Breast Cancer Thriver’s Swimsuit Guide

swim suits

Shopping for a swimsuit can bring even the most confident woman to tears, so just imagine how that experience is magnified when shopping for swimwear after breast cancer. No matter what your body type, shopping for a bathing suits after cancer can seem daunting. Your body has changed and you might not be sure where to start. Try to make the shopping experience fun. Bring a friend and make it a day of pampering and fun. The more you can do to set yourself up for success the better.

Shopping for a Swimsuit Online

Hate shopping in stores, consider shopping online. Return and exchange policies are usually very flexible and with you will be able to try items on in the comfort of your home.

As a breast cancer survivor, my body is not what is once was and the styles I used to gravitate toward no longer flatter my body. I have cried in many a fitting rooms starring at an unrecognizable figure before me. Over time, I forced myself to move away from the comparison to my old body. Just like with my hair, I took this as an opportunity to find new styles and try something different. It was through this new outlook that I was able find more confidence. I’ve learned creative ways to style one boob, two boobs, a prosthetics, expanders, and now implants.

I realized it’s not about changing my body, it’s about changing the look.

Note from Lacuna Loft: Check out Anna’s original post for links to specific products!

Lessons Learned: Shopping a Swimsuit After Breast Cancer

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[list_item]Anything with underwire or hard formed cups is out[/list_item]
[list_item]Comfortable fabric and design are a must[/list_item]
[list_item]Patterns, ruffles and details help focus the attention away from a lopsided/uneven chest[/list_item]
[list_item]Higher prices – better quality – more comfortable[/list_item]
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Don’t Feel Limited to Mastectomy Swimsuits

Initially I felt very limited looking for swimwear specifically for mastectomy patients. After a lot of failed searches, I realized that many of the mainstream swimsuits meet all of the criteria above, you just have to do your research. Instead of limiting yourself to surgery specific swimwear, focus on the elements above along with her personal style and you’re bound to find something that works well for your new body. And if you’re overwhelmed by the hunt, do not worry, I have scoured the internet to bring you a ton of amazing options below.

Prosthetic Solutions
For those of you who are looking for a swimsuit with pockets for a prosthetic do not fear. I have provided many pocketed options below. And for those of you looking to save money, take your favorite suit to the tailor and ask them to add a pocket for your prosthesis. I did this with some of my bras during my one boob stage and it was a lifesaver both in terms of comfort and finances

We are all at different stages of treatment and have varying body types, so not all of these styles will be perfect for everyone. I have grouped my recommendations into categories so you can easily find something that fits your particular style and body type. Flat, one boob, two boobs, expanders or implants… whatever your situation, I have you covered. I also included cover-ups and sunscreen recommendations to round out this summer shopping guide.

Survivor Friendly Swimsuits
Check out all of the survivor-friendly swimsuits below and let me know which styles you like best. Remember, don’t try to change yourself for the swimsuit. Instead, keep hunting, try on multiple suits and eventually, you will find a swimsuit that makes you feel fabulous!

Bikinis

bikinis

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[list_item]A high neck top like this adorable black crocheted bikini from Target is perfect for those with expanders, implants or prosthesis. The wide coverage helps disguise any unevenness and scarring, while the high neck creates a flattering shape and highlights the shoulders.[/list_item]
[list_item]A flouncy ruffled bikini top is perfect for those who are flat or at any stage of the reconstruction process. The extra fabric and ruffles help disguise any lumps, bumps or unevenness. Here are a few of these style bikinis I am loving this season: White Flounce Bikini, Stripe Option, Gingham Plus Size (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
[list_item]Anita has a wide-range of underwire free and pocketed swimwear options for those using a breast prosthesis. The design and shaped cups in these suits can also give the bust a flattering look without added discomfort. Check out the Anita website for even more pocketed styles. (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
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Full Coverage Swimsuits

full coverage suits

If you are looking for a little more coverage, you can try a rash guard suit or a full coverage tankini. The best part is most of these options have great coverage for the chest and built-in sun protection. Adorable Palm Print Rash Guard, Long Sleeve swimsuit, Colorblock Tankini, Peplum tankini. (see here for specific items)

Flat/Recovery Swimsuits

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[list_item]Swim Dresses: Looking for a little more coverage and a flattering look during recovery or for those who choose to stay flat? Swim dresses are a great option and they’re perfect for lounging and swimming. These are a few of the styles I am currently loving: Off shoulder style, Paisley Sarong Wrap Swim Dress, Pineapple Party (see here for specific styles)[/list_item]
[list_item]Mastectomy Swim Land’s End is the longtime champion of comfortable mastectomy swimwear for every body type. They have a variety of options that work great for those in the flat crowd or those recovering from surgery. Many of their suits are pocketed and the band free wireless style also works well with expanders. The rash guard shirts shown above are a fan along with their tank suit, which comes in a variety of colors and patterns to fit every style. They also have a wide range of sizes (regular, petite, long, plus & long plus). (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
[list_item]Ruching/Tummy Control: I am in LOVE with ruching and tummy control swimsuits. They are the perfect solution for belly bloating and are just overall slimming for everyone. In the suit shown, I am loving the flattering ruching, and the mesh high neck style, which is perfect for those who are flat or going through a reconstructive transition. Here is another similar version with a floral detail.[/list_item]
[list_item]Cup-Less Suits: Swimsuits without cups and/or tailoring on the top, like the super cute tropical tankini shown will be best for those of you with flat chests. This style will ensure there is no excess fabric and the suit will conform to the chest. This simple tank cut also means fewer seams and thus more comfort for those of you dealing with sensitive skin during recovery. (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
[list_item]Sports Bra-Like Tops: Bikinis with a sports bra style top are great for those with implants or those going flat. The simple design means fewer seams and edges to cut into the skin. This gingham style is adorable and the high waisted bottoms are a win! It fits just like a sports bra and PJ material, but it’s cute enough to rock at the beach or pool. (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
[list_item]Tank Style: Tank swimsuits are another great option for all my flat ladies. They are flattering on all body types and the bright blue poppy pattern in the one above is adorable. The tank swimsuits I have linked are all pocketed and suitable for those with a prosthesis. Solid color, Pattern option, Plus size options. (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
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Sporty Swimsuits

