Sunday, 15 December 2013

Not Just Surviving... Thriving

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with a gorgeous woman I had originally 'met' on an online fashion forum.  Sharon had been absent from the forum for some time and upon her return shared that her absence was due to a breast cancer diagnoses and the ensuing treatment.

Sharon had a bi-lateral mastectomy and is now well, back at work and once again enjoying fashion.  The change in her body, however, has introduced new dressing challenges.  How does one dress what Sharon refers to as a "0" cup after years of dressing a more 'busty' figure?

I spoke to Sharon not only about dressing her new body, but about the journey she has traveled this year and the blog she started writing in October.

This beautiful Stella dress has gathers at the neckline and an A-line design that provides volume and shape.

Sharon, earlier this year, you had a breast cancer diagnoses.  Can you share with us how this came about?

I was actually pretty lucky with my diagnosis. I had started a program with Precision Nutrition at the beginning of the year, and had lost about 10kg in 5 months. With the weight loss came a decrease of about 2 sizes in my bra cup, which allowed me to feel a lump I had never noticed before.

I was actually feeling really fantastic from the lifestyle changes I had made. Being under 50, I was not having regular screening mammograms, although they are offered to women over 40 through Breastscreen if they want them. I had a mammogram to investigate the lump and that suggested cancer, which biopsies confirmed. I also had  pre-malignant changes in other areas of the same breast which meant that mastectomy was necessary rather than lumpectomy. I requested prophylactic mastectomy on the other side at the same time.

I know that you love style and fashion, so how did your diagnoses and subsequent treatment impact your body image and attitude toward fashion?

I have always felt pretty positive about my body and like many women my age it has been through a lot of changes with weight and child-bearing and ageing. However, I think I didn't appreciate until recently what a huge role having a socially-condoned body shape had on this. 

Although I am now only 2kg lighter than I was before my mastectomy, I get a lot of comments about being "too thin", which I never got before my surgery. So slim with big breasts is great, but slim with no breasts is not. From a body image point of view, that has been hard.

I still love style and fashion, and I think fashion has been really helpful to me in coming to terms with the change to my body, and feeling good about my appearance. I love the "playing dress-up" aspect of fashion (I guess I never really left my childhood), and having different body gives me a whole new scope for that.

Sharon's take on a modernised 920's styling

Was a breast reconstruction an option for you, and if so why have you chosen not to do this?

Reconstruction was an option for me (and still is) but I chose not to have it, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it would not really give me back what I had lost - whilst the end result is a "breast mound" that gives a shape under clothes, I would not have any sensation and would still have the scarring across my chest, and it would still be obvious that my breasts were not my own when I took my clothes off. 

Reconstructed breasts do not look like normal breasts that have been augmented. Secondly, I have regained excellent function and am able to do everything I could do before my operation. Reconstructive surgery would expose me to the risk of a complication that might undermine that, and it didn't seem sensible to run that risk for such an uncertain aesthetic result. Unfortunately, it's one of those situations where there is no good option, just a choice of which one is least bad for your particular situation. Those were my thoughts, anyway. I am sure there are many women who are very happy with their decision to reconstruct and pleased with the outcomes and I certainly don't want to sound critical of their choices. It may be that I will change my mind in the future.

The peplum top comes in at the waist, while the bust has a lot of pleating and draping without a lot of shaping underneath, creating a very successful illusion of an hourglass shape.

You now have a new body to dress.  What challenges have you faced in learning to dress your changed body?

The biggest challenge for me has been working out what looks good now! Previously, my breasts were the broadest part of my body, so most of my clothing decisions were made around how to accommodate them, and to a certain extent how to dress in a way that showed my curves without looking like Jessica Rabbit.

Now, my shoulders are my broadest part and many tops look wrong because I don't have the real estate to fill them. I often find myself looking at a top I like, then noticing the darts or princess seams and realising that it will just look sad.

 I think another challenge has been in deciding how to approach being breastless. I see two choices - either choosing clothes that disguise my chest, which is probably the more conventionally flattering option, or wearing clothes that make my flat chest obvious and incorporate that into the look of the outfit. I started out choosing option 1 almost exclusively and feeling horrified by the possibility of anyone seeing how flat I looked, but as I live into my new body and feel more at peace with it, I am choosing option 2 more.

I think the other challenge for me has been about fashion and sexuality. Breastless does not equal sexless and a number of people have been kind enough to remind me that "men like curves, you know!" I suppose if I were really serious about this, I could wear a prosthesis, but deep down I want to feel sexy in the body that I have. That's been really tricky to negotiate, because for me that depends on getting positive feedback from my husband, who is distinctly uninterested in fashion!

This stunning skirt and top create a beautiful shape using pattern and texture.

Are there many/any resources in relation to fashion and dressing available to women who have had a mastectomy?

