Post Mastectomy Wedding Dress Shopping

by Oct 16, 2017

Choosing a dress for your big day is a very personal thing, and it’s all about body shape. Sometimes you don’t have control over what your body looks like, but this shouldn’t limit your options. Firuze tells the story of finding a dress to suit her chest.

Getting out of the car and walking into the white boudoir I forgot about everything. My first step into a wedding shop was bright, white and very beautiful. Excitement overwhelmed me as I saw racks and racks of pretty dresses. Lace, appliqué, tulle, satin, even couture. I couldn’t wait to get started and try them all on – my head literally went white thinking about my upcoming wedding.

I had some idea of what I wanted, but seeing the dresses in the flesh meant that I wanted to try them all on, not knowing what would suit me or not. As I picked out a mermaid dress, a ballgown, a slim column dress and a fit-and-flare, it wasn’t until I reached the changing room that I realised there would be an issue.

A lot of people are aware of their bodies and know what suits them and what doesn’t. But the fact that many know what sort of wedding dress they want, but end up getting something they never expected shows how difficult it is to know what really suits them until it’s tried on. However, what many women don’t have for their big day is their breasts removed and fitted with plastic bags of water instead.

It wasn’t until I was in the changing room with the shop assistant and realised I was about to undress that I remembered what I looked like. I’ve had to expose myself a lot recently; for the plastic surgeon, the oncologist, the nurses changing my bandages or removing my stitches, and when the radiotherapy made my skin so hot I couldn’t bear putting clothes on. But I wasn’t in that environment anymore. I was in a happy place where people put on beautiful dresses and dream of how they’ll look walking down the aisle, headed to the man (or woman) of their dreams, and dreading the thought of trekking that beautiful fabric across a dirty floor.

Not a lot of people can get used to seeing my chest, with scars in place of nipples, a dark square stain on the right of my chest from the radiotherapy, and the rippling that the bags of saline liquid cause to the thin layer of skin trying to cover them. At each appointment I felt myself having to warn the assistant of what she was going to see, as not everyone can hide their shock.

I got a lot of mixed reactions in the dress shops I visited. One avoided looking at me, which you think would be the norm when someone gets naked with you in the changing room, but she seemed determined not to meet my eye until I was covered up. This was probably because she felt I would be embarrassed, but it was also pretty clear that she didn’t know how to act in the situation, which is fair enough as it’s pretty uncommon. Another wanted to talk to me about her friend with breast cancer and how they’ve been coping with the situation, telling me funny stories to make me laugh and relax. As someone who was older than the others, she’d probably been exposed to more women with breast cancer as the risk increases as women age, and so was able to relate to my situation a little more.

The best, and whether or not it’s coincidental that I bought my dress from her, was the reaction from one girl who became incredibly supportive through the entire process. When I first told her she looked me in the eye and said ‘ok, no problem’ with a small smile. Feeling immediately relaxed she asked me how everything was going, and said to me that having a wedding was at least going to be the mark of something wonderful at an awful time in my life. She was super supportive and, after putting on the first dress, we worked together to find something that would work for my restrictive body shape.

As I tried each dress on she told me how they could be altered to better fit my chest, having cups added or removed, being cut and tailored so that the dress fitted better to make it look more even, and suggesting ways of trimming the fabric so that it covered the bits I wanted to be covered.

After choosing the dress I wanted, a beautiful crepe fabric dress from Pronovias, we worked together on customising it and altering it to fit me perfectly. We changed the neck into a boat neck so that it would cover my radiotherapy scar from my neck to my armpit, and made sure the open back still covered the scar where my shoulder blade used to be from my earlier cancer. While I’ve found bras to be too uncomfortable to wear now, I tend not to wear tops that show any of the ripples and bumps that are caused by the incision scars and implants. However, the fabric of this wedding dress was very unforgiving, and every bump would have been visible had it not have been for the subtle padding that was added.

When it came to my first fitting the first thing she did was cut off about 2 feet of fabric from the bottom so that I wouldn’t trip on it when I walked. Oh the joys of being 5’3”! We then looked at how we were going to fit my cape. Yes, I had a cape. I saw it in a Pinterest post and immediately wanted to have wings. It was tough to get the matching fabric from Pronovias, but with some persuasion we got it in the end. The issue was the weight of the fabric – The first time we strapped it to my shoulders I put my back out trying to drag it. Not having a shoulder blade on one side meant that it was even more difficult to lift the heavy fabric, and I began to feel the strain on my chest.

A less stubborn person would have chosen a lighter fabric, and a lighter dress, but stubborn is my middle name. The next time I saw my physiotherapist I told her what I needed to be able to haul around on my wedding day, and she set me to work doing exercises that would strengthen my chest, pecs, arms and shoulders. Although I mainly did it for the dress, to this day the benefits of those exercises have been unbelievable. Being able to carry things and move with more flexibility after two surgeries and so much damage has helped me get back on track, even if the incentive was to be able to carry my beautiful cape!

On the day I thought about my chest only once – before I put on my dress. The perfectly fitted, formed and bespoke dress fit like a dream and felt even more personal as I had added my own beading and created matching shoes to complete my outfit. I felt like a queen and in that moment it made me forget what I was going through. Despite everything that had happened I was able to be confident for our special day, which is something I’ll forever be truly thankful for.

Photography credit: Miss Gen

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a worldwide annual campaign involving thousands of organisations, to highlight the importance of breast awareness, education and research.

We’ve decided to join the many charities raising awareness this month by being a little more pink, and will be campaigning for people to check their bits, donate to research and support the 691,000 people who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer and are living with their diagnosis.

What is The Big Pink?
The Big Pink is Breast Cancer Care’s campaign to raise awareness this October. We’ve joined them in their campaign, so look out for our #BCCBingPink posts.

Who are Breast Cancer Care?
Breast Cancer Care support people diagnosed with breast cancer through free services, including support over the phone with a nurse or someone who’s been there, online forums, reliable information and local group support.

If you’d like to be part of The Big Pink with Breast Cancer Care, please donate below


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About Firuze French

Firuze is headstrong but a fan of cute things. Although she’s a minimalist on the outside, she’s overly technical on the inside. As a design consultant, Firuze is always on hand to offer advice on creative and tech trends. She’s a London lover but New York dreamer who loves city life. Firuze considers herself an interior designer in training, DIY hobbyist and a lover of Michelin star dining for a bargain price.