Not everyone is a girlie girl like me, so I wanted to make sure to provide a whole section of swimsuits for those of you looking for the perfect casual, sporty look to fit your personality. These suits are great for all my active ladies.

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[list_item]Outplay This awesome company offers a whole line of swimwear and sportswear for the tomboy in all of us. The best part is you can mix and match their items to find the perfect style for your body. Here is another sport tankini/bikini option from Target (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
[list_item]Nike Want to feel like you threw on your favorite tank and a pair of briefs to go to the beach? Then this is the perfect suit for you. Made by Nike, you know it’s ready for whatever adventure you have planned. (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
[list_item]Lands End Sporty, practical and comfortable, the Tugless tank suit from Land’s End checks all the boxes. Available in huge range of sizes, cup variations (included pocketed), and lengths, this suit will work for any body type at any stage of recovery. (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
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One Shoulder/Off Shoulder Swimsuits

one shoulder suits

I am obsessed with the off the shoulder/one shoulder trend. It is super flattering and sexy. I’ rather show a little shoulder than the cleavage I miss. Ruffles on swimsuits are also great, because they add movement and dimension while concealing the unevenness I am self-conscious about. The off the shoulder/strapless/one shoulder looks were never something I could pull off pre-cancer due to my large chest, so I am taking full advantage now. This style works best with fully healed expanders, implants or flat, but would not accommodate a prosthesis.

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[list_item]J Crew has some adorable off shoulder, one shoulder and ruffle swimsuits. I’m struggling to choose just one. (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
[list_item]La Blanca is my all-time favorite swimsuit brand! Their suits are SO comfortable and flattering. (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
[list_item]ASOS has some adorable styles like this gingham off shoulder bikini (or this one), but keep in mind they run small so size up 2 sizes. (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
[list_item]Hulabelle Swimwear Love my Hulabelle swimsuits created by fellow survivor and Stage IV Thriver. (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
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Detailed Swimsuits

detailed swim suits

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[list_item]Mesh accents are a great way to add a fun flirtatious feel without feeling exposed. Black One Piece, Zig Zag Bikini (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
[list_item]Halter/keyhole cutout styles are perfect for the expander stage. They provide a flattering fit with a hint of cleavage while still disguising any shape or position issues you might have with your rock hard mounds. Check out this one with a criss-cross neck or this one with embroidered detail. (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
[list_item]Deep Plunge is another style to take advantage of when you have foobs or go flat. You don’t have to worry about support and the plunge cut is slimming and flattering. Ruffle Plunge, Floral Halter Plunge, Hot Pink. (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
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Swim CoverUps

Finish off your summer swim look with the perfect cover-up!

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[list_item]Throw on a tie-dye cover up for a fun casual day at the beach or pool. (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
[list_item]The pom pom tassel trend is here to stay. Get playful with a tassel cover up or this pom pom maxi dress. (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
[list_item]I am obsessed with summer prints like a pineapple print cover up or this floral romper that doubles as a cover-up. (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
[list_item]Looking for something that won’t contrast your stick with a simple solid or stripes. (see here for specific items)[/list_item]
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Sunscreen

Don’t forget your SUNSCREEN!!! Protect your skin and look closely at the ingredients in all of your sunscreen and skincare products. All three of these sunscreens have great ratings by the Environmental Working Group and have very clean ingredient lists (EWG ratings 0-3 are ideal). You can also use the EWG search tool and Sunscreen Guide to learn more and review other brands/products.

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[list_item]I discovered the Coola brand through a fellow blogger last year while looking for natural/organic sunscreen alternatives. Be sure to check the EWG rating 2018 Sunscreen Guide for other Coola products and scents, because they are not all items are equally as clean. Also keep an eye out at Marshalls, because many times they have Coola sunscreen on sale.[/list_item]
[list_item]Alba Botanicals makes a lot of great natural beauty products and their sunscreen is another winner.[/list_item]
[list_item]Blue Lizard is an Australia brand that I discovered through my dermatologist. When I was going off all medications and switching to natural beauty in preparation for pregnancy (pre-cancer), this is the only sunscreen he was comfortable recommending.[/list_item]
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I hope you found this exhaustive swimwear shopping guide helpful. For more ideas, check out my older swimwear post. If you end up purchasing any of these items, share your thoughts on the My Cancer Chic Facebook page or on Instagram. I love hearing from you and get feedback on which products work well.

This post was originally published on MyCancerChic.

