Three Things a Woman Can Consider After She Has Had a Mastectomy

"I was so self-conscious because I knew it didn’t look symmetrical. People would look at me and think, there’s something off...”

Jacqueline Larivière* was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 30s and, after a single mastectomy, wore a prosthesis for years before deciding to have reconstructive surgery. This was in the mid 1990s and, as her body changed over the subsequent decades, the symmetry between both of her breasts faded, leaving behind a sense of shame she felt on a daily basis. “I was so self-conscious because I knew it didn’t look symmetrical. People would look at me, especially men, and think, there’s something off with her.

Losing your breasts, whether it’s a portion of one or all of both, can be extremely traumatic, and rebuilding self-esteem and body image after surgery is a lifelong journey. A few months ago, Larivière visited Ottawa lingerie boutique Marianne’s, where she was fitted for a new prosthesis and accompanying bra by German brand Anita. Founded in 1886, Anita produces bras, swimwear and breast forms in cup sizes AA to G under its Anita Care line, all designed to work in harmony at different points in the recovery process. Larivière describes her experience at Marianne’s as life changing. “I look normal, and I don’t have to worry about those things sliding around or falling out because I have the proper type of bra.”

When faced with a mastectomy, a woman has three options after surgery: reconstruction, which is fully-funded by the government; wearing a prosthesis, for which she can be reimbursed a small amount by her provincial health ministry (in Ontario, that can range from up to $105 for a partial-breast prosthesis or $390 for two full-breast prostheses every two years); or to “go flat” and bare her scars.

Shawna Rich-Ginsberg, senior manager of support and education at Canadian charity Rethink Breast Cancer, says that many young women opt for reconstruction, with 56 percent of American breast cancer survivors choosing this route. “There are some that choose not to, and then there are some that don’t choose reconstruction up front if they’re having radiation or another type of therapy down the road.” There is no one-size-fits all solution, and each option brings its own list of pros and cons.

After her mastectomy, Austin-based boutique owner Gail Chovan chose not to have reconstruction or to wear a prosthesis. In a video interview with StyleLikeU where she strips down to her underwear, Chovan explains that her decision was an easy one, even though her husband misses her breasts and her scars sometimes ache. “My body is kind of a roadmap of everything I’ve lived through. Do I mourn my body? Yes,” she says. “But now it’s just a new chapter.”

*Name has been changed