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.
A rudimentary knowledge of the alphabet is one of the first things a school aged child learns, but sometimes, adults need a refresher course, especially when choosing a prosthesis.
Two years ago, I found myself standing in the middle of a boutique surrounded by bras in all shapes and sizes. As I turned to take in the entire scope of these undergarments, I became a little overwhelmed. There were so many colors, sizes and styles. My shopping excursion that day wasn’t a pleasure trip, it was a necessity. I was there to pick out my allotted quantity of mastectomy bras and order a pair of new prostheses. As insurance would have it, my time to shop has once again come and next week, I’ll experience a kind of breast cancer déjà vu.
The calendar in my phone reminds me when it’s time to contact the oncologist for new prescriptions. Did you know it’s necessary to have a prescription for bras and fake boobs? It’s true! It’s my responsibility to call and request these prescriptions every other year. Without them, I’d be forced to pay full-price for items cancer has caused me to need. Thankfully, with good insurance, I only pay 20 percent after meeting my deductible but even then, the prices for specialized products like these are quite expensive.
Before deciding on which styles I might like, I’m forced to consider my options. These options are vast, but I’ve limited them to three — A, B and C. You may not have guessed yet, but I’m referring to my choice of bra cup size, which also determines my prostheses size. For the inexperienced, I’ll offer a little more information to help you understand more clearly.
Bras come in various sizes and are based on the circumference of the woman’s body taken just below the bust. This measurement is considered the band size for the bra. The next measurement is taken at the fullest part of a woman’s chest and this measurement provides the bust size. To find the cup size, the band size is subtracted from the bust measurement. There’s a good bit of math involved here!
Bras are made in various cup sizes. Cups sizes range from AAA to O, yes O! A triple A cup is for the fairly flat-chested woman while the O is for a very well-endowed woman. The majority of women fall somewhere in between the A-D cup size.
Now that you have an understanding of how to find a bra size, I’ll move on.
Most bra boutiques have a professionally trained fitter on staff to help patrons find their proper measurements. These trained fitters do their job professionally and courteously. For those who’ve experienced the trauma of losing a breast, this care and attention to detail is paramount.
Every two years, my insurance company provides me the opportunity to increase or decrease my bust size, one of the perks of having both breasts removed. This isn’t as simple as you’d think. In my B.B.C. days (before breast cancer), I wore a 38B bra. While I wasn’t ecstatic about my cup size then, I didn’t complain.
On my first trip to the boutique, about a month after surgery, I was so raw and sore that I chose to go down a cup size. Opting for an A, my decision was based on the weight of the silicone prosthesis. As I held it in my hand, it felt extremely heavy. If I’d had to guess, I would have guessed it weighed about a pound.
The second time I visited the shop, I was healed from surgery and wanted to jump up a cup size. The A barely gave me any projection underneath my clothes and although I’d lost my physical breasts, I wanted people to be able to see that I was still a woman. I chose B cup prostheses although they were much heavier. I figured my body could handle the increase without much problem, but later found I was wrong.
Next week, when I go pick out my new bras and breasts, I have no idea what size I’ll choose. In my dresser drawer, I have a pair of size As and a pair of size Bs. Both sets of these silicone breasts are well worn and have disintegrated to some degree. The As are pretty worn out, in fact, they’re down right wrinkly. The last time the fitter saw them, she laughed and told me I needed to trade them in because they looked like an old woman’s breasts. I was a little crushed. I felt comfortable with those As. They were made with a cool gel backing making them cool against my skin. They weren’t too heavy. The Bs weren’t quite as worn because I’d found they were so much heavier than the As and I didn’t wear them as often. They made my shoulders hurt as the straps pulled under the weight of prostheses as I wore them.
The fitter will tell me the choice is mine while I’m perusing the merchandise. While I’d like to try a C, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle the weight of those on a daily basis. I might ask her to let me try one on for size, but I can’t help but laugh as I think about doing that. When I think about wearing a size C cup, I think my boobs would precede me everywhere I went, and I can’t have that.
It will be exciting to choose some new styles of mastectomy bras and it will be good to replace my old prostheses with some new, “healthy” ones, but I’m still on the fence about cup size. Should I return to a comfortable, flat A, try the massive, handful B or opt for the gigantor C cup? Time will tell.
As I consider the size of my next mastectomy bras and prostheses, I can’t imagine how a larger busted woman with breast cancer might struggle in making her choices. A, B and C are the only choices I’d even consider although I’m sure they have prostheses in every size imaginable.
And just to make things clear, I never wear my mastectomy bras or prostheses at home. When home, I prefer to be completely flat chested. No worrisome bra straps falling, no irritation against my scars, and no heavy prostheses causing my back and shoulders discomfort. You may wonder why I don’t just forego the bras and prostheses all together and that’s a valid thought. I haven’t gotten brave enough to go completely flat in public yet although there are some women who are able to do this. I applaud them for their bravery and hope one day I’ll be able to do the same, but for now, I have to make an alphabetical choice and it’s so good to know I have the ability to do so every two years.
Please note: All insurance company policies vary and not all insurance pays for new mastectomy bars or prostheses every two years. If you’re unsure about your own plan coverage, contact your carrier for more information. You might also want to ask if your company requires a prescription for these items. Most insurance companies do require a prescription ordered by your physician.