Breast Reconstruction And Fat Grafting

breast reconstruction and fat grafting

After polling on Instagram this week I discovered that almost 95% of you want more surgery/reconstruction content. So, since I have been putting this post off for about 4 months, I figured it is time to bite the bullet and share my most recent surgery recap and insight with you all. When I think about why I have been putting it off, I think it’s because I kept waiting for perfection, and complete satisfaction. After 5+ surgeries I can now say I have accepted the fact that perfection and complete satisfaction are unattainable. My reconstructed body will never be perfect and it will never be what it was before cancer. I have finally come to accept that, that is perfectly OK.

breast reconstruction and fat grafting

If you haven’t been following me since the beginning you can read my previous surgery and reconstruction posts to catch up:

[list type=”like”]
[list_item]My Boob is Trying to Kill Me [/list_item]
[list_item]My Boob is Trying to Kill Me Part II: Mastectomy and Tissue Expanders [/list_item]
[list_item]How to Prepare for a Mastectomy[/list_item]
[list_item]My Free Boob Job: Myth or Reality? (Expanders)[/list_item]
[list_item]Let’s Talk Nipples[/list_item]
[list_item]The Reconstruction Saga Continues (Implant Exchange Results)[/list_item]

breast reconstruction and fat grafting

Before cancer, my breasts were one of my favorite parts of my body. Sure they were huge (36DD) and quite saggy for age 27 (thanks to gravity and aging), but I loved them. They were a part of me and made me sexy and womanly. Going through chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, I felt my femininity was stripped from me. I couldn’t wait for the reconstruction stage, so that I could begin to feel whole again. I saw reconstruction as the answer to my insecurities and sadness about my newly changed body.

breast reconstruction and fat grafting

Just like with many things in life though, the things we see as the solution for our unhappiness never work out as planned. Each surgery left me with new disappointments, added recovery time and new complications to face. Beginning the road to reconstruction was a step in the right direction for me, but being such a long process I had to find other ways to reach acceptance and reclaim my body. Ultimately it was blogging, reflection, and lots of self-love practice that helped me love my body again. It definitely didn’t happen overnight. It took a year and a half of ups and downs, sadness, reflection and lots of work to get to where I am now. And to be honest I still have a lot of work to do – thus my self-love goals for this year.

breast reconstruction and fat grafting

All in all, my reconstruction has lasted 2 years. When the plastic surgeon first told me it could take up to 2 years for the reconstruction process, I didn’t really understand the weight of her remarks. I thought after the first surgery I would be satisfied and it wouldn’t matter that there would be “touch up surgeries” down the line. Now after 5+ surgeries including 3 specifically for reconstruction, I have new perspective and insight on the process. There are a few important lessons I have learned and I am sharing them with you now.

Be your own advocate – Do your research before reconstruction. Look into a variety of approaches (expanders, immediate reconstruction). Research implant types, sizes, materials, surgery specifics like under the muscle or over the muscle. The more you know, the more questions you can ask and the more satisfied you will be with the results of your surgery. Make sure you are the driving force in the decision making.

Be patient – This is the hardest part. Expanders take time, recovery takes time and waiting in between surgeries takes time. Immediately after each surgery, my world revolved around my recovery, my feelings about my results and ultimately my disappointment. The more I learned to be patient and let me body heal, the less I stressed about the results. In time, I was able to reach a healthy level of acceptance.

Take progress photos – Just like with weight loss, it’s hard to see growth when you are looking at yourself everyday. I am so glad that I started taking progress photos at the very beginning of my cancer journey. Those photos help me see how far I have come and how strong I am. They help me celebrate my strength, my beauty and my growth both physically and emotionally.

Live your life – Sitting around waiting for your reconstruction to be perfect can keep you from living your life. When I finally let go of obsessing over my reconstruction I found I had much more time, energy and interest in living life, trying new things and connecting with others. Our disappointment and self-doubt can hold us back from greatness

OK so now that I have I overloaded you with my insight and emotional reflection, let’s get back to my latest surgery. In late August I had reconstructive revisions and fat grafting surgery. The revisions were to remove extra skin and tissue that made my foobs (fake boobs) look disproportionate. The fat grafting was also done to improve the natural appearance of the foobs by adding fat taken from my stomach and hips to my chest. The goal was a more rounded, natural shape. For reference my implants are under the muscle Natrelle Inspira Overfilled Round in 750CC (Silicone).

breast reconstruction and fat grafting
breast reconstruction and fat grafting

I knew from the beginning I wanted to get fat grafting because I mean free liposuction, why not haha? I also knew from my research that fat grafting on smaller framed women is the only way to create a more natural appearance after reconstruction. What I was not prepared for was how painful the liposuction was. I woke up from surgery in horrific pain and my abdomen and hips were painful to the touch, tender and sore for over 30 days. I had to wear compression garments (this girdle) 24 hours a day for 4 weeks!!! I also had the typical 5lb weight limit for 4 weeks and dealt with heat rashes (yay sensitive skin), itching, and the delightful post-surgery care. In terms of functioning, I was able to move around a day after surgery and started a new job 7 days later.breast reconstruction and fat grafting

