I am drawn to water like a magnet to steel and have been addicted to swimming since I felt the first refreshing drop of water on my skin.
We used to visit granny on the farm. They had a plaasdam so high that I could not reach the top without Ouma lifting me high above her head. She loved swimming too, until the day she found a lump and the doctor had to remove her breast.
In 2011, almost five decades later, I found my own lump, a ductile carcinoma and in November I too had a mastectomy. My surgical site healed well and seven weeks later I was advised to go for a breast prosthesis fitting. I did not feel ready and besides … how could a lump of silicone make me feel better?
In my youth I had never understood why my Ouma stopped swimming. Fifty years later I decided that I too would never be able to wear a swimming costume, or swim, ever again.
Gosh – if only someone had explained it better – I would have rushed off to be fitted for a prosthesis! Not only do I now have a state of the art prosthesis, but I have also been taught about mastectomy garments, mastectomy swimwear and swimming prostheses!
I asked my prosthetist, Lydia, why she recommended special swimming prostheses. Apparently nothing will normally happen to regular breast prostheses if you swim with them occassionally (contact your prosthetist to ensure that your prosthesis is water, salt and chlorine resistant). Below is an example of a normal prosthesis.
For more frequent ventures into aquatic realms a swimming (or active) prosthesis is advisable. Mine is made of surgical grade silicone and has a special ribbed cage design at the back to allow water to drain freely – no embarrassing slurping sounds! Slurping can happen when water is trapped between the prosthesis and your chest wall. It is like squirting water from between your hands! Below is an example of a swim prosthesis.
Another benefit of my swimming prosthesis is that I can also use it when I exercise. In addition to the ribbed cage design it also weighs 25% less. Air can circulate through the ribbed section of the prosthesis (in similar fashion to water) keeping me comfortable and cool.
Prostheses are secured within mastectomy swimming costumes in the same way as mastectomy bras, with specially designed pockets ensuring a close fit to the chest wall. The pockets are on both sides to accommodate left, right or bilateral (both sides) mastectomies. Most mastectomy swim suits fit higher around the neckline and arms to cover any scars (often visible when wearing other costumes) and to keep prostheses securely in place.
There are so many costumes to choose from! Full, one-piece costumes, tanktinis, bikinis – just about anything you want. The designs are also so stylish that no one would ever guess that they are part of a mastectomy range.
Choosing a costume depends on personal choice. I decided on a full costume. It is stylish yet suitable for my lifestyle. Being a bustier, heavier-built granny, the body-contouring mesh (discreetly worked into the front section) provides support to my tummy and a smoother, more flattering look. (See images above). I did contemplate a tanktini, which is a two piece with a long top and separate bottom, but in the end I preferred the one-piece. A friend of mine has quite a prominent tummy and the tanktini suits her perfectly. The bikinis are lovely too … if I were a bit younger, it would have been one of my choices!
I never realised how indepth post-mastectomy care could be. Lydia says that ladies who have had a double mastectomy have usually already been fitted for a mastectomy bra prior to a costume fitting. They would probably already know what size cup they require and fitting would be simple.
I also asked Lydia whether there are costumes for ladies who do not want to wear a breast prosthesis. She says that costumes can be adjusted and custom-made swimwear with extra padding is available. In the case of an unreconstructed double mastectomy the smallest cup size is usually a good fit.
All the swimsuits I’ve seen are made of Xstra Life Lycra to provide the costumes with much needed protection against chlorine, salt water and our glorious African sun! That reminds me … I need to buy some high protection, broad spectrum sun block as my skin is more sensitive after all of my treatments!
My life has changed since I had my mastectomy – but I feel myself moving more and more toward the positive woman I used to be.
Spring is once again on the horison and I am looking forward to spending countless hours in the pool with my granddaughter, appreciating every precious moment together.
Written by Lizelle van Rensburg