Don't Let Breast Cancer Make You A Fashion Don't
Putting My Best and Most Stylish Foot Forward
Having Breast Cancer Isn't The End Of The World
Breast cancer is hard especially if you're into fashion and personal style as much as I am. It doesn't help that everywhere I look now all I see are beautiful, healthy people with lustrous hair and strong bodies while I struggle through chemotherapy side effects and mourn over my altered physique. Too bad bald amazon women aren't making the cover of "Vogue" and "Nylon" becasue if they were I'd be right in step. Instead I feel like one of the Spackle aliens Patrick Ness wrote about in his "Chaos Walking" science fiction triology. It does, however, give me a whole new way of seeing myself I wouldn't have seen if I didn't have cancer. Now instead of trying to look cool all the time I just try to work through all of the insecurities and frustrations I feel whenever I face the mirror. The main goal is to appear "well" even when I don't feel "well". On top of all that there are the restrictions.
My first restriction hit me like a ton of bricks. "You shouldn't wear anything too tight or constrictive while you're healing," my plastic surgeon told me after my mastectomy. "What?!" I thought. "You mean no more cute little t's and tank tops?" Didn't he know that's what I loved to put on, with my jeans, when I went to tap class, the thrift store, the library, and the movies? Okay I could deal with this, it would just take some time.
That's when I discovered the easy charm of button-down shirts. When worn with a scarf around my neck, a black bow belt at my waist and a skirt I could make this work. I was reading "The Talented Miss Highsmith", an autobiography about mystery writer Patricia Highsmith, when I made this discovery and I noticed she rolled up her shirt sleeves in some of her black and white photos so I picked up this trick too. Versatile enough to be dressed up or down b.d.'s also made it easier for me to get chemotherapy treatments, do blood tests and disrobe for exams.
Comfort was my second restriction as my skin chafed, burned and itched from chemo. To combat this I loaded up on "Johnson's" baby products, Vitamin E oil, and Vaseline, got a good sunblock and carried my green fringed parasol on sunny days. I also wore clothes with soft textures and easy silhouettes. That meant cardigan sweaters, roomy men's pants and my old Levi's jacket.
Camouflage was my final restriction and a dual problem since I've had to work with my face and body simultaneously to appear to "together" and balanced. With the help of the "American Cancer Society's" DVD from their "Look Good...Feel Better" workshop I learned how to apply my daily war paint and style my wig. An hour-long prosthetic bra session at "Alexander Orthopedic Lab" equipped me with three bras by Amoena. Previously I'd visited my local "American Cancer Society" office and selected a free wig from Revlon. Brown, swingy, with a modern page boy cut my Rheumatoid Arthritis doctor told me it looked "sort of like the '20s." I was reading an artlcle in the "L.A. Times" about designer Erin Featherstone before I picked it out so her straight, slightly retro hairstyle might've indirectly influenced me. A "slouch"/"Hessnatur" hat created by Eviana Hartman that I saw in "Vogue" definitely inspired me and made me feel better about wearing hats and scarves to cover my hairlessness.
Seasonal Wardrobe That Will Work For You During This Time:
- Spring and Summer: Wear clothes that reflect the bright colors of Spring, such as pink, orange, blue, white and yellow.
- Blazer in lightweight fabric
- Cardigan sweater
- Pants in cotton or other lightweight fabric
- Skirt in a colorful print or light color and lightweight fabric
- T-shirt or cotton pullover shirt
- Flat shoes or sandals
- Fall and Winter: Some of the clothes you wear for Spring and Summer can also be worn for the Fall and Winter by adding the following:
- Trousers in heavier fabrics
- Cardigan sweaters in heavier fabrics
- Blazers in heavier fabrics
- Tights, ankle or knee socks
- Lace up shoes or boots
"You have to accept this as your new normal and move forward," Pam a breast cancer volunteer told me when I called the "Breast Cancer Network of Strength Hotline" (1-800-221-2141) for this article. She also told me the greatest challenge post-mastectomy women face is "adjusting to how their bodies look now". As a breast cancer survivor herself she's dealt with a lot of obstacles including finding a bra that fits following reconstructive surgery.
Designers and Manufacturers Who Design for Breast Cancer Patients:
"There are some very good companies out there who make clothes for breast cancer survivors such as J.C. Penney's (Jodee Post-Mastectomy Fashion Catalog, www.jcpenney.com), Amoena (www.amoena.com), Lymphedivas (www.lymphedivas.com, fashionable arm covers and hand gauntlets for women with lymphedema), and TLC Catalog (www.tlcdirect.org)," she said.
Here's another group of companies and designers that create clothes that are appropriate for women going through the breast cancer journey, Chikara (www.chikaradesign.com), Alloro ( Laurel Kamen, designer), Prayer Haute Couture designed by Gina Ellis, Eileen Fisher and Ivey Abitz (www.iveyabbitz.com).
Keeping Up With Fashion:
Keeping up with fashion was definitely a challenge for me, since cancer is an expensive disease that doesn't leave you with a lot of disposable income, so I had to get creative. By taking magazines from hospital waiting rooms, the chemo suite and exam rooms i supplemented my sporadic magazine purchases. It doesn't matter whether it's last year's British "Elle" or last month's "W" because I'm searching for coordination tips and inspiration not the "latest". Cancer does that to you. It reorganizes your priorities and makes you focus on what's important instead of what isn't.
As I continue on this journey, my appearance has become subordinate to my overall well-being, and I can honestly say it's a change I didn't anticipate but one I hope makes me a better person.
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