Following my breast cancer diagnosis and mastectomy so many thoughts were whirling around my head. One that kept recurring was, when and whether to be fitted for a replacement breast or prosthesis.
Prosthesis or flat chest? – that was the question. There were other questions like what size, what colour, what shape, what weight, what material, what nipple, what bra, where to get fitted, when to get fitted. The questions and choices for those who want or need to wear prostheses seem endless. I’m now the owner of two rather lovely and pert C cup prostheses which I’m sure will see service on the odd occasion that I wear a dress that calls for a little shape in the chest area.
Why all this talk of prostheses and boobs? Well they’re very much on my mind today. I spent Wednesday in Manchester being a model for one of the companies that make breast forms (as they call them). When I say being a model, there was no walking up and down a catwalk. My role for the day was to be a live mannequin for breast care nurses and prosthetic fitters to learn how to measure for bras and assess which prosthesis would be suitable for each individual patient.
I had a great day and learnt so much about the range of prostheses and bras that are available. I also discovered that stick on fake, and very life like, nipples are available. This was news to me and I can vouch for their realism and stickiness! I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve missed my nipples so I was really keen to experiment with them. I tried one under my t-shirt, stuck onto a prosthesis and I think it worked very well, although it was difficult to position it centrally.
There are a few companies that provide breast forms to the NHS and all women who have had breast surgery are entitled to receive one (or two for bilateral mastectomy patients). Replacements are available through the breast care nurses after two or three years, or earlier if the patient has lost or gained weight. This company makes fifteen different types of full and partial prosthesis, including Contact, which stick to the chest wall, Energy, which are great for women who exercise frequently and Aqua for swimming. Within each of the categories are many sizes, shapes, weights and colours. I was unaware that there was so much choice – it was like being a child in a sweet shop!
With all this choice, it’s easy to understand why these companies hold training days and ask breast cancer survivors to attend as models. I was the only model who’d had bilateral mastectomy and it was really interesting to listen to the fitters try to decide what size would best suit me. They all seemed surprised when I told them that I had been so large chested, and most agreed with my choice of a C cup being right for my body frame. All of the nurses and fitters were so grateful to me and the other models for being there for them to practice on. The prosthesis fitting is such an important step in the mental and physical recovery from surgery and it’s crucial that the experience is a positive one and the correct prosthesis is jointly chosen.
I was very keen to help with this as I’d had an upsetting experience when I went for my prosthetic fitting after my first mastectomy. Bear in mind that this usually takes place about eight weeks post surgery when most women are still shocked at what has happened and trying to come to terms with the lost of one or both breasts. This was certainly the case for me and matters weren’t helped when I was directed to what amounted to a cupboard deep in the bowels of my hospital.
The fitter was also responsible for all of the other surgical appliances and didn’t seem to understand how emotionally difficult the appointment would be for me. In short, instead of me going home with a lovely new fake breast which would have made me symmetrical, I went home lopsided and upset, knowing that I’d have to return in a month when they may have been able to get hold of the right size breast for me. This may sound harsh, but it’s exactly how I was made to feel by the fitter. I wasn’t given a great deal of choice or time, and it felt like I was being rushed through as quickly as possible without the care and support that I expected to receive.
My new breast eventually arrived but I was never happy with the fit. As it was so large, it didn’t fit properly in the pocketed bra that I had to wear, and constantly moved to the other side of my chest – not a good look and not the cleavage that I had been hoping for! And it was so heavy – I think it was around 900 grams. It was such a relief when I could take it and the hated bra off at the end of the day.
Since being diagnosed a little over two years ago, I’ve had five silicone prostheses (I just couldn’t get a good fit), two Knitted Knockers, and one for swimming. Three of the silicone ones were huge as they had to balance me up when I was a uniboober; they’ve now been donated to a charity which sends bras and prostheses to countries where they’re not so readily available to women who’ve had mastectomies. The other two are my new C cup boobs which I am really happy with, although I will have to strap myself back into a bra when I want to wear them.
The Knitted Knockers are just what they say they are! Beautifully knitted to order, soft cotton breast shaped prostheses. Despite mine being GG cups they are amazingly soft and very light. I also had an Aqua Knocker which I could have worn if I’d actually ever gone swimming. Many women wear Knitted Knockers in preference to the silicone prostheses that they are fitted with in the breast clinic because they’re lighter, softer and generally don’t aggravate scars. Ironically, I found mine too light to wear and it often ended up close to my throat rather than staying put around my rib cage!
They are knitted by some amazing women and provided free of charge by the charity. Each one is prettily packaged and usually includes a handwritten personal message from the knitter to the recipient. It’s a wonderful service and a beautiful act of kindness from one woman to another. I only wish that my NHS fitter could have shown just a little of the love and compassion that I received with the anonymous gift of the Knitted Knockers.