Friday, June 16, 2017

A little creativity goes a long way

Last year, I wrote a couple of articles outlining some challenges I’d faced dealing with summertime temperatures and my prostheses. I wanted to give a clear perspective on the difficulties of surviving breast cancer surgery especially as those challenges related to mastectomies. This year, I find myself taking a more humorous glance into the same world and I hope what I share will make you laugh just a little.

Silicone prostheses are wonderful! They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. These breast forms range in price but can be quite expensive. The designers do their best to make the forms look as life like as possible. Some forms have nipples and some do not, but there are drawbacks to the realism these facsimiles provide. Silicone breaks down over time requiring replacement annually. If punctured, the breast form will leak. And while these forms feel very similar to real breasts, they are not. If you squeeze them too hard, they will burst. Silicone prostheses must be held in place against the chest wall by either a self-adhesive pad or a mastectomy bra. Silicone is not lightweight and the larger the cup size, the more heft to the prosthetic.

About ten years ago, I had my first experience with a prosthetic. We were cleaning out my mother in law’s house after she’d passed away and there in her dresser, inside a little round box, lay her flesh colored breast form. I’d never seen one before and was curious. I wanted to touch it and feel it. As I held it in my hands, I couldn’t help but think about my mother in law and her bout with breast cancer. She was very private about her situation never talking openly about her cancer. She’d had to have one of her breasts removed but didn’t shared her challenges with family.

Three years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After having both breasts removed, I was given a prescription for prostheses. Who ever dreamed you’d need a prescription for boobs? It was quite an experience standing in the little boutique amid boxes and boxes of silicone breasts. I was overwhelmed having to choose new breasts. I had to decide what size I wanted to be and what type prostheses I wanted. There were so many choices and I was unable to think clearly so I relied heavily on the advice of the fitter. I went home with two boxes. Inside each box was a silicone breast form. I’d chosen a C cup, after all, I’d been a barely B for most of my life. Didn’t I deserve to enhance my figure a little?

After wearing the new breast forms for a while, I realized I’d made a mistake. The C cups were extremely heavy and uncomfortable against my fresh mastectomy scars. I returned to the boutique and asked for a breast reduction…well, not really. I asked for a reduction in cup size explaining my challenge in wearing the heavy C cup forms. I opted to downgrade to an A cup. A new model was available with a cooling gel backing. The fitter explained it would be more comfortable during the warm summer months and she was right. I found the smaller cup worked much better and the cooling gel helped a lot. Still, the weight of the silicone was too much. Every time I went to the doctor’s office to be weighed, I had to explain that extra 5 pounds I’d gained. They always got aggravated when I asked them to deduct the weight of my prostheses but I was diligent and they finally relented.

Last summer was unbearably hot. I dreaded going out in public and having to wear the heavy, sweaty, hot prostheses so most of the time I didn’t wear them. While not wearing the prostheses solved the problem of dealing with trauma to my scars, I felt embarrassed to be out in public without my breasts. I needed to come up with a solution.

I thought long and hard about ways to solve my problem. The first idea I had was to make my own breast forms from a material other than silicone. As I began to think, there were two options. The first was to use a tiny, lightweight product called microbeads. These beads are found in many children’s stuffed toys and are used to make comfortable travel neck pillows. I had one of those neck pillows on hand so I decided to cut it open and use the beads from it to make my first set of lightweight forms. Big mistake! When I cut into the travel pillow, tiny Styrofoam beads went flying everywhere. They stuck to the walls, carpet, and me. I did my best to scrape them up and put them into another container. After a lot of work, I finally managed to get them wrangled. Taking some soft jersey knit fabric, I fashioned two breast form patterns by drawing around my silicone prostheses. I seamed up the new forms and left a small opening for the microbeads. When I tried to get the beads into the forms, like little magnets, they adhered to everything. I had to figure out a way to get them into the forms efficiently. After a lot of thought, I had an AHA moment – the turkey baster! I suctioned up the microscopic white beads and forced them through the opening in the homemade breast forms. After I filled each one, I seamed up the hole and VOILA! My new breast forms were done. I placed them in my mastectomy bra and tried them out. They were extremely lightweight and felt wonderful. But in a few minutes, I felt them rising. Since there was nothing to weigh them down and keep them in place, every time I moved, my bra moved with me and the forms rose higher and higher. Soon, they were just under my chin! This would not do. I tried to think of a way to weight them down inside my bra but couldn’t come up with a solution so I scrapped that idea.

