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The Prize No One Wanted

A few months ago at my support group meeting I was declared the winner of the “prize no one wanted.”

What was the prize you might ask?

Well, it was a bathing suit of all things. And not just any bathing suit, a mastectomy bathing suit, one to be worn with or without prosthetic inserts.

Just want I always never wanted, a mastectomy bathing suit.

Even back in my younger days, when I looked “alright” in a bathing suit, I didn’t much care for them. First of all, I never really learned to swim very well. I did take a few swimming lessons as a Girl Scout and for a summer or two when I visited my grandparents, but I never really “took to the water.”

When you can’t swim very well, don’t sunbathe because you have very fair skin and generally don’t care to parade around in a bathing suit, there’s never a great desire to shop for one, wear one or much less win one.

But win one I did!

Anyway, back to the meeting…

At my monthly support group meetings, the first hour is spent on a presentation generally given by an expert on the subject at hand. Topics like recurrence, reconstruction, exercise, finances, and the like are covered. They have been quite informative, plus we are served a light supper while we listen, which is always lovely. The second half of the meeting is devoted to discussion of the evening’s topic or whatever else we choose to talk about.

At this particular meeting a very compassionate “bra fitter” and “prosthesis fitter” spoke about the services her specialty shop provides. She concluded her presentation by generously announcing, “Everyone please be sure to sign up for your chance to win a free bathing suit.”

The prize was displayed on a mannequin at the front of the room. Of course, it looked great on the mannequin.

Glancing around the room I could tell no one was really all that thrilled by this particular prize prospect, me included. None-the-less I signed up. How could I not?

Although, one woman did say, “Absolutely not, I’m not interested.”

She refused to put her name in the jar.

At the end of the meeting when the time came for the winner’s name to be drawn from the glass jar, I somehow knew my name was going to be the one drawn out.

Sure enough, I was right.

My name was announced and I was declared the winner.

Everyone else seemed relieved.

It was the prize no one really wanted.

I didn’t either, but of course, I smiled and said thank you so much. I didn’t want to appear ungrateful, even though I was.

If truth be told, the reason I signed up for the drawing was because since my bilateral mastectomy, I haven’t been able to find a bra I can comfortably wear for more than a few hours at a time. So when this opportunity presented itself, I jumped at it. I wasn’t interested in the bathing suit. No, I was interested in the bras. In addition to the bathing suit, the fitter had also brought along lots of bras for display at our support group meeting.

The bras definitely caught my interest.

Fast forward a couple of months, February to be exact.

Since hubby and I had a vacation planned, I figured what better time to go and retrieve my prize?

So in February I finally got up the gumption to make an appointment to collect my prize. Yes, I actually needed an appointment. Imagine having a bra fitting and bathing suit fitting appointment all rolled into one.

What fun!

When I arrived at the pharmacy, yes, I said pharmacy, I met my fitter and we proceeded to a large private dressing room actually located in a different building entirely. The dressing room had walls with shelves floor to ceiling holding plastic bins, each filled with bras. I had never seen so many bras in one place.

“What size do you wear?” the fitter asked me.

“I have no idea anymore,” I told her. This reconstructed bosom is still more than a bit of a mystery to me.

“Well, to save time, do you mind if I stay in the room while you’re trying some on?” the fitter asked me.

“No, I don’t mind,”  I answered. “Modesty, what’s that?”

We looked a few over; made some choices and then the fitting and trying on began.

However, when it came time to switch to trying on the bathing suits, I bluntly told her in no uncertain terms, “You’ll need to leave now.”

Some things are for my eyes only.

There’s nothing like trying on bathing suits to strike “fear” in the hearts of women, me included.

At the end of my session, I left with three new bras and the “prize no one wanted,” my new mastectomy bathing suit.

The funny thing is now a couple of months later, two of the three bras have been returned; not comfy after all.

As for the bathing suit, I kind of like it – only because it’s really comfortable.

Who would have thought?

As it turns out, I sort of like my “prize that no one wanted.”

I said sort of.

Finally, I just have to share some wise words my friend Sarah, of Being Sarah, said to me when I mentioned my prize that no one wanted.

She said, “Yes, Nancy, the bathing suit is the prize no one wanted, but of course, the real prize no one wanted here is cancer.”

Exactly, Sarah. Exactly.

Have you ever won a prize you didn’t really want?

Have you had difficulty finding comfortable clothing of any kind post-mastectomy?

