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Summer, Swimsuits and a Mastectomy
June 19, 2020 – Bonnie Annis
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Summer, Swimsuits and a Mastectomy

A breast cancer survivor talks about how she went about enjoying the summer to find the right swimsuit for her after her cancer journey included a mastectomy. 
PUBLISHED June 19, 2020
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
This was the first summer, since breast cancer surgery, I realized the need to spend more time outdoors. Soaring temperatures had forced me to stay inside. I’d been enjoying the air conditioning too much.

After recent blood work, my doctor had given me an oral prescription. He prescribed more sunshine. Explaining, he said, “Low Vitamin D levels are common among those affected by breast cancer and, according to some medical reports, it can cause fatigue, low calcium absorption and even breast cancer metastasis.” I was surprised by his words. Could a lack of Vitamin D really cause metastasis? I surely didn’t want that!

A few days after leaving his office, we purchased a large, above ground pool. I told my husband it would provide a summer activity for the grandchildren. I had no intentions of actually getting into the pool, but thought I could sit outside and watch as they swam. I didn’t want to put on a bathing suit. I hadn’t been swimming since before my cancer diagnosis, but the hotter it got and the more humid the air, I changed my mind. Swimming would be a great way to get exercise, sunshine and cool down. There was only one problem— I had no swimsuit.

Doing an online search, I found several companies selling mastectomy swimsuits. The prices were higher than normal and I wondered why.

I found that specialty stores charged more for their products while some lower end retail stores charged less. I was able to find an affordable suit at Land’s End and ordered it. It was an attractive two pieced suit.

In just a couple of days the suit arrived and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. Turning the suit inside out, I found built-in pockets for prostheses. The way it was manufactured, no one would immediately be able to tell I was missing breasts.

Taking my silicone prostheses from their cases, I slipped them into the suit. They rested perfectly in the bodice shelf. Donning the suit, I looked in the mirror. My self-esteem received an instant boost as the reflection made me appear normal.

Next, it was time to put the suit to the test. While in the water, I wondered if it would keep the prostheses in place or would they escape, revealing my secret?

Walking outside, I stood before the pool. Did I really want to do this? The water looked so inviting. And, the doctor did say I needed more Vitamin D.

Stepping into the cool, clear water, I tugged down on the top of the suit. For some reason, I felt the need to make sure everything was perfectly situated.

Standing in the pool, I felt the warm water against my skin. It felt wonderful! I wondered why I had waited so long to get back into swimming. I’d always loved it. That’s when I remembered how I felt just after surgery.

The first year after surgery, I remembered being afraid to get in the water. My incision was still fresh and in the process of healing. I was afraid of infection. In the subsequent years since surgery, I struggled with cording and lymphedema. I’d been afraid to be seen in a swimsuit, although I knew using prostheses would help me look like other women, it was just too emotionally challenging. I’d foregone the summer fun.

Lowering myself down into the water, I watched the top of the swimsuit. I was worried one or both of my prostheses would escape. I’d had that happen earlier in a hot tub. So far, so good. Sitting for a few minutes, allowing the air bubbles to escape my top, I gave myself permission to actually swim.
Alone, I swam around the pool periodically checking my top. I was pleasantly surprised to find the prostheses stayed perfectly in place. What a wonderful surprise! I felt a new found freedom.

After swimming, the silicone prostheses needed care. I hadn’t thought to buy swim prostheses when I purchased the suit. These would have to be cleaned quickly so chlorine wouldn’t damage them. Carefully, I removed them from the suit and washed them in a mild detergent. After rinsing them, I placed them on a towel to dry.

Later that day, I decided to forego using prostheses in my suit unless swimming with friends. Skipping the need for constant insertion, removal, cleaning, and drying would allow more time in the water and I was all about that.

For those who haven’t taken the plunge yet, mastectomy swimsuits are readily available both online and in retail stores. There are also special lightweight swim prostheses for purchase.

Losing a breast, or two, doesn’t have to keep a person from enjoying summer activities and as cancer survivors, we could all use a little more liquid sunshine. No prescription is necessary, just get out and enjoy.
 
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