How to love and style your body after cancer

Breast cancer thriver Jenni Eyles helps women learn to love their new bodies after surgery or cancer treatment, and shares her styling tips to help make the transition a little easier.

When women undergo surgery or treatment for cancer, they can lose much more than soft warm tissue and flesh. They may be stripped of their hair, lashes and brows; treatment can strip them of their curves; and many women lose confidence, self-esteem and a sense of femininity… yeah, good one, cancer! 

After cancer treatment, our bodies can be left looking and feeling vastly different. For me, I lost two breasts through breast cancer treatment, and knowing how to dress for comfort became very tricky—especially when trying to camouflage a missing breast or two! Suddenly clothes didn’t fit the same way, and pain made it difficult to dress. But styling and dressing for comfort is something I have become very good at.

Losing a breast or two also impacts on how a woman might get dressed. Some women really want to hide all evidence of their missing breast… and cancer. Others don’t care, and won’t change a single thing about how they face the world. It’s extremely personal, and there is no right or wrong way.

I’m sharing a few practical tips on styling and body confidence that helped me during my cancer treatment and after surgery. Whether you choose to cover up or become more open, there are tips for you all.

Post surgery

  • Front-opening buttons or press studs can be handy when getting dressed and for medical check-ups.
  • Once you start wearing a post-operative or mastectomy bra, a tank with wider straps will cover the wider bra straps.
  • You will need tops or dresses that have plenty of room in the arms, or try sleeveless. This will allow for drains and give freedom of movement. 
  • Look for tops with wide necks that will be easy to pull off or put on one handed. One limb might be heavily restricted, and you might be advised to not raise your arms up over your head. So something you can ‘pull off’ can be handy.
  • Pants with a soft elastic waist, made from soft material like bamboo or jersey (a knit fabric), are comfortable to wear post-surgery, especially after any gynaecological or stomach surgery.

Post mastectomy (surgery to remove one or both breasts)

  • Mastectomy bras sit higher on the chest to be able to hold the prosthesis. You may need to wear tops and tees with higher necklines, or add a cami or tank under your tops.
  • Tight armholes are constrictive, and in the few months following breast surgery, ‘comfortable and loose’ is what will serve you better. Looser armholes are also a blessing for the day when your lymph nodes swell up.
  • A soft cami can help with coverage of post-surgical bumps, while providing comfort.
  • Flowy tunics or kaftan style tops are perfect in summer. Loose clothing is not only soothing and comfortable, but makes it more difficult to detect a missing breast or two.
  • In winter, jersey or bamboo is soft and easy to wear.
  • During the summer months consider a fabric with SPF protective technology to help protect your scars from the sun.
  • Vests or jackets are handy for giving a little extra coverage over your chest area, like a security blanket.
  • Jumpers, especially knits, can draw attention to your chest. So in the cooler months, try layering instead.
  • An all-over print can be a great way to cover up a missing breast.
  • Be careful of details like pin tucking, smocking, and pockets near the chest. These may draw unwanted attention. Look for ruffles, draping and asymmetrical lines that lead the eye away from the area.
woman getting styled after cancer

Dressing for confidence

  • Explore hiring a personal stylist, they aren’t as expensive as you may think!
  • Follow a style blogger with a similar body shape to you. They can be a wealth of information, and the community they create could be the tonic you need.
  • Shop far and wide, including online. Sticking to a few select stores might narrow your style options.
  • Know your body measurements, this will particularly help when shopping online.
  • Forget the number inside the label. Sizing is not regulated in Australia, and most women have an assorted sizing range in their wardrobes. Your worth is not measured by a sizing label.
  • Have a good seamstress on speed dial. Sometimes a garment will tick enough boxes that a little alteration, if needed, will pay off.

Body confidence

Body confidence is the gift that cancer gave me. I learned to get over my hang-ups and embrace my body. I know that’s not easy for most women. Embracing our bodies can take time and a little help.

  • Speak kind words about your body, it feels what you think.
  • Change the habit of thinking poorly about your body. You may have spent years voicing what your body ‘can’t do’ or what it ‘isn’t’, but now is the time to change that. Turn those thoughts around. Congratulate your body for what it achieves, and thank it for getting you through each day.
  • Keep a style file of ‘selfies’. Take a selfie each day. This is a great way to see what you have in your wardrobe and create new outfits, but can also help you become more at ease with your body. The more you see your daily photos, the more relaxed you’ll likely be with who you are.
  • Nourish your body. Feed it good, healthy food (most of the time – have that occasional treat if you want), and do some gentle exercise.
  • Seek some guidance from a makeup artist. Understanding makeup products, and learning a few insider tricks, can help boost your self-esteem.
  • Make self-care a priority. Book in for a regular massage/ facial/manicure, whatever makes you feel pampered. The little things can make a big difference.

Post cancer treatment, we are different. But we also have the opportunity to become the brightest version of ourselves from the inside out. Remember—you are totally worth it!

To read more about Jenni Eyles’ outlook on life post cancer, click here
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