How do you feel about trying on bathing suits?

Do you attend support group meetings?

Here it is - "the prize no one wanted."

 Lastly, just for fun, do you call them bathing suits or swimsuits?



33 thoughts to “The Prize No One Wanted”

  1. I refer to them as bathing & swim suits. I like teeny bikinis, so no, I can’t really wear that style anymore. Don’t like it. I would of only put my name in that jar to give the bathing suit away, because I like to give, hahaha! I have trouble fitting in my clothes from weight loss, I also have to buy a different type of bikini, as well as certain dresses,I am small busted always have been, I like v-neck dresses, I tend to find that princess cut dresses fit best on me now.

    Sarah is right on!!!!!!!! I am getting tired of people complaining about little things… not referring to this topic. But, just what is important in this life?? For me it’s love! I am alive! To slow down, not to get angry about little things.
    What modesty is right, I strip down for anybody & I used to have MAJOR issues with this, no more, you want to look, feel, go ahead. I would flash people for extra awareness, they would def do a double take, who is that chick with no Nips?? But my husband won’t let me, doesn’t want others looking at my foobs, like they were my boobs or something. 😉

    I have received gifts I did not want, but not a prize.. why enter if you do not want it?? Unless you have other plans for it, like giving it to someone else??

    1. Laura, Thank you for your comment. I signed up at first thinking I would give the suit away. I didn’t think it would work for me, but then I did need one, and as it turned out, it works for anyone. It just has pockets for inserts that are entirely unnoticeable. I was initially way more interested in the bras the fitter brought. The whole trying on thing was pretty interesting… Could write another post! ha. And you’re right, we are pretty “free” in some ways now aren’t we? Thanks for sharing so openly.

    2. Wow, this topic really touched a sad chord in me that I thought had faded..
      I was DXed in Dec. 2004 and had bilateral masts ( no recon) & did dose dense AC/T thru May of ’05. I was offered Herceptin which had only just been approved for early stage BC . My Mom was end stage with same and I lost her on July 29th that summer.. On August 29th Hurricane Katrina forced us to abandon our home and we ended up having to stay away for 2 months! We decided to rent an apartment in the FL panhandle 1 block from the beach. After finally finding an Oncologist that would take me on with no medical records, I began weekly Herceptin. We were caring for a friend’s daughter (5 yo) as her folks worked as journalists and had to return to Biloxi immediately.
      Well there was only one thing to do… Go to the beach. This was to be the first time I’d put on a swimsuit since masts/cancer.
      I looked at myself in a non mastectomy swimsuit ( that’s all I had when we evacuated) and I bawled like a baby .. totally lost it…
      I did find out that one could swim and beach it while in treatment and I LOVED it! But I was traumatized by what I saw in the mirror. More to this but I’ve droned on enough 🙂 thank you for your post and for the ” catharsis”!

      1. Marcia, Thanks so much for your heartfelt comments. I’m so sorry for all you’ve been through… it’s too much to expect of anyone. You have been through a lot of traumas I would say. Thank you for sharing so openly here. All “droning” is welcome! Hope you’re doing well now. My best.

  2. Hi Nancy – thanks for writing about this, and also for sharing the photo. I’m glad you find it comfortable and have come to like the swimsuit… you’re right, finding the right one is really difficult after breast surgery – heck, it was hard enough before! Now there are more considerations such as covering scars, but mainly – is it comfortable?

    Interesting you raise the question of what to call ‘it’ – I say ‘swimmie’, but here (Liverpool UK) we also use ‘cosie’ as in an abbreviated version of ‘costume’.

    Like you I’ve never found any bra that I could wear for any length of time post -surgery, too much scar tissue which dislikes elastic. Have had the most success with maternity or nursing bras (which I find quite ironic given the treatments for breast cancer often result in infertility).

    I have to say that the ‘post-surgery’ catalogues that I entered my life were certainly the sort of things that I wished I’d never known existed… whilst I know that the ‘garments’ are meant to help us feel better about our altered bodies, they just seem to make me feel worse about myself, especially the limited number of styles of underwear – speaking as someone who loved lingerie shopping before breast cancer. I think there are a lot of issues you have touched on here. Thanks for writing – lots to think about.


    1. Being Sarah, Yes, the suit is quite comfortable and I’m glad I won it after all! Finding comfortable clothing, at least certain items, is a challenge post-mastectomy isn’t it? And yes, the nursing bras, very ironic. I have never heard suits referred to as “swimmies” or “cosies.” I’m learning something new today! Finally, you’re right about those catalogues and the limited choices offered…Hopefully more choices are coming. Thanks for commenting.

