Picking the Right Prosthetic Bra, Breast Forms
Silicone form. Foam form. Weighted form. Contact form prosthetics. Tear drop. Oval. Pocketed. Unpocketed. Lumpectomy bra. Post Op bra…
“To the uninitiated, shopping for that first prosthetic bra and breast form can be overwhelming,” says Eileen Hood, co-manager along with Carrie Jacobsen of Seattle-based Shine, a specialty gift and oncology services store*. “There are just so many options, materials and styles.”
Not to mention, that initial visit is often filled with nervous anxiety and body image insecurity.
“Your first fitting should be positive,” says Karen Bierwagen, a certified mastectomy fitter for Shine. “Come in, be fitted, and find out what options are available for you. This is a big step toward healing – healing your body image, healing your emotional self.”
Hood, Jacobsen and Bierwagen say they can’t stress enough, the importance of a face-to-face fitting. “This is not an online experience,” says Hood. “It should be a human, tactile experience.”
Why? Because each woman is different, and her needs will be different. And trying to shop online to address those needs is, as Jacobsen puts it, “like shopping for jeans online – only with a whole lot more emotion.” Many women who have come to Shine confess to boxes and bags of ill-fitting prosthetic products, never worn, tucked in their closets.
How to Ensure the Right Fit
- Share about yourself: Before you attend your fitting, do some thinking ahead of time, says Bierwagen. “Be ready to share things like, ‘I go to exercise class in the mornings; I spend half the year in the warm and sunny climate of Arizona; I like to wear this certain kind of clothing; sometimes I like to wear strapless clothes; I’m a swimmer, dancer or runner.’” Different materials, styles and designs of both prostheses and bras will respond to factors like climate and activity level, as well as the kind of surgery you’ve undergone: lumpectomy, unilateral or bilateral mastectomy.
- Bring your wardrobe: To ensure the right fit, Jacobsen suggests bringing a bag of your favorite clothes to the fitting. “Bring your favorite bra with you, your athletic bras, the kinds of fabrics you like to wear.” All of these preferences will play a role in choosing the prosthesis and bra that will make you feel the most comfortable and natural.
- Work with experienced mastectomy fitters: With 500 hours of training experience prior to certification and continuing education requirements, fitters certified by the American Board of Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics (ABC) and the Board of Certification (BOC) understand the various products available – adhesive contact form prosthetics, prosthetic camisoles and tank tops, silicone vs. foam forms. They also understand the sensitive nature of mastectomy fitting. “A lot of times, a facility will have one certified fitter with fitters-in-training under her,” says Hood. “It’s okay to ask the retailer, ‘Are your fitters certified?’ and to also request the most experienced fitter.”
Finding a Face-to-Face Fitter
If you don’t live in the Seattle area near a retail store like Shine and are unsure of how to locate a helpful mastectomy fitter, what can you do?
- Talk to your nurse or oncologist: Many times nurses recommend fitters and retail stores, and other times will provide pamphlets and other resources.
- Ask for referrals: Often, conversations begin in the waiting rooms during oncology appointments. According to Jacobsen, “Where’d you get fitted?” isn’t all that uncommon a question.
- Attend support group meetings: “Connecting with like-experienced people in support groups often yields good results, just by asking questions like ‘How did you get your product? Where did you go? Are you happy with it?’” says Jacobsen.
- Seek the advice of larger cancer organizations: American Cancer Society, Cancer Lifeline, The Breast Cancer Society’s Hope Supply Program, Cancer Care, Susan G. Komen.
- Online searches: Consider the following search terms – mastectomy fitter, (name of town or zip code); ABC certified mastectomy fitters, (state or town name); BOC certified mastectomy fitters (state or town name); prosthetic bra fittings; mastectomy fitting.
“Our goal – and the goal of any fitter – is to find something that makes you feel beautiful,” says Hood. “We all know that if you have a pretty bra on – even if you put your bulky sweater on top of it – you feel good … you swagger a little more. That’s what we want to provide. Those products are out there and available.”
And, they say, so are compassionate mastectomy fitters who can help you help you gain back your sense of self – and avoid the closest filled with unused products.
While the staff at Shine doesn’t recommend making your purchases online without a fitting, below they share some of their favorite manufacturers. They caution, however, to work with your insurance company to understand what types of prostheses are covered by your prescription – and in what price range.
- Prosthetic Bra Fittings – What to Know Where to Go: Breast Cancer Society article with helpful links and tips
* Shine is affiliated with Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (a partner with the University of Washington Medicine, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s).
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