So you may be thinking… was it worth it? My honest answer is, I am not sure. I am now 4 months out and while the appearance of my foobs is improved, not all of the fat took. The average survival rate for fat grafting is about 60%. Did you know that you are born with a set number of fat cells and that number never changes? The reason you may gain or lose weight is because those cells grow or shrink. When moving fat around in fat grafting surgery, they go in with a scraping tool (yes that’s why it’s painful) and remove cells from areas where you have a large concentration. They then run those fat cells through a processing machine to “purify” them and then they inject those fat cells to the new location. The injected fat cells need enough oxygen and blood flow to survive in the new area. If they inject too many new cells at once the fat cells will die. It takes time to determine what amount of the injected fat cells survived. This process can take up to 3 months. After the 3 months, many plastic surgeons will then suggest another round of the fat grafting. On average most patients go through 3 cycles of fat grafting to achieve the desired results.

breast reconstruction and fat grafting

At this point though, I will not be going through another round of fat grafting. In terms of the appearance, I know another round would help and I would be more satisfied, but it’s just not a priority for me right now. Right now we are focused on pregnancy and a family after cancer. My reconstructed foobs will never be my pre-cancerous boobs and that’s OK.

breast reconstruction and fat grafting

My plastic surgeon and I will revisit the topic after children and may at that time, assuming my body has changed even more, I may go through additional fat grafting sessions. Maybe in the future, it will become a priority again, but for now, I am sticking with this body I have and I am celebrating my foobs. Sure there are imperfections but they are all part of my story. I choose to celebrate instead my strength, my determination and my amazing body that has gotten me through so much.

breast reconstruction and fat grafting

Wherever you are in the reconstruction process, I hope you find peace and love for your body. I now know that no surgery will solve my insecurities, that was something I had to resolve from within. I had to find love for myself and then the body acceptance followed. You are beautiful inside and out and your foobs do not define you! Rock on my beautiful survivors.

Originally published on mycancerchic.com.

4 Ways To Style A Pixie Cut

styling a pixie cut

Growing your hair out after chemo can be a painful process. The hardest part, is having to relearn your hair at each length and figure out what products to use and what styles to attempt. As I approach the 1 year mark, my hair is finally long enough to purposely style my hair instead of simply smoothing or scrunching it into submission.

I had wavy hair before chemo and after chemo, I was blessed with the infamous “chemo curls”. I absolutely loved my chemo curls. Styling was easy with my favorite curl cream. Occasionally, I would go in with my mini straightener to shape a few pieces, but mostly I would wake up and go. Eight months after chemo, my hair started to boast some serious length, and my curls began to disappear. Now, when I wake up my hair is a MESS and I actually have to put effort into styling my hair.

Since I have never had short hair before, I have been forced to spend time learning about this length. I have watched endless Youtube videos, read millions of product reviews and experimented with countless tools and products. As I get the hang of certain styles, I want to share them with you for inspiration. For this post, I have documented 4 different styles you can easily create with pixie length hair and I have included tutorials for how to create these looks.

Structured Waves

Products Used (Shower Cap, Living Proof Dry ShampooWire Bristle BrushRedken Wax Blast 10MHD Mini StraightenerBumble and Bumble SemiSumoUmberto Shine SprayDove Argan Oil)

Hair Accessories

2Stock up on cute headbands, head wraps and clips. Go for something with feminine details to elevate the look and move away from the casual workout look. Hair accessories can be used to create a quick, easy and polished look. Nordstrom and Amazon have some great options: Jeweled headbandColorful head wrapPearl headbandCrystal Embellished headbandBow headband.

Faux Hawk

Products Used (Living Proof Dry ShampooWire Bristle BrushMHD Mini StraightenerBumble and Bumble SemiSumoUmberto Shine Spray)

Retro Curls

Products Used: foam rollersbrush rollerspin curl clipsstyling brushMHD Mini Straightener & Umberto Shine Spray

Give these pixie styles a try and tag me on Instagram to show me your results #mycancerchic.

Happy Styling!

Originally published on mycancerchic.com.

Let’s Talk Nipples

nipple prostheses

Let’s talk nipples. After a unilateral or bilateral mastectomy, women are left with many choices. To reconstruct, fake it, or stay flat. It all comes down to personal preference. For women who decide to undergo breast reconstruction, the nipple stage can be the icing on the cake — the final step in piecing yourself back together. Though each woman’s reconstruction story is unique and personal, the nipple choices can be boiled down to three main options.

  1. Surgically reconstructed nipples
  2. 3D nipple tattoo
  3. Prosthetic nipples

For some women, the lack of nipples can be quite an emotional struggle. They may look in the mirror and see an unrecognizable image, one that does not look or feel “normal” or complete. Nipples can provide that aesthetic element that is missing and help to bring a sense of confidence during the difficult reconstruction process.

I am slated to have my implant exchange surgery in November and I am not interested in going through another surgery to reconstruct nipples. That leaves me with the choice of 3D tattoos or nipple prosthetics. While at the Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) conference last weekend, I finally got a chance to check out Pink-Perfect nipple prostheses, something I was enamored with since I saw them at the YSC conference back in March. They are just so COOL!

Pink Perfect produces realistic ready-made adhesive silicone nipples for women who have undergone unilateral or bilateral mastectomies. The silicone nipples were designed by a breast cancer survivor and are made by an artist to replicates the shape, size, color and texture of your remaining or original nipple (s) The nipples are waterproof and can be worn in the shower, ocean or swimming pool.

bold-sandy-front

Pink Perfect offers a wide range of colors and projection options (modest, natural or bold). The color options are shown in the image below. I was matched to the color Sandy. If you don’t find a color that matches your body, Pink Perfect will work one-on-one with you to create a custom prosthetic nipple (s) that perfectly matches your body. The custom option is a bit more expensive.

pink-perfect-8

The ready made colors/styles are available for $240 and the custom version is $330. All prices reflect a $40 discount offered for October only. My Cancer Chic followers can also apply a special promo code:mycancerchic to obtain an additional $25 off. Keep in mind that many insurance providers will cover prosthetic nipples. You will need to talk to your plastic surgeon to get a prescription, just like you would for mastectomy bras.