  3. I haven’t tried on a swimsuit in a store in a couple of decades. I either mail-order them or just bring them home.

    But the real issue: No, comfort is apparently no longer a factor I get to consider, except in the one sports bra I have that I love. I had a single mastectomy in November and my implant exchange at the end of February. I am now grossly asymmetrical, and have spent a fortune trying to rectify the situation from an appearance standpoint. I have finally settled on a partial form, usually inside one of my old bras. I look fine when I’m fully dressed, albeit a little smushed sometimes on the implant side.

    The lady at the “fake everything” store was wonderful, but sold me a couple of lovely bras that in the end, not being underwire, simply don’t work. My real breast just slides right out from underneath. (And the bras the insurance would fully pay for — UGLY and barely serviceable. They looked like they must have been designed by a cranky male medical supply specialist usually in charge of something like toilets.)

    I call them either bathing or swim suits, I never win anything, I don’t go to support groups except occasionally for suicide survivors, and no, I haven’t made any decision about additional surgery. I am so happy to be done with surgeons for now that thoughts of nipple/areola on one side and lift/reduction on the other are so appalling as to be completely suppressed. As Scarlet says, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

    1. Robin, I know what you mean about the “not trying on” for decades. Mail order is how I’ve been operating too. I’m sorry about all your “clothing struggles.” And as you mentioned, none of these items are cheap and some are indeed ugly and as you said, “barely serviceable.” There seems to be a need that’s not being fully met yet. Take your time deciding on the additional surgeries. You’re right, you can think about that tomorrow…or the day after that! ha. I’m very sorry about your being a suicide survivor. Do you blog about that? I need to checkout your blog. My apologies for being slow to do so. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Interesting story Nancy. As a Florida transplant, I enjoy the water, be it my pool or at the beach. I remember the first time I went swimsuit shopping following my double mastectomy. I bought nothing and left in tears. I’ve always been very fit, so always felt comfortable in swimsuits, but that changed after my mastectomies. The suits designed for we post-mastectomy women look like something my great grandmother might have worn.

    I met an inspiring woman, a Previvor like me, who designs high-end swimsuits for those of us who have had mastectomies. I don’t own one, but they look great on the model, who I’m told had mastectomies. Veronica Brett Swimwear

    1. Susan, I completely understand about your experience leaving in tears. It’s traumatic on so many levels. You’re right, so many of the suits designed for post-mastectomy women look like something for our great grandmothers… I think it’s slowly changing thanks to women like the one you mentioned. I did actually stumble upon her site when I was looking for photos for this post. Things always look great on the models! Thanks for commenting.

  5. Hey Nancy,

    That’s very thought provoking. Are you still looking for a comfy bra. I own 3 of the most comfy bras in the world. I will send them to you if you think they would work.

    I must have won double prizes! Two prizes that I didn’t want. Cancer and then CRPS for the axillary surgery.

    CRPS means that not only can I not wear bras, or bathing suits, or anything with any kind of strap, but also t-shirts, sweatshirts or any kind of shirt – without taking heavy medication.

    I have a swimsuit too, if you’re interested in another. It just kills me. Instead, I wear a men’s “rash guard” shirt from Land’s End. Most of my clothes are men’s. Kind of challenging finding stuff work…

    Thanks for sharing.

    Dianne Duffy

    1. Dianne, I did find one bra I find reasonably comfortable. I’ll go back and get more at some point. Most of the time I wear camisoles now. They just feel better. Sometimes they don’t work though…depends on what you’re wearing. What is CRPS? Finding clothing must be terribly frustrating. I’m sorry. I can’t imagine… Thanks so much for adding to this discussion, Dianne.

    2. CRPS – Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. In a nutshell, a nerve that mistakenly sends the signal that everything that touches it is a fire. So my armpit is perpetually on fire. Such a great prize from breast cancer don’t you think?

      Yes, clothing is a challenge. You sure you don’t want those bras? I have no need. I guess I should count myself lucky. My reconstruction turned out well enough that I don’t really need a bra unless I wear something really tight – which I don’t because then my armpit would really be on fire! Softest bra in the west, made out of modal.

      I keep looking for anyone with a story like mine with the type of pain I have. I haven’t found one yet. But I’ve learned a lot in the search. I always enjoy reading your posts, even when the subject matter is difficult.

