Middle-aged women are forgotten about by retailers. I offer help with clothing choices, skincare, and healthy eating for the mature woman.
Swimming After Breast Surgery
If you've had a mastectomy or lumpectomy, you may be concerned about wearing a swimsuit and heading out to the beach or the pool. Let me put your mind at ease because there are many women, myself included, who have had surgery and are swimming again.
In 2008, I had two surgeries to remove cancerous cells, followed by a course of radiation therapy. During the final appointment with the consultant, his nurse, also a breast cancer survivor, made sure I realized the risk of sun exposure on the treated area. Because of the radiation therapy, she said, I would be more susceptible to sunburn. I was moving to the tropics, with a UV index often in the extreme category, had her concerned. It is for this reason that I wear a swimsuit that comes up high.
Although I don't wear a prosthesis, mastectomy swimsuits have a pocket for one.
Like all bathing suits, if you plan to swim in it instead of just enjoying time on the beach, it has to be comfortable. Here are my tips for finding a post-mastectomy swimsuit that will be a joy to wear and get you back in the pool.
Try on Post-Mastectomy Swimwear
I can't stress this enough; you have to feel comfortable both physically and mentally in your new bathing suit. Try your bathing suit on with your prosthesis in place, and look at yourself in the mirror. The pocket on some might need adjusting to keep your breast form in place.
It still amazes me how many people try on clothing, a bathing suit included, and don't move around in it. When you try shoes on, you walk around the shoe store to see if they are comfortable. It would be best if you did the same with your new swimsuit. Lift your arms above your head, pretend you're swimming, imitate the motions of the front crawl. Did you feel any chafing or rubbing? Was your prosthesis moving around? Don't forget about your legs. Lift your knees to see if there is excessive tightness there. You want it snug but not cutting off your circulation. Bend over and touch your knees. Does it ride up? There is nothing worse than getting out of a pool and pulling your bathing suit out of your backside.
Don't think you're restricted to a one-piece granny-styled swimsuit because you've had breast surgery. There are many options available to you, including tankinis and bikinis. I love a one-piece suit and have been wearing them since I was sixteen. To me, they seem more elegant than a bikini. Although I've worn bikinis, I keep coming back to a one-piece. All of the swimsuits labeled as mastectomy styles will have a pocket for a breast form. The bikini will often have a wide piece of fabric on the chest to hide a pocket. Don't think your swimwear choices are limited. Many manufacturers now realize this is an untapped and large market.
Best Types of Mastectomy Swimsuits
The type of suit you choose will most likely be down to the activity you plan to do. If you love to swim laps, I prefer a racerback as the straps stay put and don't impede the movement of the stroke.
If you prefer water aerobics, a racerback would work perfectly for this, also one which is a keyhole opening at the back. I love this type as it shows a bit of the back. Again for water aerobics, you need to think about the full range of movements. A mastectomy bathing suit is often cut high into the armpit to help keep the breast form in place, check for any rubbing.
If you plan to sun yourself on a lounger and read a book, you need to think about the tan line your suit will be leaving. If the straps are too thick you may get lines you don't want if you then decide to wear a sundress. However, you should check with your doctor to see if any of the treatment you received is going to leave you susceptible to problems as the result of too much sun exposure. This could be radiation therapy, chemotherapy or biological therapy.
Clasps and Closures on Your Swimwear
What is the closure of your bathing suit? You may never have thought about it before but now, it could be a concern for you. Although your prosthesis will be in a pocket, you don't want it to come out if the suit should come unhooked. Another thing to think about, especially if your hair is shoulder length or longer, clasps which are at the neck can catch on your hair. I have long hair and although I pull it up, there are some pesky strands that can wrap around a clasp. I can't stand wearing a swimming cap so opt to just pull my hair up whenever possible.
Swimwear Fabrics and Patterns
Although you may think that all swimwear is made of the same material, they aren't. There are also some which are more resistant to chlorine making it an excellent choice if the majority of your swimming is in chlorinated pools.
Cotton, although a wonderful summery fabric, isn't great at repelling the sun and after living in the tropics, I can tell you, the sun destroys it. Chlorine is also hard on cotton. In my experience, if you love cotton and want a swimsuit made out of it, opt for a cotton blend.
Post-mastectomy bathing suits which have Lycra are the best in my opinion. Because they fit securely and allow easy movement.
The choice of printed or plain swimwear is down to personal preference, however, if you are opting for a sleek plain colored line, your prosthesis may show more. If you are comfortable with that, then it's okay, some women prefer to keep it private and others are quite happy to flash their scars around the changing room. A fabric that is printed or patterned is less likely to highlight the fact you're wearing a prosthesis or if you opt to swim without it, a gap in the fabric. Don't just rely on patterned fabric; textured fabric is also a popular way to mask it. Be aware, a textured fabric will slow you down in the water, but if you are out there for the exercise and not to break a personal best, it probably doesn't matter to you.
Choosing a Breast Prosthesis for Swimming
Before heading out to the pool or beach, check to see if your prosthesis is recommended for use in a swimming pool. Chlorine may have a negative effect. There are some available which are designed to be used in the water and are unaffected by chlorine. Also, transparent ones are best as they won't show an unnatural color when wet. Choosing the correct breast form for swimming will depend on your particular surgery and on how much tissue you had removed.
