It was while stuffing a breast-shaped piece of material to insert into her bra that Lorna O'Leary shed her first tears following her mastectomy.
She was getting ready for her first night out since having her right breast removed a few weeks earlier. It would be another six months before she could wear a prosthesis and shaping the pillow-like object was proving a challenge.
"I remember we were going out and I wanted to look nice. It was the first time I was going out, and trying to get it right, I mean, how do you make the shape of your boob?" O'Leary, now 58, says. "It was the first time I shed some tears over it and it was pure frustration."
O'Leary, who grew up in Lake Heights, was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in 2008, a non-invasive cluster of cancerous cells found in the milk ducts of the breast, treated through a mastectomy or lumpectomy. While not every woman with DCIS will develop invasive breast cancer, it is almost four times more likely than in women without DCIS.
O'Leary's diagnosis came after a tumultuous few years for her family. Her father-in-law and two of her brothers-in-law died in quick succession, followed by her father and then her mother.
Then her sister was diagnosed with terminal non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which spread to her spinal cord. During the last stages of her sister's illness O'Leary started to see signs something wasn't right with her own body. But she was focused on spending time with her sister, so it wasn't until after the funeral that she consulted a doctor and was diagnosed with DCIS.
Within a week she had her
breast removed. She opted not to have reconstruction surgery and instead wears a prosthesis.
While she says it feels normal now, the first few months following the mastectomy were incredibly difficult, particularly when it came to getting dressed.
"You feel different and it is quite uncomfortable and you're very aware of it. I had to change the sort of clothes that I wore. For a start I couldn't lift things over my head - I'd had major surgery - so I ended up having to wear things you could just button," she says.
She sought the advice of her close friend and personal stylist Julie Rollinson to help her shop for clothes to suit her new shape. Not a fan of shopping at the best of times, catering for her prosthesis was an extra challenge.
"You can't wear low cut things or things with loose necklines, because even though you have a prosthesis, you don't have a cleavage and you don't want people to be seeing that," O'Leary says.
Rollinson, who owns Drab2Fab image consulting, has worked with many women who have had mastectomies. She and Maralyn Young from CasaMia Lingerie are holding a workshop next month
to share tips for dressing following the surgery.
"One of the things I find is what you look like on the outside is very dependent on how you are in the inside," Rollinson says.
The first styling workshop is on February 6 at the CasaMia Warilla store. Call 4296 7485 to book.
Help adjusting to new shape
Undergoing a mastectomy, lumpectomy or any form of breast surgery is a difficult experience.
Aside from finding bras, clothing and swimwear to fit and flatter your new shape, it can be easy to lose confidence and feel low after the operation.
To reboot their self-esteem and give women who have lost one or both of their breasts, or are undergoing treatment for any kind of cancer, a chance to treat themselves, CasaMia is opening a specialist Post-Mastectomy and Women with Cancer Pamper Salon next door to their existing Fairy Meadow store.
Managing director Maralyn Young says she wanted to give women who have had cancer a space that was private, relaxed and comfortable as they take steps to come to terms with their new body.
‘‘It’s such a devastating thing for a lot of ladies to have their breast off and we want to help them regain their confidence and their femininity.’’
The salon will have a pamper room for massages and beauty treatments, such as facials, to give women a chance to relax and destress.
Young plans to hire a lymphoedema masseuse to give specialist massages to women who are suffering from lymphoedema as a result of having their lymph nodes removed from under their arms during their mastectomy and provide natural skincare products for women whose skin has been damaged as a result of harsh cancer treatments.
‘‘Chemotherapy or radiotherapy can do a lot of damage to the skin, so after they’ve finished their treatments and want to start getting their skin up to scratch again, we’ll be there to help as well,’’ she says.
The new salon will offer all the existing services of bra and prosthesis fitting CasaMia already offers, but stock a wider range of post-mastectomy products, including breast forms, swimwear, lingerie and sleepwear, as well as wigs and hats for women who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Young plans to hold workshops to show women how to style their wigs and make-up, as well as how to dress to camouflage and incorporate a breast prothesis or the changes in shape to the breast area with confidence.
The salon should be open by the end of January.