Breast cancer survivor designs swimsuits for double mastectomy patients
It's hard enough finding a swimsuit when both your breasts are intact, but imagine how it is for women who've had theirs removed.
That's what 52-year-old mom Teresa Stone from Coulsdon in Surrey, England, was dealing with after she had a preventative double mastectomy when she found out she had breast cancer. Her sister Rita, 65, who received the same diagnosis a week prior, also opted for the difficult procedure, because their mother had died of the disease. Both sisters went into surgery a month after their respective diagnoses and came through with clean bills of health.
While both sisters decided to get reconstructive surgery post mastectomy, their doctors had them each undergo unique procedures. "I opted for breast implants that you gradually pump up over time because my skin is quite thin and my surgeon said that it needed time to stretch gradually," Stone told the Daily Mail. Rita's doctor suggested he bring her back muscles around to the front to help construct her new breasts — a procedure that had a much longer recovery rate than Teresa's.
However, despite the fact that Stone's procedure had a shorter recovery rate, the pumping took longer to create her desired breast fullness, because it had to be done gradually. Thus, she was still mostly flat-chested when she went swimsuit shopping for a two-month vacation with her family post surgery.
The trip was supposed to be a celebration for making it through such difficult times, but the shopping experience left her feeling rather discouraged. She told the Daily Mail, "I didn’t think it would be so difficult getting swimwear for me, but not only was mastectomy swimwear frumpy and big, it was also very expensive." But rather than let that get her down, Stone decided to do something about it. So she started brainstorming her own affordable bikini line for women who've undergone double mastectomies.
Since she had no experience in the fashion industry, it took Stone 18 months to get her swimsuit idea off the ground. However, with the help of Jill Godfrey, a sample maker and designer, and good friend Aoife Ward, she finally launched the line Brave Ladies this year.
The line's website features friends of Stone's as the models, several of whom have also undergone double mastectomies. There is no airbrushing, and the women are all different sizes and ages, so you can actually see what real women look like wearing the bikinis. Most of the tops are adjustable so you can change their shape to fit whatever stage of reconstruction you happen to be at.
"Most of our tops are ruched at the top, which means you can pull them in and out for depth and coverage," notes Stone. She believes her extensive experience searching for the right suit post surgery gave her a major leg up in the development of her line. "I needed full coverage at the beginning of my reconstruction, as I wasn't very confident with the scarring and the flatness of the breast area."
The suits are much more affordable than the average double mastectomy swimsuits on the market today. The tops go for around $55 (£40) and are meant to look like ordinary swimsuits rather than ones specialized for women recovering from surgery. "We don't want a divide of 'mastectomy swimwear' and 'normal swimwear.' I wanted to make them fashionable and vibrant so they would attract everyone," says Stone. She sincerely hopes her line gives all women the confidence to flaunt their stuff, whether or not they're battling or have battled cancer.