Here are some of the shapes to consider:
- Heart-Shaped: If your surgery didn't remove any tissue from under the arm or the collarbone, a heart shape form may be just what you're looking for. This versatile shape will fill the cup without feeling bulky.
- Teardrop: If your surgery did remove surrounding tissue from under the arm and near the collarbone, the teardrop shape is likely to suit you. Most manufacturers offer optional extensions which can be adjusted to get the perfect fit.
- Triangular: For those whose surgery removed only a smaller portion of tissue but still left a void. This form is best suited for younger women whose underlying pectoral muscles are still firm.
- Asymmetrical: Because no two women are the same, asymmetrical shapes give a variety of options. If you've had underarm tissue removed, an asymmetrical form can help you fill in the gaps to get a smooth look.
It's important to remember, no woman has symmetrical breasts whether they have had surgery or not.
Check with your doctor to see when you can safely return to the pool.
If you feel self-conscious about going to a public swimming pool or to the beach, go with people you feel comfortable with, friends and family are there to support you. Remember, others don't know you have had surgery unless you tell them.
Although you may feel like people are looking at you, they aren't they are too interested in their own lives.
You may feel stiffness when swimming which wasn't there before. Some will be due to the surgery and scars and some due to the inactivity. Even now several years later, I feel a pulling where my scar is when I move my arm above my head. If it is difficult, just keep at it and keep swimming and soon you'll settle into a confident and comfortable routine.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: I received a bilateral mastectomy and I want a swimsuit to wear without a prosthesis. I am a very curve woman. What would be best for me?
Answer: I think you should opt for a tankini. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is you can get some that come quite high. It's likely you may have had radiation therapy and doesn't want that area exposed to the sun. Having a suit with a high neck will help.
The second reason for a tankini is if you are concerned about looking flat-chested, you can get a top with ruffles, or one that hangs straight down as opposed to clinging to you.
Question: You mention the pocket might need some adjustment to keep the form in place. That is exactly my need. I have the crinkle high neck suit you picture above. I love it but to fit hips etc the suit is a 16. The bead-like forms I want to use are a size 5. I don't know how to anchor the forms. I've tried safety pins but would like something more permanent. How can I anchor the forms permanently in my swimsuit?
Answer: I would suggest Velcro. However, they are not all the same. If you have a fabric store near you, they will offer various thicknesses. Some may need sewing and others may have an adhesive. What you'll need is a thin but flexible type.
The assistants will be able to show you, but things to consider are: it will likely be exposed to chlorine, and also you want one that, should it come into contact with the skin, won't cause irritation or rubbing.
© 2017 Mary Wickison
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on March 26, 2018:
That was great that you were able to adapt your other swimsuit. It is so important to know that we can get back into our old routines without feeling self-conscious.
Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on March 26, 2018:
This is good advice. It is important to know the issues you have to think about. I considered buying a Mastectomy swimsuit, but in the end I decided to adapt my own swimsuit. It was brand new, bought before I knew I had breast cancer, and I was determined to wear it. If you want to see my solution, it appears in one of the boxes to the right of this page.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on June 08, 2017:
Firstly, thank you, I was fortunate to catch a lump very early.
I had to laugh, I think all women look at themselves in a suit and think about how fat we look in it. Or any bits that can't be tucked in discreetly.
There is nothing worse than a suit that rubs because when it's wet it can rub you raw. Because I am known to go through the movements in the dressing room, I avoid stores with tiny dressing rooms. Online shopping allows me to get a good feel for it and if those tags stay on they will take it back.
Thanks for reading and your kind words.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 08, 2017:
Mary, first I'd like to congratulate you on being a cancer survivor.
This article is so important for those who have had surgery and need some fashion advice. I found it very informative in general, particularly your tips on various movements to make when trying on swimwear. I don't think I've ever done anything other than look at the suit to see whether or not it makes me look fat!
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on May 07, 2017:
Dora, I hope women who are feeling doubtful will find the courage to return to swimming.
Thanks for reading.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 07, 2017:
Mary, you answer all the questions. Thanks for this very thoughtful article.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on May 07, 2017:
For women who love swimming and those who just feel self- conscious after their surgery, I hope this article helps. There are now many more options available for swimwear.
Thanks for your kind words.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on May 07, 2017:
Now there is much more support and understanding than previously. I think most of it has to do with the confidence of the woman.
Great to hear from you.
Audrey Howitt from California on May 07, 2017:
Well this is a wonderfully life affirming article Mary! Thank you!
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 07, 2017:
Very important information, Mary. Raising awareness is so important in overcoming the stigma of something like this...well done, my friend, and Happy Sunday to you.
Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on May 06, 2017:
I think much of the 'taboo' of breast cancer has been lifted due mainly to the Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns. It seems everywhere you look, you see pink ribbons.
This, of course, has the manufacturers seeing a new market open up. There are so many beautiful mastectomy swimsuits being made it's fantastic.
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on May 06, 2017:
There's some useful information there. I had no idea there was such a variety. Thanks for sharing this. =)