I was 27 when diagnosed with Infiltrative Ductal Carcinoma, and chose a bilateral mastectomy to improve my odds of survival. I also elected to have implant breast reconstruction because even though I knew I wasn’t going to get my old breasts back, I wanted to be able to dress like the fashion designer I was and be able to fill out a stylish top like I did before cancer. I also wanted to be able to wear a bra again.
What I didn’t realize is after breast reconstruction, I could no longer wear my old bras.
After every attempt from try-ons running the gamut of Nordstrom to small boutiques, surgical shops to mastectomy stores, and trying hundreds of different Google searches, nothing worked for me, and every single one of those attempts left me in tears. When I went back, desperate, to my surgeon, he shrugged. Try a sports bra. Wear a camisole.
That was unacceptable for me. I would not have sexy time in a breath-stifling sports bra. I would not be comfortable in a shifting cami under my sleek button down top (not to mention the shelf bra was causing my incision pain to flare up by 10 a.m. each business day). It was a nightmare to get dressed, and I would cringe thinking about it as I went to bed each night and arose each morning.
I do not want that experience for you.
A few years ago, out of necessity, I started AnaOno, the only line on the market today that was created exclusively for women who’ve had breast reconstruction. It took me years to perfect fit, cull feedback from women like you, try my bras on women across the country and then go back and make them better.
Now, I don’t know what stage of this process you may be in. Maybe you are newly diagnosed and doing some early research (I hope I didn’t scare you!), or maybe you are sitting at home in your drains counting down the minutes until you’re fully healed or maybe you are like I was, frustrated, annoyed, upset and sick of the hot pink Lycra.
What I hope to share with you is a place to start. My line AnaOno might be a solution for you, and it might not. And I am okay with that. But, for now allow me to be your virtual fitter and offer some assistance.
Hi, I am Dana Donofree, breast cancer survivor, founder of AnaOno and wearer of pullover bralettes. I was initially sized as a 38E, but I am actually a 36C, and that’s exactly where we’ll start.
FIND YOUR SIZE
If you’ve never been professionally fit before, now’s the time. There are hundreds of exceptional bra fitters out there, and someone will be able to at least help you find your “ballpark”. Fitting is not an exact science. In one shop you may wear a medium top, in another an extra-large. The same goes with bras. Throw in the fact reconstructed breasts tend to be flatter, rounder, sit higher and have a degree of unevenness, and it can be even more challenging. You can get fit for free, so if you feel comfortable doing so – go ahead and see what they say. I also suggest you fit yourself at home. It’s very easy to do. All you need is an open mind and some measuring tape (the kind tailors use, not the kind you use to hang a shelf). If you don’t have any handy, fabric and sewing shops have them, as does your preferred discount super store.
First measure your underbust, then your bust line. The underbust is your chest measurement directly under your bust line, your bust is the largest part around your new breasts – generally where the nipple would be (or used to be). The underbust is your traditional band size, the difference between the two is your traditional cup size. Each inch differential between the underbust and the bust equals a cup. One inch is an “A,” two is a “B,” three is a “C,” and so forth. So, if you’re like me, your measurements would be 36” for the underbust and 39” for the bust sizing you at 36C.
Remember, size is a guideline. In the end you want your band to be snug (but not cutting off circulation or causing pain), and your cup to be full without spilling over the tops or sides. If there is unevenness in the cup – one fits great, the other has a little room, you can make adjustments with a modesty pad or insert (aka “chicken cutlet”). If there is too much room all around, you need a smaller cup size.
Your band should also be snug without digging in and without the back riding up. Adjust your straps first to find the right balance – tightening them can give you more support and a better cup fit, loosening them can get that band straight and also give you a better cup fit. If the adjustments aren’t working – you need to size up or down in your band.
Whew. You made it through the hard part. Congratulations! At AnaOno, as well as with other bralette manufacturers, we use
XS-XXL sizing that corresponds to traditional cup and band sizing. Why? Because after breast reconstruction, bralettes will be your best friend and best fit, and that is generally how they are sized in the market. (You can also see how your new size translates to XS-XXL and how here).
DITCH THE TRADITION
So, maybe bralettes won’t be your thing. Some women after reconstruction can still wear underwire, but it is the exception rather than the norm. Because underwire HURTS. It rubs right against incision lines, it pokes your implants and it’s confining. The one thing you’ll learn, if you haven’t already, is that your implants do not move. Where they were inserted, they shall stay. Growing up you may have learned the bend and scoop method of placing your natural breast tissue into the underwire-supported cup of a traditional bra. After reconstruction, there is no bending or scooping. There is only having the bra fit your body. With underwire, generally comes a molded or defined cup. I can promise most of those molded and defined cups will not line up with where your reconstruction is. So your breasts don’t move and the bra cup doesn’t move, and it becomes a challenge in finding the perfect alignment.
When you had natural tissue you may not have paid much attention to the bra’s design because you could place your breast into the cup, pushing it side to side or lifting it up and down. With reconstruction, because that is no longer an option, I suggest you save yourself the effort and and head toward the bras without the underwire and without the defined, immovable cup.