After trying the nipples, I was surprised by how easy they could be applied and how realistic they are. The medical grade adhesive allowed me to wear the nipples throughout a normal day, and while exercising and showering. I think the silicone nipples would be a wonderful option for anyone considering nipple reconstruction. They are pain free, less expensive than surgery and allow you the opportunity to see if nipples provide you a sense of emotional comfort or closure.

pink-perfect-before-and-after-1

After wearing the nipples for a few days, I realized that the nipples did not change the way I felt or the way I saw my body. They were super fun and kind of sexy, but my real nips are gone forever and will never be replaced. I will never be able to breastfeed and what was once a fun zone is now a cemetery. I found that I like being nipple-free. I love going bra-less and I have accepted my appearance post-surgery. It did not happen over night, but I am coming to love this new body of mine. I am rebuilding my own body image and for me, nipples just aren’t going to be a permanent part of the package. I am so grateful for the opportunity to try the prothestics to confirm my decision about not undergoing the nipple reconstruction surgery. Now I have the option to choose nipples like a fashion accessory each day and someday down the line I may get a 3D nipple tattoo.

If you’re interested in nipple reconstruction, I highly suggest you try the nipple prostheses first. If you want to avoid another surgery, these are a great alternative.

If you want to see how the nipple prostheses work and how to apply them, check out this awesome video by the lovely Aniela McGuinness of ‘My Breast Choice’. Also, if you haven’t seen her AMAZING photo series of before and after mastectomy photos, check them out here.

Disclaimer: I was provided with this product for free in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own and are not influenced by the company that provided this product.(Lacuna Loft has received no compensation for this product…we just want you to know your options!)

(Lacuna Loft has received no compensation for this product…we just want you to know your options!)

Originally published on mycancerchic.com.

Stronger Than I Knew

cancer survivor tattoo

When I was first diagnosed, I turned to my husband and told him I didn’t think I was strong enough to make it through something so monumentally difficult. I didn’t think I had the strength to carry on and the hope necessary to face my own mortality. It turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong… I am stronger than I knew!

If you’ve followed my blog from the beginning you have seen my reflections on personal growth and how I have used this journey as an opportunity to learn more about myself and grow as an individual, a friend and a partner. The insecure woman living in fear who existed prior to cancer is gone. Cancer helped me find the power and self love within that I needed to make this life my own and live each day with purpose and happiness.

When I woke up today, the power of my growth and strength stopped me in my tracks. I was overcome by emotion. After everything I have been through, I cling to these emotions. They serve as proof of my journey — the reward at the end of the tunnel. I made it through a year filled with pain, struggle and heartbreak. Though I am far from unscathed, the strength and confidence I have gained is a priceless gift. I now believe that I am worthy of everything that life has to offer. No matter what my future holds and what challenges I must face, I know without a doubt that I am strong enough to survive and thrive!

The tattoo I got today represents all of this power I feel. I am stronger than I ever knew and I will continue to move forward, one day at a time. My story is not finished and I have so many more pages to add. I hope that my story will inspire you to live your life in the same way. Grateful for every moment and appreciative of your inner beauty and strength. Never underestimate yourself. You are stronger, braver and more beautiful than you ever knew.

Originally published on mycancerchic.com.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer: The Fear of Missing Out

fear of missing out after cancer

After one cycle of IVF, egg retrieval and preservation, 6 rounds of chemo, and 2 surgeries I thought I was done missing out on all the fun. Turns out I was wrong once again. It’s like a sick trick. Each day of your fight, you use the end of treatment as your goal post, your milestone for success and completion. But once you get there, you realize that the end of treatment is only a rest stop in your never ending battle. A milestone worth celebrating for sure, but far from the end.

Many people don’t understand this. They think the end of chemotherapy or radiation marks the end of your fight. I can’t fault them for this misconception because a year and a half ago I too was uninformed. Unfortunately, this is one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding a cancer diagnosis — life after cancer and what it’s really like. Hormone blocking therapy, regular doctor’s visits and reconstructive surgeries and revisions will continue to be my reality for many months and years to come. I’m looking at 5-10 more years of maintenance treatment, all of which has everyday impacts on my life. Joint pain that limits the use of my thumb and dominate hand, hot flashes that keep me up at night, weight gain that impacts my self-esteem, and a plethora of other menopausal symptoms that impact my body from head to toe. So life is far from normal for me.