There are actually quite a lot of resources available for women who have had a mastectomy, but a lot of them are about prostheses. I found useful in the beginning and I am a member of a closed Facebook group called Flat and Fabulous that discusses all things mastectomy, fashion included. (They are a very friendly, supportive group and would welcome new members - you just need to send a request to the administrator) I think a lot of individuals keep Pinterest boards for their own inspiration and some of the big breast cancer websites like and have forums where members can discuss topics including clothing and appearance.

Would you share some of the things you have learnt about dressing your new body and how you successfully create shape and curves?

I still feel like I am learning, so I'm not sure that I can speak with authority. I have certainly found Angie Cox's tips at  You Look Fab about tops in fluid fabrics with volume paired with structured bottoms helpful. 

It also helped me when I reassessed my body shape and thought about my style priorities and used that as a jumping off point for outfit creation.  I realised that I have narrow hips compared to my shoulders, so I could wear more volume on the bottom as well as the top as long as I defined my waist.  I know a lot of women complain that post-mastectomy they are very aware of the protrusion of their bellies, so maybe they could follow some of the dress guidelines for apple shapes. I think not having breasts can really change the whole appearance of a body, as features that were previously overshadowed become more evident, and it's important to reassess in light of that. 

If I am trying to create the illusion of breasts, I look for tops with gathering, pleating or ruching over the chest.  On the occasions when I choose closer-fitting tops, I find that having a textured fabric is flattering. I have also discovered chunky necklaces, which never worked for me before, but now look quite good as they have a plain background on which to shine! I have read advice suggestion small, busy patterns but for the most part I prefer plains to patterns so I look for fabrics that are interesting texturally.

 The other thing I have been experimenting with recently has been borrowing looks from eras where small breasts were in fashion (this concept has always amused me, by the way. Now quite sure how one fares when living in a time when ones body does not match the fashion). So I have bought a dress with an A-line Mod shape, echoing the 60's and some wide leg pants with drapey tops which reference the 20's. This plays into my love of dress-ups too, so it's win-win.

Playing with modern proportions.

Can you tell us about you blog and who it’s for?

I started my blog a few months after my surgery when I first started trying to work out what to wear. I was keen to do something creative and useful that focussed on moving on with life and enjoying what I have, as it is very easy to get bogged down with grief. 

My hope is that my blog will be a resource to women who have had a mastectomy and are looking for ideas about what fashions and styles might work for them. I am hoping to have other women who have had mastectomies contribute also, as there is a broad range of body types, styles and ages of women affected by breast cancer and the things that work for me will not work for everyone. 

I guess the blog is also for me, as it allows me a space to mull over issues associated with body image and appearance and seeing photos is very helpful in deciding what works and what doesn't.

Sharon's blog is the cleverly titled The Breastless Years.  She is a gutsy woman and I applaud her for her openness and willingness to share her story.  Here inherent sense of style is evident in her fab outfit photos, and I trust that her story is a source of encouragement for anyone who has been through a similar experience.  And if you are like me and have have not yet started having regular breast screening, then perhaps this will encourage you not to delay it.  I have my first one booked for this week.

Here in Victoria (Aust) breast screening is available for free for woman 40 and over with BreastScreen Victoria.  Be sure to make sure you know what services are available to you and remember,  its a small amount of time out of your day once every two years to ensure your well being.

Linking once gain to Visible Monday over at Not Dead Yet Style.
xxx Deborah


  1. Very inspirational and helpful for so many women. Thanks for doing the interview!

  2. What a personal and touching interview. Thank you Deborah for showing us this stylish lady. I honestly adore her style, so right to my eyes. She knows how to combine texture and shapes in a way that is exciting to me. Great choices in accessories. Her clothing makes me wish it was summer here in the US!

    blue hue wonderland

  3. Sharon is so lovely, and gracious too - what a moving and helpful interview. Thanks for sharing this with Visible Monday!

    1. Patty thank you for the opportunity to share Sharon's story more widely. I am not sure what it is like in other places around the world but here in Australia we strongly promote breast cancer awareness. What we don't often talk about is life after breast cancer and the challenges, including how to dress a very changed body :)

  4. What a lovely interview Deb, my heart skipped a beat when I saw Sharon's story. I always adored Sharon's style and now it's absolute knockout.

    We need to get the band back together!

  5. Thanks so much for this wonderful interview and introduction. I'll pop over to her blog soon to say how terrific she looks. Besides amazing courage she has some excellent taste! As you clearly do!

  6. Thank you for the introduction to Sharon and the personal interview about life after breast cancer! She's gorgeous and so brave to open her life and experiences up like this.

  7. I'll bet Sharon has inspired more women than she'll ever know. I love her style! What a beautiful and positive person she is. Great post.

  8. I love the colors of this outfit. So rich and beautiful!

  9. Great article, great lady. I sent the link to a friend of mine, who just had one breast removed.

  10. All these outfits are very stylish and fashion forward! You have a great style! Glad I found your blog, I'm sure I will visit again :) hugs, Beata xxx