Shortly after my prophylactic mastectomies and then my hair loss, my husband’s job was relocated from Philadelphia to Florida. Moving to a strange state with no hair and no breasts, not knowing anyone for emotional support, was difficult at best. Adjusting to the physical changes in my appearance was even harder in such a warm climate, where tank tops, halters, and skinny tops are year-round fashion. Such fashion items tend to magnify my physical issues, but nothing was as difficult as dressing myself for the beach or pool.
My first trip to “Swim City,” where there are literally thousands of bathing suits to choose from, was deeply depressing. There was just one rack of post-mastectomy bathing suits, all of which were old-fashioned, matronly, and extremely unfashionable. I enviously looked around the store where other women were shopping and realized that my bathing suit days might be over. I was wrong.
Thanks to Patricia Brett and her line of Veronica Brett swimwear, mastectomies no longer mean the end of a woman’s swimsuit days or that we have to surrender our sense of style in order to be in the water. Having met Patricia Brett at this year’s Young Survivors conference in Orlando, I was intrigued by the similarities in our stories (both BRCA gene carriers, Previvors, fashion designers), so I asked her if I could interview her for a blog. She graciously agreed. Following is a summary of that interview.
Question: Do you feel that products such as yours’ that are created with such a personal touch have more meaning to other women in the same situation?
“Some people said I was really brave to have a risk-reducing bilateral mastectomy,” writes Patricia. “Actually, I was really chicken. It was only because I was so afraid of breast cancer that I had the surgery. What made the decision a little easier was knowing that I could have reconstruction and that there would be ’something’ there. What I didn’t realize until much later was the reconstruction isn’t perfect. Although my ‘result’ (as the doctors call it) looked pretty good, I was still pretty self-conscious. My first post-mastectomy and reconstruction trip swimsuit shopping was really emotional for me. Although I had breasts (saline implants), the implants looked obviously like implants, not like breasts. In addition, I had surgical scars under my arm. It was really hard to find a swimsuit that covered my scars, fit comfortably with my new breasts and didn’t make my implants look so obvious. I realized that if it was this difficult to find a good swimsuit with reconstruction, how difficult it must be for women who cannot or do not have reconstruction or who have more visible scarring than I do. That first swimsuit shopping trip ultimately had a big impact on what I am doing now.”
Question: Why do you think that specialized fashion solutions are so slow to come to market, if they come at all?
“Most people don’t fully understand the importance of a product like mine. In order to do volume business, companies tend to create products for the largest customer base, not something tailored to a smaller group, such as breast cancer survivors.”
Question: Do you think that women with cancer-related appearance issues are reluctant to spend extra money on fashionable solutions?
“Some women seem hesitant initially about the price point of my swimwear, but once they try on a bathing suit, their attitude changes. They feel the quality, appreciate the fit, and realize they haven’t felt this good in a swimsuit for a long time.”
Regarding the role of fashion in helping women adjust to their changed appearance post-mastectomy Patricia says, “Ultimately, I think all fashion should help women with their self-esteem and self-confidence. Swimwear can be really tricky. I have a lot of customers who have never had breast surgery. They too feel great in Veronica Brett swimwear. That was my goal from the beginning, to help ALL women feel confident and sexy again.”