Despite the ongoing symptoms and struggles, I did what most survivors do post-treatment. I decided to make the most of this life I have to live. Cancer was a wakeup call to live in the moment and enjoy the things in my life that continue to bring me joy. I threw myself back into work, exercise, and my friendships. I took advantage of every opportunity to share my story and work on breast advocacy and awareness in my community. For the past 8 months since my last major surgery, my life has been a pretty amazing whirlwind. I received a promotion at work, grew my blog to new levels, traveled to Europe, collaborated with amazing organizations to spread awareness about young women with breast cancer and started the first Raleigh Young Women’s Breast Cancer Support Group. I even walked the runway in a World of Pink Fashion Show helping raise over $20,000 for women battling breast cancer in Long Island, NY.

all-dressed-up

The more I invested of myself into these amazing causes, the more projects I took on, I began to hear a little voice in the back of my head warning me to slow down. I knew I needed to rest, take a breath, but things were moving so quickly and I didn’t want to miss out on a single opportunity. I’d spent enough time missing out while I was sick, this was my time to live! I wanted to help every young woman who came into my life and wanted to make a difference in the fight again breast cancer.

art-workshop

And then the flu hit. Now some of you may be thinking It’s just the flu what’s the big deal. A few days off work, a few days in bed and you’ll be back to normal… but for me this was like treatment all over again. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at its best. As I sat in the bathroom hugging the toilet, heaving, the chemo nightmares returned. The fear that I would never get better, and that everyone would move on without me took over my psyche. The fear of never recovering from this stage of physical misery snaked through my veins.

Though, a sane person like myself can differentiate the flu from chemo, the symptoms are actually quite similar and you can imagine how the memories flooded back like a song triggering long lost emotions. While reliving the worst days after chemo (and the dreaded Nuelasta shots), what I remembered the most was this sadness of feeling left out — forgotten. I was fearful and uncomfortable missing out on all the fun and the normal stuff. Sick in bed fighting for my life, while friends, family, and coworkers went about their days enjoying the everyday moments and adventures that life has to offer. I remember feeling alone in these emotions, selfish and confused.

Though almost a year of recovery and life beyond breast cancer has given me a sense of growth and perspective I can appreciate, I share these feelings today to let other women know that you are not alone. I share these feeling to remind you that the fight does not end on your final chemo day, or your final surgery day. When your physical battle wanes, your mental battle begins. You may want to make up for lost time, still fearful of missing out on the moments you used to take for granted. But, it is enough to just live! Sometimes I forget this trying to jump back into the full speed race I was in before. But I can’t maintain that pace. I had to get sick again to remind me to slow down, remind me yet again that I am not invincible and I have to take care of my body. In order to do this, I have to create a new path. One filled with balance, self-care, and gratitude. I may miss out things my friends, colleagues, and family will experience but I just have to believe that better things will be waiting for me around the next bend. Here’s to my new journey, my new path, and may it be a very long one!

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Originally published on mycancerchic.com

Putting Motherhood On Hold: Cancer + Family Planning

motherhood after cancer

I had been so caught up grieving my future as a mother, what I couldn’t have and what was lacking that I was missing out on opportunities to live and to thrive.

This post has been a long time coming, but I had been waiting until the inspiration struck in order to share this side of my story. After sitting down to read the first the first chapter of the wonderful new book “The Courage Club” by fellow survivor Katie Campbell, I knew it was time to bear my soul in the areas of fertility, family planning and my feelings on motherhood.

For as long as I can remember, motherhood served as the compass for my life. I always loved children. I’d spent my childhood, my education and many years of my first career in avenues dedicated to bettering the lives of children. All of these activities and passions took me towards my end goal of motherhood.

Along the way, I also looked for a partner in crime who shared my desire to start a family. Lucky for me, I hit the jackpot. It started slow and grew into an all in, head over heels, do anything for each other “Big Love.” In May 2014 we tied the knot.  Little did I know that the love I felt for him on that day would be challenged and grow exponentially with every hurdle we faced together over the next two and a half years.

After our wedding, we went on in typical married fashion with home projects, time with friends, a new puppy and saving to start a family. We thought we had it all planned out. We researched and read and better ourselves with the goal of being the ideal parents. My husband quit drinking, we modified our lifestyle and we saved a large sum of money so that I could stay home for the first year with a baby. We amassed a collection of pregnancy and baby books and constantly talked about what the next year would hold for our family.We shared our perspectives on parenting and talked about baby names. The only thing we were waiting on, was the OK from my doctor. I had been on an IUD for 2 years and she wanted me to wait 2-3 months after the removal before we started TTC (trying to conceive).

This just so happen to occur around the same time that we sold our home to a wonderful single mom with two boys and found ourselves  “homeless”. We were looking for a new home and a neighborhood perfect for raising a family. The housing market in our area was cut-throat and we couldn’t seem to catch a break. We put in offer after offer to no avail. Thankfully, my MIL took us in which immediately brought the baby making plans to a screeching halt. I began to feel stuck, depressed and lost in limbo land waiting for the next stage of our lives to begin. Finally, we snagged a home, our 5th offer and the best one yet. Though our living situation was doable, we couldn’t wait to get back to a space of our own and get back on our charted course. Little did we know that something larger than our housing woes would knock us off the tracks.

Cancer came barreling into our lives while we waiting to close on our new home. So many exciting new beginnings while we faced the ending of life as we knew it. My diagnosis and impending treatment put our plans of starting a family in immediate jeopardy. I was devastated. Not only was I suddenly fighting for my life but my goals of motherhood on which I based my entire being and self-worth were wretched from me in an instant. Unlike the treatment for my cancer, which was actionable, I could not shake the feelings of grief surrounding the impending loss of my fertility. I grieved for the life I had planned and the dreams I was forced to put on hold. I forced myself to carry on, unsure of how to define myself without the future we’d planning waiting for us around the corner.