      Thanks again for writing.


      1. Dianne, Good lord that sounds terrible, Dianne. I’m sorry. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for you to find comfortable clothing. Guess I shouldn’t be complaining! I’m sure there are others out there with the same or similar condition. Hope you can find a few. Thank YOU so much for reading and for your kind words.

  6. I’m glad the swimsuit is comfy and that you actually like it. I know what you mean about the difficulty of accommodating one’s body with “sensitive-type” garments after/during breast cancer.

    I call them swimsuits, but I occasionally lapse into calling them bathing suits. I can swim (I’ll do laps for an hour), but ironically, the only stroke I know is the breast stroke.

    Anyway, I have more of a gut since the whole “tummy tuck” surgery because my abdominal wall is compromised. I have wardrobe malfunctions and I work hard at finding clothes that camouflage all that my body has been through.

    By the way, for years I had trouble finding a bra and would leave stores in tears. Finally, at a fund-raiser dinner, I happened to sit next to a certified mastectomy fitter!! I put the link to my review of the shop below. A few bras and a prosthesis later, I’m very happy.

    If ever you come to the Chicago area, it’s well-worth the trip. She gives personalized service, and my bra is comfortable until about the 12-hour point.

    1. Beth, I admire anyone who can swim as well as you. It’s such a wonderful form of exercise and yes, it is ironic that the only stroke you know is the breast stroke. I’m sorry finding clothing is such a challenge for you, too. It shouldn’t have to be so hard should it? I guess when you think about it, finding comfortable clothes is/has always been somewhat of a challenge. I remember that post about the bra fitter. This person I saw was/is a certified mastectomy bra fitter as well. I loved her compassion and genuine interest in helping me. Thanks for your comments and for the link as well.

  7. I call them bathing suits. I didn’t have reconstruction and don’t wear forms, so it is easy for me to buy bathing suits -speedo racing suits don’t have foam bras so work well if you are flat chested.

    I have always had very good luck with climbing related drawings. I have won the following: two packpacks, a pair of hiking boots, several tee shirts, certificates for free climbing gym memberships and classes, hats and a parka. However, the prize I didn’t want/didn’t get was a sports bra, one of the door prizes at the annual membership party at the climbing gym. This was right after my bmx. The people running the drawing saw they had drawn my membership card so put it back in the box and drew another card, saying they had drawn a man’s name. Later I said something to them about it being the first time I hadn’t won anything in the drawing. They turned red and told me they had actually drawn my name for the sports bra.

    I normally wear tee shirts or button down shirts. No forms, so no bras unless I am going to a really formal occasion with a bunch of strangers.

    1. Lisa, It’s so great to see your comment. Wow, you’ve done quite well in the prize claiming department I guess. Good for you! Sorry about the sports bra incident, but it sounds like it was tougher on the people running the drawing than for you. You exude confidence in your clothing selections. I like that. Thanks so much for sharing here today.

  8. This is a problem that never goes away. Like you, I couldn’t find a well fitting bra on my own and went without one for the longest time. Finally, bit the bullet and went to a fitter and that was before nipples & tattoos now that I think about it. It is what it is. Do you know I bought one bra that day, wear it once in a while, more often not and have never gotten another. Oh well, nothing constructive to say today! Apparently rambling. You touched a cord. Thanks, Nancy. Love this topic. By the way, always “bathing suit.” “Swim suit” seems old fashioned.

    1. Stacey, I remember your post about that, in fact, I thought of you on the day of my fittings! Glad to know others call them bathing suits. I was wondering if that was just me… Thanks for stopping by. “Ramble away” anytime!

  9. What an interesting topic, Nancy! I am glad that you’ve ended up finding the swimsuit comfortable. It certainly looks nice in the photo!

    As it happens, I’ve been giving the bra issue some thought this week. My pre-surgery bras just didn’t work for me anymore (I had a left-sided mastectomy with reconstruction via implant). My old underwires hurt on the mastectomy scar. I also had issues with heat rash in the tropical climate! Not meaning to sound like an ad, but I stumbled on a bra that is sold pretty cheaply in Australia (and is also available on line – costing much more to order that way than it does in the shops here!), called the ‘Aah Bra’. It’s easy to google, but watch out for the late-night tv style voiceover!! I have been thinking of writing a little post about it at some stage – it’s very early days but so far I am finding it very comfortable. It has made such a difference to find a bra that feels good on my reconfigured body.

