As I sat on my bed crying, 10 outfits strewn around me, I found myself wondering, ‘How did I get here?’
To top it off, I then called my slightly less fashion-conscious sister to seek some fashion help. I thought, ‘Hang on, have I entered a parallel universe here? Normally I’m giving her fashion advice, not calling her when I can’t find anything to wear.’
Eventually, I told myself “enough.” I needed to do something about this. I needed to help myself and help others who have gone through breast cancer find fashion easily, make it a joy instead of a struggle, and help them feel fabulous again.
I was a 35-year-old mother of two young children when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Just two weeks after my initial diagnosis, I had a mastectomy of my right breast. Six months later, I decided to have a preventative mastectomy of my left breast to rule out any possibility of breast cancer recurring and for my own personal comfort. I have chosen not to have a breast reconstruction – a choice I know is deeply personal for all women.
After that moment of fashion despair, I became passionate about helping people who have had breast cancer find clothes and a style that make them feel great about themselves. My passion for this comes from an empty place I found myself in post-surgery.
Not only was I still dealing with the very recent reality that I had cancer; it also dawned on me that life had changed in many other ways.
There was certainly part of me that was feeling a loss of femininity, but I also found myself completely and utterly lost when I needed to get dressed. With one breast or none, I really felt my options were limited. It was so frustrating for me, as someone who always cared about looking nice in clothes, that I couldn’t find anything to wear.
I started to search for resources to help, but I couldn’t find a thing. The only mastectomy fashion I could find took the form of websites that were either directed to more mature ladies, or which showed the prostheses always being worn and no other option.
I knew these would make me feel frumpy and unattractive. I wanted to be able to have options at all the mainstream shops – I just didn’t know how to do that yet.
Watch 10 Australian signers unite in the fight for Breast Cancer Awareness. (Post continues after video.)
As I slowly recovered, and the realisation that my body had changed forever sank in, I knew it was going to affect the way I dress forever.
I thought, 'I’m never going to be able to wear a V-neck again' and 'strapless is no longer going to be an option'. But guess what? I would never have to wear a bra again, and I am now one of the few people who can successfully pull off a backless number.
I realised it was the same as any other body-changing life experience, like the changes that happen when having a baby or gaining or losing a lot of weight. You just have to adjust your thinking and your choices and find a solution to the problem, not wallow in self-pity.
So here I am, three years on. I like to think I've got the hang of dressing for a flat chest, with the option of putting in my prosthesis when I feel like it. I don’t profess to know everything, and still occasionally find myself close to tears in a change room, surrounded by 10 unsuccessful items that I'd thought might be OK.
I am still learning and finding my way and just as each person’s body and personal experience with losing their chest will be different, so too will each woman’s journey to find new fashion. All I know is that I know more of the do’s and don’ts than I did at the start of my journey.
My blog I have started, called Leave me Breastless, is dedicated to fashion for women who have survived or are going through breast cancer. It is so meaningful to me because it mattered to me when I lost my chest, and it matters to every woman who has, and will, go through it.
I want to make life easier for women transitioning from breast to no breasts, as I really could have benefited from that myself. I want hundreds of women around the world to know that there are other people who understand what they’re going through just trying to get dressed in the morning.
I want to be there to help and support women every step of the way in finding their new, fabulous, and feminine self.
You can visit Leave Me Breastless here.