Luckily, my doctors recognized the urgency of these fertility concerns due to my young age and they quickly provided us with a multidisciplinary team of experts to explain the options and guide us according to our decisions. Though, it was extremely expensive even with the “cancer discount”, we decided to proceed with Fertility Preservation. I went through one round of IVF hormone stimulation (to get my body to produce multiple eggs instead of the standard 1). After the hormone stimulation, and daily doctor’s visits checking my estrogen levels, we extracted all the eggs (8 in my case) and attempted to fertilize all of them. Out of the 8, 3 successfully fertilized and grew to a state acceptable for preservation. These two weeks were the most emotional and stressful time out of the entire treatment. The waiting was excruciating. My body was pumped full of hormones and everyday I was brought to tears by the slightest triggers. I felt my body had failed me again only producing 8 eggs, when the doctor had hoped for 10-20. My heart was racing each day, waiting for the lab to call with a report on our eggs and embryos. I knew the statistics were low and we’d be lucky to end up with a few fertilized and acceptable embryos, but when they said only 3 made it, it broke my heart. Those embryos represented all the hope I had for our future family. I wanted to have as many chances as possible to bring me comfort and security moving forward. Unfortunately, that was our only shot and I had to begin chemo the next week so we had no choice but to accept the results and move forward.

After the grief and sadness, would come anger, jealous and fear. Everyone around us seemed to be moving forward and we were stuck, held back and left behind. They were getting on with their lives, getting pregnant, having babies and planning for the future. As much as I wanted to be happy for them, it was soul crushing. The unfairness brought me so much anger and the root of all my anger all came back to fear. Who was I without the ability to have children? Would my marriage sustain? How would I find purpose in life without the goals of motherhood that I set out to achieve? Would I spend every day pining away for the far off day when the doctors would allow us that possibility?

While I wish I could say I had a grand epiphany, a magic moment that helped me move forward from this discomfort…the truth is far from it. I began journaling regularly, created a blog and made it a point to find ways of taking control of my life despite the fact that cancer threatened to break me. In the midsts of this turmoil, I came to love myself on a deeper level. I committed myself to self-compassion and self-love because I realized, I AM WORTH IT. As I found the strength to carry on, I grew more and more proud of myself. I found new levels of joy in my life the more I took control of my own happiness. I began to feel a little less lost. The more I connected with other survivors, and shared my story and my pain, the less alone I felt.

Little by little I stopped thinking about babies nonstop and began dedicating that time and emotion to rediscovering myself, my husband and finding new things I am passionate about. We made time to explore new interests, get involved in advocacy, and redefine our goals. As I grew emotionally and professional, I began to redefine success. I am now able to see more purpose in my life beyond motherhood and I am coming to value myself more. We still want children, but we have been able to reset the compass and move forward on a new path, one that doesn’t focus solely on motherhood, an area in which we currently have no choice or control. If all goes well with my health, we can reevaluate family planning after 3 years of hormone and ovarian suppression. That means September 2018 is our next checkpoint, but who’s counting? For now, we are focused on enjoying each day and finding new ways to strengthen our family of two (+ Sophie). I hope that by sharing my struggle with fertility and cancer you don’t feel so alone and that you too can find peace in time.

Originally published on mycancerchic.com

Side Note: During our Summer 2016 trip to Europe I came across these handmade lace baby booties in Brussels. I had recently drafted this post and I was drawn to these booties as a symbol of our hope for the future. 

Swimwear After Breast Cancer

swimwear after breast cancer

Shopping for a bathing suit can bring even the most confident woman to tears, so just imagine how that experience is magnified when shopping for swimwear after breast cancer. No matter what your body type, shopping for a bathing suits has to be one of the most frustrating experiences — right up there with shopping for jeans. As a breast cancer survivor, my body is not what is once was and nothing quite fit like it used to. My breast have been removed and expanders now reside where those soft lumps once perched. In addition to my missing breasts, I am sporting long scars that stretch diagonally across each chest wall and my armpits are now deep caverns where breast tissue used to fill. As summer approached, my itsy bitsy bikinis lay taunting me from my closet drawer. Coming to terms with my new body has been hard enough, I just didn’t feel comfortable climbing into one of those bikinis just yet. So, what would I wear!? I refused to avoid all the water fun that summer brings and I wanted something that would still make me feel like the fun, confident 28 year old I am. So, I dragged my butt to the stores and began the hunt for swimsuits that would help me find some semblance of body confidence during this awkward time.

Anything with underwire or “cups” was out because my chest no longer has a shape that will fill out a cup and the underwire digs into my scars and sensitive chest wall. My slowly swelling expanders were having none of those perfectly formed shapely tops and needed a soft stretchy surrounding instead. So, I turned my attention to one-piece suits with halters and no forced chest shapes. Anything to take the attention away from my awkward side/top boob and lots of ruching to disguise my chemo 10 (a cousin of the freshman 15). I am happy to report that I have been very successful on this hunt and I wanted to share this knowledge with my fellow survivor in the same boat.

Check out these survivor-friendly suits and let me know which styles work for you!

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Find it here!

Dressing For Short Hair

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The thing about short hair, is that it changes your entire look. it’s a domino effect as this great Vogue article explains. Changing your hair drastically has a large impact on your personal style. Many women rely heavily on their long hair for confidence and femininity. I found that once my hair was gone, the outfits that looked great before no longer looked great on me or brought me that same feeling of confidence. My long hair was very much a fashion statement, projecting the “girly’ and feminine style I embraced. Bald & short hair presented a new challenge. How to accent my body and my face in new ways. I had to find creative ways to represent my femininity.

