11 responses to “Attack of the Breast Cancer Stylistas”

  1. Mary

    hey there Catherine

    1–If you have not already, pick up Audre Lorde’s Cancer Journal. She talks about that visit at the hospital you so vividly articulate. Interesting that in all the time that has transpired, that lady is still handing out the nerf boobs.

    2–And you may also like to read a classic — Dick Hebdige, Meaning of Style — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Hebdige
    He is a British Cultural Studies theorist who has very interesting things to say about the politics of style, particularly in subcultures. There are such cool things people are doing with style post-mastectomy. Perhaps my favorite would be my online friend, jacqueline, http://rebel1in8.blogspot.com/ who started designing clothes post-mastectomy as a radical intervention. Her work is wonderful, as she is.

    Sending the vibes from Vancouver,


  2. Suzanna Walters

    uh, EVERYONE in Bloomington, Indiana need to go out and get a sense of style. breast cancer has nothing to do with it, alas.

  3. Ann

    I came across your comment to the NYT article. I haven’t read all your blog. I was diagnosed a bit over 2 years ago, and chose to have bilateral mastectomy and salpingo-oophorectomy – one breast and the rest for preventive measures since I tested as having a BRCA1 mutation.

    I didn’t get the camisole until a couple weeks on, but eventually I discarded it. I got the ‘prostheses’ but never wore them. I have cats, and was warned that cat damage would not be covered for replacement insurance.

    So I go completely boobless. Since I’m symmetric, it hardly matters. Actually, the breastbone sticks out a bit, so if anything I look a bit ‘droopy’ in any remotely clingy top – as if having a negative AA cup can be called ‘droopy’.

    As you said, it’s a matter of choice. Since I was 54 when I was diagnosed, and live in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is less pressure on me to conform to a feminine ideal than there would be if I were younger or living elsewhere or living with a romantic partner. I feel fine and really don’t miss ‘the girls.’ I admit I try to head for the curtained shower area in the gym (I go to the one at the university), but if those 2 showers are taken, I just take a regular gang shower and figure I just educate other women what a bilateral mastectomy looks like 2 years on.

    When I was bald from chemo, I was often taken for a man if I were wearing casual clothes like a shirt and jeans. You’ll lose *all* your hair on chemo – including eyelashes and eyebrows and body hair. It seemed to me that people need cues such as hair, boobs, and/or makeup to decide someone is female.

    My main problem now is finding a job. I’m sure my time off dealing with BC (and my father’s last illness hard on its heels) was a major component of why I was the only one in my supposedly ‘safe’ group who got laid off in a mass layoff early last year. I’ve been doing consulting gigs that are rarer and rarer and are paying less and less, without benefits. My hair is back to its original gray, and I have decided that I’ll have to dye it when I interview again. I guess I’m mentioning that because I feel that how you are perceived by others *can* make a real difference. Given a choice between healthy soft gray hair without a job because the hiring people think I look old and dry-as-straw dyed hair with a job because the hiring people don’t consider me to be (as) old, I feel I’m forced to go with the latter. But I think I can still get away without the boobs…

    Sorry for rambling.

    Good luck to you.

    Ann – 2 years out from where you are.

  4. LKR

    Pink is not my color, either. And I hope I don’t have to color my hair to get a job; I get so many compliments on my long gray mane.

    Breast cancer winners rock!

  5. bigfoot

    i appreciated your nyt comments.

    yes, hair is a big deal. my thick red mane turned to colorless wisps thanks to thyroid disease. even tho finally treated (turns out missed diagnosis and undertreatment is the norm for thyroid disease, which almost exclusively effects women, quite the coinkydink), it doesn’t look like it’s coming back. i’m learning that hair is a huge signifier of health, age and sexuality – and women really don’t have the option of enhancing their sexual image by shaving it all off (a la mr. jennings).

    illness is quite difficult enough w/o feeling like society views you as an “it” unless hair and tits are attached. good luck w/ the cancer fashionistas. i’m sure you will arrive at your own (new) sense of style in time. i know i need to work on mine.