    One of your other commenters mentioned rashguard tops (we call them ‘swimmers’ and ‘rashies’ in the part of Oz where I grew up, though the terms vary around Australia!). I usually wear boardshorts (or ‘boardies’!) with a bikini top and a rashie if in direct sun. My surgeon said that his goal was that I’d look OK in a bikini top, and I’m pleased to say that he achieved this goal – it’s surprisingly hard to tell that I’ve got one fake/one real when I’ve got a fairly chunky black bikini top on. The rashie is handy as it provides extra coverage if I’m feeling like it (for more than sun-related reasons)…and the boardies are handy for disguising the cellulite, which I sadly can’t blame on cancer!!!! Must say that I’ve found it pretty tough facing public change rooms (this was even worse when there was removal of a bandana involved!). Haven’t dared face it yet – have always scurried off to a toilet to get changed. Am hoping I become braver about this with time, but who knows? And as for trying on swimmers – I found this a nightmare BEFORE cancer!!!

    1. Liz, Thanks so much for adding to this discussion. Finding the right garments is such a challenge post-surgery isn’t it? I have actually tried the “Aah Bra” and it felt way too tight and constricting for some reason, maybe they run really small and I should try a larger size since you like yours. I had not heard of the terms “swimmers, rashies or boardies” until this post. I’m learning! I’m glad you and your surgeon are satisfied with the results, mainly you. I know what you mean about the public changing rooms and I totally agree, some things were a nightmare before cancer for sure! Thanks again for commenting, Liz.

  10. Hmmmm…what do I like better, trying on swimming suits or putting bamboo shoots under my fingernails? I used to call them “bathing suits” in the midwest, St. Louis, where I was raised. Now they’re referred to as “swim suits” – so much more sophisticated sounding but a rose by any other name.
    Congrats on being a winner – which you were before you won the prize noboby wanted!

  11. My fittings with the professional prosthesis/bra fitter resulted in my getting some great pyjamas (UK spelling, Sarah!! LOL), but the bras really were awful & the prosthesis slides down into the pocket instead of staying put. If I even wear my prosthesis (which is not often), I end up wearing it in one of my ‘old’ comfortable bras, against my skin, where it stays put. I stay away from the beach, too, now, because of my own fair skin. Don’t even want to think about swimsuits…

    Right after I’d finished active treatment, I won a ‘pink grab bag’ at a BC fundraiser & a pink feather boa. LOL!! Me, of all people, with a pink shopping bag full of all sorts of pink tchotchkes!! Pink pens that light up with rah-rah ‘hope’ slogans, pink Tic Tacs, the inevitable pink teddy bear — you get the idea. I think I’d rather have won the swimsuit! As long as it wasn’t pink!

    1. Kathi, Struggling with prostheses must be annoying and challenging at times. Just heard another incredible story at my support group mtg last night from an “old granny,” her words not mine, about getting harassed while going through TSA. She had quite the prosthesis story. And why is it so hard to find comfortable garments that are also functional? Sounds like your grab bag was quite the prize. Did you take a picture of yourself with it? Thanks for commenting, Kathi.

  12. I laughed myself silly reading your post. I usually call such garments bathing suits because that’s what my mother always called them. I think it’s hilarious that the suit ended up being something you didn’t return, that you sort of liked.

    A prize I won that I didn’t really like was a sewing box filled with all kinds of sewing accessories. I don’t know what possessed me to put my name in the hat, because I don’t sew. I ended up giving the goodies to a friend who loves to quilt.

    I now attend a divorce support group meeting (I thought erroneously my husband would notice my nice new mastectomy bras that I got from a fitter last year and “kind of” modeled for him, but he didn’t).

    I used to be in cancer support groups, but now am in watercolor and creative writing courses at the cancer center with patients undergoing treatment. I consider those classes to be wonderful support groups. We counsel each other while we paint and we write poems about our cancer.

    Thanks for this really witty post! xx

    1. Jan, Well, I’m glad to hear my post gave you a you laugh! I don’t sew either, so that prize you won wouldn’t have been a good one for me either. I keep my two spools of thread and a couple of needles handy and that’s it. I’m really glad you are attending a divorce support group meeting. That has to be a wonderfully safe place to share and vent a little. I’m sorry about that painful experience you mentioned here…I love the idea of painting and creative writing courses at a cancer center. I bet you are a wonderful source of support to others, Jan. Thanks so much for your ongoing willingness to share.

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