It’s the month of Pinktober when ribbons and awareness make everyone feel like progress is being made in the fight against breast cancer, when it’s ok to talk incessantly about breasts, when I feel sick to my stomach because of the countless women I have known, loved and lost because there is still no cure. It’s the season that marks my 6 year anniversary of finding in Handful a bra that would put me back together again, after cancer took every organ that made me biologically female.
I think back to the five years I spent living as a flat woman. I had a preschooler and a baby I had been nursing when I found the lump. Reconstruction wasn’t in the cards for me with a late stage 3 diagnosis and a timeline for radiating the 9 positive lymph nodes under my arm that didn’t account for first one and then another attempted lumpectomy that just uncovered yet more cancer. The double mastectomy wasn’t planned, so the “free boob job” wasn’t either.
Back then, it didn’t matter that I had no boobs. I was too busy trying to survive and head down focused on withstanding every treatment offered over the course of five years in order to live to see my girls grow up. When you are having your ovaries and uterus removed, taking daily hormone therapy, targeted biologic therapy via IV every two weeks, clinical trial drugs, and trying to eat healthy, exercise, and run a household, adding time to recover from several more rounds of surgery to end up with some fleshy mounds that resemble breasts just didn’t make the to do list.
But after five years of trying to hide my flatness with a ruffled shirt, or a pattern that would distract the eye from what was missing, I started rounding forward involuntarily. Maybe it was to hide what no one was looking at but what I knew was gone. Maybe it was the result of osteoporosis setting in, one of the lifelong side effects of treatment. Maybe it’s because a foundation garment is important, and if you’ve had three surgeries to remove chunks of your body, perhaps it’s even more important to wear one. All I know is that I put on a Handful bra for the first time and everything changed for me. The way I stood up straighter, looked people in the eye when I spoke, and oh yeah, the way it just looked like I was wearing a cuter bra than everyone else.
It was such a profound shift for me in believing myself to be well again that I ended up becoming a part owner of the company. I’ve met many modern, active survivors just like me who want to live the same lifestyle they had before cancer. I’ve seen first hand the way it restores symmetry after a lumpectomy creates mismatched breasts. I’ve witnessed so many moments where a survivor looks at her reflection in the mirror with a Handful bra on and the invisible thought bubble over her head is “I remember you.” The crazy thing is, I don’t just see this in survivors. I see it in women who’ve never had cancer but who have a complicated, and often negative, relationship with their chest.
People often say they like what Handful stands for, that they applaud our core purpose, which is to promote and enhance women’s self-esteem. We want to see YOU shining through, and a Handful bra just quiets the noise between your ears that says you aren’t enough, just the way you are. We support all paths up the mountain, even if that means you get implants to have the boobs you always wanted or used to have, whether gravity, breastfeeding or cancer took them away. I’ve fit many women and know how amazing Handful looks over implants! But we also want to be the voice in the wilderness that says, not reconstructing or loving and accepting your shriveled up raisins or rock and socks is ok too.
Handful has given me a way to see my body as whole again, and in looking my best, feeling my best, and performing in life and in sport to the best of my ability, I try to model self love for my daughters because it wasn’t something that was modeled for me. My mom grew up in Korea and had large breasts for an Asian woman, so she bound them down with cloth to minimize them. I don’t remember feeling great about getting boobs early at 8-9 years old. I mostly remember shame and hiding my body from my mom. It’s a point of immense pride for me that I have been able to impart a positive energy around my chest, despite cancer, scars and radiation burns.
My older daughter was four when I was diagnosed, so she remembers a before and the after. I remember changing to go to the pool a year after my mastectomies and Natalie, then 5 years old, saying, “your scars look like two mouths smiling at me.” I gave myself a pat on the back that it wasn’t horror that she was absorbing, but joy. She now wears Handful in her daily high school student life and on the lacrosse field. For my younger daughter who was weaned abruptly so I could start chemo, her memories are different. Lindsey has only ever known the flatness, the absence. Would she worry about getting breast cancer and looking like me? Would she see negative space when she looks at her body changing?
I’m happy to report that the first bra experience was nothing short of magical for this kid too. Handful has given them a positive way to think about breasts and a post breast cancer body. They want to grow up to be a Handful and embrace life and sport and adventure. What would it be like if we all took a page out of their book and thought about our chests in a loving, accepting, even prideful, way when we look in the mirror?
That’s what Handful stands for to me. That’s where my gratitude lies today, as I celebrate my 11th cancerversary this month.
WATCH a day in the life of a HANDFUL
LISTEN to CARY'S STORY in her Interview with @sweetlifeentrepreneur podcast "Business, Boobs & Bravery with Handful" Click title or Image below.