M&S and Breakthrough Breast Cancer have been in partnership for 12 years and during that time we have collaborated to create practical bra solutions and advice that women with breast cancer really need.
M&S lingerie specialist Julia Mercer works closely with Breakthrough Breast Cancer and their supporters, to continually develop and improve the post-surgery range of lingerie. One way she does this is by attending Breakthrough‚Äôs quarterly focus groups to meet women at different stages in their treatment.
By listening to the women‚Äôs lingerie requirements it highlights what needs to be taken in to account during the design process. The post-surgery range of lingerie also helps raise money for Breakthrough, so it‚Äôs an extremely beneficial collaboration.
In the lead up to Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October), M&S asked four women if they would kindly share their experiences of shopping for post-surgery lingerie to inspire other women in similar situations.
Julia has also stepped in to assist them with some specialist advice on which bra solutions could be best for various stages of treatment. Here are their stories‚Ä¶
Fran had a mastectomy in October 2011, followed by chemo and radiotherapy early in 2012. She finds that her main problem when shopping for post-surgery bra solutions is the availability of styles in her size as she is a size 36F/34G.
‚ÄúThose that are available are the sort of thing my grandmother wore, usually only available in white and rarely, if ever, come as a matching set.‚ÄĚ
Fran‚Äôs top three things she looks for above all else when shopping for bra solutions is comfort, style and design functionality ‚Äď and adds that the option of colour and matching sets would be lovely. She isn‚Äôt concerned about price and is happy to spend anything from ¬£15 up to ¬£45, depending on the style and colour.
‚ÄúPrior to my surgery there was plenty of choice you could look for – comfort, femininity, day to day or special occasion – and in a choice of colours and styles. I have very much missed having the choice at a time when my body confidence and esteem were very low.‚ÄĚ
Julia suggests that Fran tries the 2 Pack Floral Embroidered Underwired Bras, ¬£22.50, as matching knickers are also available, and the Total Support Non-Wired Bra, ¬£16, which is made from soft microfibre fabric, and offers a gently supportive fit.
She adds: ‚ÄúYour fit requirements are critical as F/G cups need the support for this size. We are currently reviewing the range to add more younger, structured styles for the cup sizes up to G cup‚ÄĚ.
Charlotte is ten months post-mastectomy and hopes to have reconstruction surgery towards the end of the year. She really struggles to find a suitable bra in a size 36E where the underarm section doesn‚Äôt cut in to the armpit area, as this causes her discomfort due to her mild lymphedema worsening.
‚ÄúThe other major issue is getting my boobs to look level in front, with silicone and softie breast prostheses.‚ÄĚ
Charlotte also finds that the bra pockets get sweaty when using a silicon prostheses, the bra shoulder strap elastic often causes friction and blistering, and the under band rarely feels secure, riding up on the side that the prostheses is on. She feels that ‚Äúsomething sexy [should be made available] for the younger market in the bigger sizes‚ÄĚ.
The top three bra requirements on her agenda are comfort, fit and design functionality. Charlotte spends between ¬£16 to ¬£35 for a post-surgery bra and prefers shopping online, once she has gained specialist help with measurements, as it‚Äôs simpler to track down stock availability.
Julia has suggested that Charlotte tries the soft microfibre Comfort Non-Padded Bra with Modal , ¬£19.50, which has a thicker straps and a secure under band, the 2 Pack Floral Embroidered Underwired Bras, ¬£22.50, and the Total Support Non-Wired Bra ¬£16.00.
Julia says: ‚ÄúIt is always better to be bra fitting when recommending any product for Post surgery as the scar tissue must be considered – every surgery is different and breasts are different. Visit our stores where our bra fitters have been trained in fitting and advising customers in this very important area.‚ÄĚ
Christine has metastatic breast cancer which was diagnosed three years ago following a primary diagnosis in 2007 and has been in remission for the last three years. She is currently undergoing breast reconstruction with a tissue expander and has had two operations, as well as breast reduction surgery on her other breast. Her main bra requirement is for something a little more feminine.
‚ÄúThey [bras] are not very pretty and, being a younger woman with breast cancer, I would like to see more fashionable bras.‚ÄĚ
Christine would like post-surgery bras to incorporate ‚Äúa prettier colour or some embellishments, like little bows or something, so they resemble a more normal bra‚ÄĚ. She spends between ¬£26-¬£35 on each bra, but finds them more expensive than regular bras which limits her day-to-day choices.
The primary specifications she looks for in a bra are comfort, style and adaptability and she rates M&S bras for their comfort.
Julia has suggested that Christina tries the Post Surgery Floral Padded Non-Wired bra, ¬£19.50, the petrol coloured Lace Padded Non-Wired Bra with Modal, ¬£19.50, and the Comfort Non-Padded Bra with Modal, ¬£19.50.
Julia says: ‚ÄúAs soon as the reconstruction has taken place please come in for a fitting so we can help you be fitted. Your breast shape will change and the type of bras can be changed too.‚ÄĚ
This year Sarah underwent a double mastectomy after undergoing various treatments since 1999, including a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, endocrine therapy and the taking of bisphosphonates.
Her main struggle with lingerie has been the space for the prostheses which she doesn‚Äôt like to wear at the moment, and she hasn‚Äôt been able to find ‚Äėflat‚Äô solutions.
‚ÄúI never bothered wearing a partial prosthesis, [I] just lived with the bagginess.‚ÄĚ
The top three specifications on Sarah‚Äôs list for bra solutions are fit, style and suitability for flatter breasts ‚Äď especially when it comes to visiting her leisure centre.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm looking for swimwear without shaping and without seams, pockets or padding‚ÄĚ, ‚Äú[I] have resorted to making my own bikini out of a scarf!‚ÄĚ
Sarah spends ¬£26 – ¬£35 on post-surgery bras and shops both online and in store, preferring specialist help. She has never worn an M&S product before as she wasn‚Äôt sure which stores offered the range.
Julia highlights that: ‚ÄúEvery bra will give shaping of some kind‚ÄĚ and suggests that Sarah tries the petrol-coloured Post Surgery Lace Padded Non-Wired Bra with Modal, ¬£19.50, for its natural shape and the Elegance Embroidered Non-Padded Bra, ¬£19.50. There are a number of swimming costumes without padding that could suit too ‚Äď like the Tummy Control Contrast Piped Swimsuit, ¬£25.00.
Julia continues: ‚ÄúOur range of Post-surgery lingerie that comes under the per una brand also has moisture management properties which is great for keeping you cool with the medication you have to take, or if you are having those ‚Äė warm moments‚Äô!‚ÄĚ
There is a list of M&S stores offering the range in the PDF post-surgery lingerie guide (click the link to download it). You can ring customer services on 0845 3021234 to check if your sizes are available, or why not pop in to your local store to ask about the free bra fittings.