MIND THE GAP
Now, I am not saying that a cup won’t work. There are bras, AnaOno included, that have the design of cups without the firm, fixed width and depth that comes with a molded, wired cup. You’ve definitely seen this style before – think wirefree bikini tops or the very popular bralette styles. These will be your friends because these bras will stretch and fit to you. Their “cups” will go where you want them to go. Most of the time, that is, and depending on your size – with reconstruction you may have to size up from your normal medium to a large to get coverage, and so on. So always look for a wirefree bra that has give and will stretch to fit you, and if you’re an average U.S. size of say 12-14+, look for bralettes that are sized higher than a large.
What you also need to look out for is another term you may not have known when shopping for bras before reconstruction – the nipple apex. Many traditionally-designed bras are made for the traditional breast: teardrop shape, pliable and with a nipple. For many of us, we are now round, immoveable and we no longer have nipples. No nipple means puckering and gaping in the center of a traditional bra. Simply because, well, the bra was designed to have space for the nipple. So when shopping, look for a smooth fit; stretch is once again your friend. Think of the way a sports bra fits – it glides over the breast. That’s what you’re seeking – a bra that will conform to your body without leaving you with excess material that will fold, gather or scrunch up.
PERSONAL NEEDS MATTER
We’ve now gotten our size range, we’ve moved away from the racks of underwire and molded cups and we’re focusing on bras that will wrap and cover our body. Now what? Well, that comes down to you. Some women are extremely sensitive after surgery. Some even have permanent nerve and tissue pain. Some need or prefer wider
straps. Some have limited range of motion. Some have scars they wish to hide or pressure points they need to avoid. And, some can wear anything. First you want to avoid any bra that puts too much pressure on a sensitive incision, scar or pain point. Seamless bras are a dream. You also want to pick a fiber or material that is comfortable on your skin. And, you may need a bra with pockets for modesty pads or inserts. You also want to take into account how, when and where you wear your bras. And most of all – you want to avoid anything too tight or constricting.
With AnaOno, I made it a point to replace every bra I had to give away. That meant having a sport bra, a sleep bra, an everyday bra, a front closure bra, a date night bra and a classy “wear-to-work” empowering bra. Your needs may be as simple as a quick and easy wear all day, every day bra. You may need a bra for yoga or light exercise. You might want a bra to wear around a significant other when you want to feel your prettiest. You may be a person who wants variety or a person who finds what they like and buys 10 of it.
Think of your everyday needs, and start simple. Natural fibers like modal or bamboo will be the gentlest on sensitive or scarred skin. They will also be moisture-wicking and get softer with wash (not to mention they can withstand being accidentally tossed in the dryer). Front closure bras are a staple for any woman who is still swollen and healing or for those who have decreased range of motion.
Pullover bralettes generally do not have adjustable straps, but are more forgiving in coverage and fit. Back closure bras can have convertible straps, and are adjustable as your size needs change. Bras with front or back closures also generally have a more traditional look and feel. Pullover bralettes and light sport bras also have more material on the sides of the bra, which can help cover lymph node removal scars or provide a greater surface area to eliminate any “side or back fat” and they generally offer a smoother, gentler fit across the body. They also have more back support and hug your body.
Whatever your style choice, you want your bra to be comfortable, which is why I keep recommending those bralettes. They will fit to you, be less constricting and are often made from gentle, stretchy materials. But most of all, you must listen to you and your body, and be true to you.
AND ALSO LISTEN TO YOUR SURGEON
You may want to rush right out and buy a new bra the moment you feel better, but with reconstruction, it is a lengthy recovery process. You do not want to go against your surgeon’s recommendations. Wear your compression garments or that awful Iron Maiden bra until you are given the all clear. Then, ease into it. You will still be sore and swollen – which is why I always recommend stepping down into a gentle, wide back front-closure bra made from all-natural materials. Then, once you’re ready, you can start experimenting with different bralettes and styles.
BUT BE PATIENT
It is perfectly okay that your support group sister raced through recovery and is shopping at the high-end department store, while you are still bruised and achy and feel best in your super-soft recovery bra, a robe and your favorite slippers. There is no race. There is no right way. No one wins a medal. Go at your own pace. Ease into each step of the way that is your journey. Make decisions that best suit you, rather than what everyone else may be doing. Ask questions. Join a Facebook group or a message board. Read blogs. Scroll through Instagram. You are not alone, and you are not “behind.” You are you and only you.
My e-door is always, always open. You can find me on social media @AnaOnoIntimates, you can access me through Live Chat at AnaOno.com, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to make sure you get into the bra that makes you feel beautiful, confident and empowered. I would love it to be an AnaOno, but if not, that’s perfectly okay, too. I am here for you. We are here for you. You are Never Alone.
Let’s make bra shopping fun again! And I am happy to answer any questions or read your stories in the comments.
*Note: all AnaOno bra images were shown with the intent to point out qualities to look for in a bra post-breast reconstruction; qualities we’ve used based on thousands of women’s feedback. If you like them, feel free to shop us at https://www.anaono.com (we ship internationally). But, you are in no way obligated to shop with us. Please use these tips as you shop on your own or find what works best for you. xoxo