  6. Micol

    hey there, Miss C, sure glad to see you dishing up some nervy-a** comments, & I really love your writing. Style, you’ve got, in every dimension, & it’s got nada to do with foam or cloth. Hope to see you soon. Tons of love from your Indy pals–Sarah sends extra xo’s. –mic

  7. Jane

    Wondering what is going on with the chemo possibility. How do they – and you – decide?

  8. Leigh Star

    Hey Catherine, I was glad to read your fighting blog. I helped work on Audre Lorde’s Cancer Journals years ago, and found her ironic pleasure in the pink (never pinko) boobs fascinating (this was back in the “all flesh is pink” stage, which I suspect it still is in racially unaware/racist places). Sara Jain, at Stanford, has written an amazing work on her own double mastectomy and on the “pinkifying” of the world around breast cancer, both very personal and very political.

    You see, I deal with shocking news about women I love by handing out footnotes….I hope you don’t have to go through chemo, but whatever happens, please don’t hesitate to give a ring or an email. You are a central good thing in the world, my friend!

    Love, Leigh

    (ps I actually read the quote you saw above as ironic and angry — what was the context? It never ceases to amaze me, though, that what I take as funny lots of people take seriously. I am warped.)

  9. Ang

    Hi Catherine – I happened to see your comments on the NY Times cancer hairstyle post. Fortunately I haven’t experienced anything like what you mentioned above, but my surgeon clearly didn’t consider going solo (as I had a left side mastectomy) an option that anyone would want. And there was even a horrific moment in her office where she told me and my husband that getting implants and a lift in the opposite breast could result in a better set than I originally had. We said nothing, but exchanged pained glances. I do have a prosthetic (though I’ve had difficulty finding an “athletic” form that is small enough to match the remaining side), but I wear it when I want to. I’m so small that frankly few people would notice the imbalance. And if they did, I sure as hell don’t care what they think. I plan to get a tattoo and visit the beach in my old bikini tops.

    I’d have more to say about aesthetics and surgery, but I don’t want to ramble on.

    I see you were diagnosed the day I was having my mastectomy. I just began chemo last week (after much testing and discussion). I lived in Bloomington for 13 years (until 2005). I’m 38. Wonder if we crossed paths? Best wishes throughout your treatment and recovery.

  10. Ros

    I liked your comments about hair and reconstruction. Since I’m also a “twosie” I don’t wear anything a lot of the time but for occasions when I do want to look a little less like a poached pear, I found a pattern for light knitted ones on the internet and like them as they don’t weigh my shoulders down. I have some “beanaboobs” for formal occasions but hardly wear them either.
    They get in the way of the dragon boat paddle anyway, so who’d want ’em?!
    Best of luck with your journey.

  11. Ellen

    I’m a ‘onesie’ – had the single mastectomy almost 1 year ago. After obsessing initially (once back at work) about matching/clothes, etc., I’ve reached the point that in casual wear I will go without the prosthesis. I’ve continued my habit of not wearing a bra when at home. I finally read somewhere that the actual rate of reconstructive surgery is only 1 out of 5. Knowing more than I should want to know about what’s involved in that, it is nowhere on the horizon for me! I’m happy with the way I look & have found that wrap tops – or layers – work without a prosthesis. Most people don’t even notice when I’m out shopping or whatever. I normally wear the prosthesis for work, but if wearing layers or if we have a dress-down day I’ve gone without.

    I have to agree that the prosthesis idea is about denial; I still haven’t figured out why they’re all designed to supposedly match the other breast in color & feel – why can’t we have fun with them as an accessory, as the wearer is usually the only one who sees them? And I agree with whoever it was that said that women who have had mastectomies need to become more visible to the rest of the world (i.e., feel comfortable in clothes without a prosthesis) – the challenge is finding attractive clothing that doesn’t overdo the effort to camouflage.

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