As I went through treatment and now moving into survivorship,  I have learned a lot about my own evolving style. The best lesson I have learned is to take risks. I have been continually surprised by new styles that look good on me as I go through this hair evolution. When you try new styles you will quickly find out what looks good and which looks you dislike. You may change your style routine up and come to love different aspects of your body. It’s all part of the process.

I have found a few key tips that have worked well for me. I am calling this my “Dressing for Short Hair Guide”. I hope you find these tips and pictures helpful. I would love to hear about how your style has evolved during and after cancer. How have you come to embrace your new look?

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Dressing for Short Hair Feminine Accents

Particular hairstyles like a bob, pixie, or buzzcut can have a tomboy feel. Adding feminine touches to your outfit will help to soften the tomboy look. Lace, embellished tops, pastels, bright colors, florals, fitted skirts & ruffles are all good places to start.

Fitted with layers

Avoid clothing that is loose or baggy. Instead, stick with fitted clothing and layer flowing cardigans or kimonos. Stay clear of the “boyfriend” styles as these will only further add to masculine look. If you want to wear a baggy top balance it with skinny jeans or a tailored skirt. Blazers are another great way to layer and add dimension to your look.

Strapless

Sweetheart, strapless, and off the shoulder tops and dresses look great with short hair. Wearing strapless lets the outfit flaunt your short hair, neck, and focus on the face.

Accessorize

Large earrings, statement necklaces, and headbands can add a feminine touch and balance out your look. Experiment with different jewelry until you find what works for you.

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Makeup can help you play up your eyes and facial features which will be on display with a short haircut. A bright lip can be the perfect accessory.

I hope you find these tips and pictures helpful. I would love to hear about how your style has evolved during and after cancer. How have you come to embrace your new look?

Post-Chemo Hair Growth + Styling Tips

hair growth after chemo

The number one thought on most people’s mind post-chemo is how quickly will their hair grow back and what will it look like. Though I became quite fond of my bald head, the day chemo was over, I threw that love to the wind and put all my energy into regrowing my hair. After many nights of research, I settled on Biotin as my first plan of attack. I started taking the Biotin supplement the day my chemo ended (with my doctor’s approval) and I was so amazed by the results. My hair grew like weeds. Though I was thrilled to have hair on my head again, I was not so thrilled about the hair that quickly sprouted EVERYWHERE else. One day, I even found 2 long hairs coming out of my cheeks! It was also around that time that I experienced a horrible bout of cystic acne so I decided to take a break from the Biotin and exercise some patience.  I have since gone back on a lower dose of Biotin and have had no side effects (2,000 mg/day).

Now I am about 13 weeks out from chemo and I am finding creative ways to style this odd little mess of hair on my head. As someone who has always had long hair, this is a new beast for me to tackle. As a beauty addict, I am taking this as just another beauty challenge. It’s a chance for me to try new styles, experiment with new products, and build my confidence along the way.

As I started looking for information on how to style post-chemo hair I found that Google was greatly lacking. There were lots of articles on the topic, but very few photos. I wanted photos, real photos of real women post-cancer.  So after many unsuccessful searches, I finally stumbled upon Leo With Cancer. This blog was everything I was looking for, beauty, fashion, hair and Dena is a breast cancer survivor. Jackpot!

So in the spirit of growing the post-chemo hair inventory on Google, I figured I would dedicate a whole post to tips for hair regrowth, a hair growth timeline, and tips for styling your fresh new baby hair. And lucky for you, this post will be FILLED with tons of hair photos.

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Set yourself up for success with a few key items as you move into the hair regrowth project. Having these items on hand will help you tame the mane each morning and feel more confident about your ever changing ‘do.

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So now that you have set your expectations for the timeline and you have your key products on hand, we can dive into styling tips and inspiration. There are tons of celebrities rocking the pixie cut who we can turn to for inspiration.

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There are also a few easy things you can do to “feminize” your look and take it from bald beauty to  sassy seductress.

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The Faux Hawk 

As your hair is beginning to grow in it will still be patching and the middle may be longer at first. Using water or hair paste (more effective) mold the middle into a mohawk with your hands. This is a way to add a playful fun touch to this length.

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Headbands 

Headbands are fantastic during this time. Look for headbands with thin sparkly bands. This will add some dimension to your hair and dress it up.

 

 

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The comb over

Using hair paste comb your hair over to the side and define a deep side part. This will be easier the longer your hair looks. When we hear “comb over” we generally think balding old men, but this look can actually be very feminine.

 

 

 

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Fringe

The inclination when you are growing your hair out is to cut the hair around your ears, because it’s so dang annoying and somewhat unsightly. If you plan to grow your hair out longer, stay away from the scissor. Instead ask your hair stylist to feather that area. This will take away some of the weight and help the hair lay smoother, while still keeping the length.

 

 

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Strong Eye Makeup + Brows

Strong eye makeup and brows can really balance out your face with a short hairdo. Strong brows in particular will bring definition to your face.

 

 

 

 

What tips and tricks have you used for styling your hair growth after chemo?

P.S. How to create natural brows after hair loss + Styling a pixie cut

Please remember to talk with your doctor before starting any sort of supplement.