Next, I decided to try polyester fiberfill. This product would also make a nice homemade prosthesis. Once again, I chose a soft jersey knit fabric. I traced gently around the silicone form with a marker to get a perfect pattern and cut out the fabric. After sewing the pieces together, I stuffed the fiberfill into the new breast form. These forms, too, were lightweight and fluffy. They fit well into my bra but as I tried wearing them, they too rose out of the normal breast position on my chest. An abnormal placement of breasts would be very noticeable in public situations, I just knew it.

Frustration drove me to the internet. I researched many companies that manufactured breast forms. There had to be something out there that would work for me. Finally, I came across a viable option. I found two organizations offering free knit or crocheted breast forms to women who’d faced breast cancer. The first was called Knitted Knockers and the second was called Awesome Breastforms. Their teams of volunteers made knitted or crocheted breast forms as an act of love. Knitted Knockers asked for a $10 donation to offset the cost of materials and shipping. Awesome Breastforms did not accept monetary donations but did have an Amazon wish list for those who wanted to help out. I was impressed with both companies. Knitted Knockers even offered free downloadable patterns and video tutorials for those wanting to make their own knockers. Since I didn’t know how to knit using three needles, I chose to let them make the knockers for me. 

I had several choices to make before ordering my knockers. First, the color. Did I want neutral, pastel, bright color, or multicolored yarn? Next, I had to decide whether I wanted my new forms to have nipples or not. I was unsure. Then, I had to choose the cup size. I had no idea what to do so I chose the “let us choose for you” option. A few weeks later, I received my knitted knockers. When I took them out of the package, I was amazed. They were so soft and pliable. The handiwork was exquisite and I could tell someone had made this gift of service their fulltime ministry. Yet again, I took the forms and slipped them into my bra. They were comfortable and light but they didn’t want to stay put. I found them crawling up under my chin. Oh no, not again!

I tried to come up with a way to keep the knockers in place. An instruction sheet included with the knitted knockers suggested placing small, flat garden marbles inside the breast form to help weight it. I tried that and it didn’t work. Maybe I didn’t use enough marbles! I was more than upset! I took the knockers and sat them aside. I couldn’t deal with it any longer that day.

I’d always heard it said that “necessity is the mother of invention.” I needed to figure out a way to keep my forms in place, at the normal, natural location where my real breasts used to reside.  Marble garden weights didn’t work. I liked the lightweight forms but didn’t want them under my chin. The more and more I thought, the more creative I became. Finally I had an idea. I needed to find a way to anchor my bra in place, thus keeping my breasts where they needed to be.

Walking through our neighborhood Goodwill, I found a suspender type strap. It had a clip on both ends. Now we were getting somewhere! I purchased the suspender strap, which was really designed to cinch in loose waisted jeans, and took it home. After unpackaging the strap, I lifted my shirt and hooked the top clasp to my bra and the second clasp to the top of my pants. I cinched it tight until my breast forms moved into the proper position, lowered my shirt and looked in the mirror. At last! My boobs were where they were supposed to be. They felt lightweight and comfortable. No more heavy silicone forms weighing me down, making me hot, or causing me pain. I felt good knowing I’d found a solution to my problem and no one would know my secret unless I raised my blouse. That evening, I showed my husband my ingenious invention. Through hysterical laughter, he warned me to be careful. With a puzzled look on my face, I looked quizzically in his direction as he exclaimed, “You know if that strap ever comes loose, you’re going to get slapped hard in the face.” He was right. There was a good bit of tension on the strap. I’d adjusted it so it was tight enough to pull the bra into the proper position. After all the hard work and drama, I wondered if it was worth the effort. I could just wear the heavy silicone forms and suffer through the summer in silence or I could go without breast forms and be embarrassingly flat. But, I wanted the best of both worlds! That’s why I worked so hard to find a way to make it work. Now I’m not saying my solution is the perfect one, I’m sure it’s not, but it will have to do for now…until I can come up with another idea. And if you have one, I’m open to suggestions! You know what they say, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”


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