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Sewing eases the decision to get a mastectomy, by Nicki Taylor.

Posted in: Creativity & Mindset, Makers & Crafts • December 31, 2015

Illustration based on a photo by Ashlee Wells Jackson of 4th Trimester Bodies Project

A year ago I lost my boobs. I would like to joke that they just popped off for a holiday after all the breast feeding they did, but I am pretty sure they are not coming back.

I decided that I wanted to send them on their way off after a tough six months of treatment for a breast cancer. Upon finishing chemotherapy I was given the unenviable choice of radiotherapy or mastectomy. Most women who have a mastectomy go on to have reconstruction surgeries, a process that I was told might take up a year and need multiple surgeries. My young family and I had found it grueling being in and out of hospital during chemotherapy, and to me reconstructive surgeries felt like I would be sacrificing too much precious time. Sending the boobs on a holiday and living flat chested was the right choice for me and for my family.

This decision was made infinitely easier by the fact that I knew I could make clothes that worked for my body. I knew I could have no hair, no breasts, and still be beautiful. Yep. Beautiful. I could sew my way to body confidence, rather than have a surgeon sew my body back together. Way more fun!

I set about teaching myself how to fit my new body and have experimented with styles to find my new normal. I like unusual draped shapes and bold patterns and colors, but I have found that even just a plain well-fitted bodice can work. I can do a no bust adjustment with my eyes closed, but if I am feeling lazy, companies that offer individualized patterns based on your measurements are a good alternative. Sewing a new wardrobe is part of my therapy. And never having to wear a bra is an added bonus.

Some situations intimidate me, especially the beach or the pool. To combat this, I made myself a kickarse pair of togs. A pair of togs that no shop sells, that fit me perfectly, and that I can strut in. I drafted myself a pair that was based on the bodice from a girls pattern and a pair of my favorite undies. A bikini that is secretly a pair of comfy undies is always going to make you feel good! I scaled up the girls size 4 bodice pattern by using an extreme cut and slash method to fit my measurements perfectly. There was no way I was giving up swimming for lack of suitable swimwear.

The other garment that was missing from my wardrobe was something dressy. Have you ever noticed that most formal dresses involve a serious emphasis on the bust? I had three dresses in my cupboard that had all served me for years. All were sentimental, and all had to be retired. Without an event in mind, I set to making something I could reach for, should an occasion arise. I took the chance to plan an outfit that would give me maximum mileage, settling on a top that could go with a couple formal skirts and a matching pencil skirt. Sewing this outfit was a way of controlling my future response to a potentially intimidating situation.

That occasion arose just two months later, when my mum invited me to a breast cancer fundraiser.  I happily got my new teal two-piece dress from my cupboard, tied a scarf in a flourish over my still buzz cut short hair, and trotted off for some fun.  I got an extra surprise when I was called up to the stage to receive a prize for best dressed. I was flabbergasted. I was in a room of beautiful women in gorgeous designer dresses, and here I was in home-sewn get up, winning the prize. I took a few deep breaths as I walked to the stage, smiled, and kept my lovely secret to myself. Sewing is a superpower.

I never miss my boobs, and I have no need to wear a bra and prosthetic to fill my clothes. After all, my clothes fit me. I do not see sewing as a way to hide my chest, but as a way to fit my body. Sewing empowers me to feel like I'm not missing anything.

I like to remind myself of a conversation I had with a school mum who I had seen daily for a couple of months, but who had no reason to know anything about my cancer. I had just finished a new jumpsuit with a very fitted bodice, an empire waist, and loose culottes, and was wearing it that day. As I walked in she said, "You made those, didn't you? There is no way you could get something so cool in the shops.”

Thinking that she had noticed my flat chest, given the fitted nature of the jumpsuit, I said, "Yes I did, thanks. I decided to sew all of my clothes after my mastectomy."

Her face was shocked. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize you had no boobs!"

My unbusted chest swelled with pride. She had just told what I needed to hear. People have no idea that I have my boobs on permanent time out, and there's no need to explain myself to all and sundry. So now I get up in the morning, whack my handmades on, and get on with my day, because days are for living.

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