Mumsnet has not checked the qualifications, experience, or professional qualifications of anyone posting on Mumsnet Talk and cannot be held responsible for any advice given on the site. If you have any serious medical concerns, we would urge you to consult your GP.

Unusual clothing choices after cancer surgery

(9 Posts)
Skellig Tue 24-Jul-12 12:20:23

Hello all.

Not sure if you can help with this - hope I've posted under the correct topic.

A little bit of background: four years ago my father died after an unpleasant illness. Last September my mum moved out of the family home, which was obviously a big upheaval for her. In November, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and had a mastectomy with some lymph nodes removed as well. She then went on a course of chemotherapy, followed by radio therapy. As a result of this treatment, she lost her hair and nails and put on some weight.

Just before she was diagnosed she found a boyfriend over the internet. This relationship has dwindled and eventually fizzled out as her treatment progressed.

The problem, and I'm not even sure if it is one, is that she has started making some odd clothing choices. She has been wearing very short dresses and skirts so her underwear is on display when she sits down or bends over, and she has been wearing very low cut tops so that her breast, scar (she has not had reconstructive surgery) and/or cushion-thing that fills her bra are on display. This has made for some very uncomfortable family meals recently - her two son-in-laws, in particular, feel quite embarrassed. My pop-psychology tells me that she is trying to feel attractive again after a pretty horrendous year - however, I'm not sure it is having the effect she would want.

My mum is in her early 60s and she has always had an eclectic taste in clothing - as have I - but it has never been revealing in this way before. I completely support her right to wear whatever she feels comfortable in or she thinks looks attractive, however I am worried that this may become an issue as she starts to join local clubs or groups (she wants to establish a social life for herself, now that she can). I would hate it if somebody else made a comment to her or upset her in any way about this. She is still very vulnerable about her appearance.

So, I guess the question is: do I try to broach this subject with her, or do I leave it?

Thanks for any help you can give.

TelephoneTree Mon 30-Jul-12 21:19:36

I don't know how to word this properly but my first thought is to wonder whether the cancer has spread to her brain. Is there any other 'odd' behaviour?

IamtheZombie Tue 31-Jul-12 00:13:17

Hello Skellig.

Your mum's diagnosis and treatment (and the time frame over which it has taken place) precisely mirrors my own experience. My great fortune is that I have a DH who has been with me through every step of that journey.

Please do not underestimate the effect a mastectomy and the side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy can have on one's confidence in one's self as an attractive and still sexual being. I think your "pop psychology" diagnosis is spot on. Finding ways to support your mum in believing that those things can still be be true would be a wonderful gift from a loving daughter.

You mention that her prothesis (the thing that fills her bra) is on display. That leads me to wonder a couple of things. First, does she have her permanent prosthesis (which is a gel filled false breast) or is she still using the immediate post surgery softie? Second, does she have any proper post surgery bras which have a pocket into which the prosthesis is inserted?

I went on a short cruise a fortnight after surgery. I was very conscious that my softie shifted around and particularly on the formal night when I was wearing a low(ish) neckline that it seemed to me to move into a visible position. But, I was wearing one of my usual bras and there was nothing to prevent the prosthesis from shifting around.

If she is still using the post surgery softie, urge her to visit her breast care nurse. The NHS provide the gel filled permanent prothesis at no cost.

If, as I suspect, your mum doesn't have any proper post surgery bras, take her shopping for a couple. My first ones (and still my favourite) came from Matalan. They were about £8 each. They have a removable panel that makes it appear that you are wearing a lacy camisole. DH certainly finds that look sexy. wink

I honestly think that your mum just doesn't know how to move forward. Cancer tears your life apart. A mastectomy can make your feel that you have been mutilated. That's hard. But, with support you can move on.

I'm still on this path. I don't claim to have all the answers. But if you need someone to talk this through with, I'm certainly here for you and for your mum.

mumblechum1 Tue 31-Jul-12 00:28:49

What a lovely and helpful post Zombie!

TelephoneTree Tue 31-Jul-12 08:08:43

Yes, zombie- that's a wonderful post. Really lovely. I'm sorry for my clumsy ignorant one. xxx

Gigondas Tue 31-Jul-12 08:18:32

Waves at zombie. I would add to what she says that for me trying to look as nice as you possibly can becomes very important when you have cancer as its a way of asserting control when your body is mauled about .

Have you seen these people look good feel better. I am pretty sure that breast cancer care does something similar. But maybe suggesting something like this would be a way to help your mum deal with changes that cancer brings.

I got a huge amount of comfort/confidence from doing something like this to help me cope with chemo hair loss.

And telephone yes you should be ashamed about your crass post hmm - its bad enough having cancer with the huge stress it brings without that kind of comment.

TelephoneTree Tue 31-Jul-12 13:40:07

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Skellig Sun 19-Aug-12 11:12:53

Hello all,

Thank you so much for your kind replies. I'm sorry I've been so long replying myself - I thought I was "watching" this thread and that no-one had replied. I'm a new user and clearly not doing this right yet!

IamtheZombie, your info is really, really helpful - thank you! She has been having problems with the prosthesis and in fact did go back to her breast care nurse, who has given her a much better one. She's also found some bras which she is much happier with and which cover the prosthesis fully, which is much better. I think I will take your advice and go shopping with her - we'll try Matalan! I really want to support her and she has been through a pretty horrendous time. It's v good to know this is a "normal" reaction to what's happened.

Thank you for your kind words and once again, apologies for not replying sooner - I'm a bit new to this!

Homebird8 Sun 19-Aug-12 11:25:49

Hi Skellig. Went through something similar with my DM too and on one occasion found myself in a lingerie shop trying on bikinis with her whilst throwing a tennis ball around the changing room to make sure she could play catch on the beach without her 'flexible friend' falling out!

I think that's the key. You need to be her flexible friend too and if that means sometimes turning from daughter to confidant to girly mate then that will help you both.

My DM rediscovered her womanhood just as I was discovering mine (I was 13 when she first was diagnosed). She was with us a further 27 years after her initial cancer and treatment so with a bit of luck your new closeness will be a long enjoyed event. She'll be glad she's got you.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now