and shape of my breasts.”
Stacey Oree, 38, of Whitby—another Live Laugh Learn contributor—has also seen her style change as a result of her breast cancer experience. Diagnosed at age 31, initially she had her left breast removed. Rather then get reconstruction immediately, she wore a prosthetic for a few years.
“It wasn’t very natural,” she says. “I couldn’t show cleavage. Sometimes the prosthetic looked lopsided because of the weight. Anything too tight would emphasize this.”
In addition, she had to wear special bras to accommodate the prosthetic, which meant she couldn’t do anything strapless.
To compensate, she started dressing more conservatively, favouring a covered-up look: “I went from JLo to Hillary Clinton.” She abandoned her preferred strapless dresses and V-necks for looser tops and wore camisoles under everything.
“If I went to a club with friends, I would wear a T-shirt, instead of a slinky top, or a tank top instead of a halter,” she says. “I wasn’t ashamed, just self-conscious.”
Four years ago, she opted to have her right breast removed and after a few months then had full reconstruction. Her wardrobe changed again. “Now, [I wear] anything that’s strapless, backless,” she says, laughing.
During their treatment, both Murton and Oree relied heavily on Rethink’s support programs and other survivor-aid initiatives, and now they’re giving back by sharing their best post-treatment life hacks in Live Laugh Learn.
For Murton, it’s an opportunity to give back to a community that embraced her during the early days of her diagnosis and treatment.
“I want to be of use to women going through the new beginnings of their own diagnosis,” she says, “and hope that there’s something about my own experience that might be helpful to them.”