Monthly Archives: July 2016

At Nordstrom and RealSelf, Women Regain Power by Knowing Their Options

In my early 20s, I worked in the Nordstrom lingerie department at the flagship store in downtown Seattle. I learned many things. I could gauge cup sizes by eye and provide perfect bra fittings. I listened with empathy as customers confided in me about their body-image issues, and I could read between the lines to better serve their needs.

And as manager of the Nordstrom Prosthesis Program, I learned to help empower women who were dealing with breast cancer.

Most women had recently had mastectomies. They’d already faced incredibly difficult decisions, most of which needed to be made quickly. Should they have both breasts removed, even if their cancer was only on one side? Would they go through the rest of their lives with no breasts, get prosthetic breast forms to pocket into their bras, or have reconstructive surgery — and if so, what kind?

I knew I couldn’t answer any of these intensely personal questions; my mother had recently undergone this life-altering process, and no one could make these decisions for her. But her experience made me realize how much room for improvement there was in raising women’s awareness of the wonderful services that can bring some sense of normalcy to one of life’s most difficult situations.

Even when survival is the primary focus, prosthesis programs like Nordstrom’s can play a huge role in supporting these women as they figure out which type of breast forms, bras, shirts, and other clothes will work for them going forward.

My mom was given detailed information about her medical care, but she received only a simple pamphlet about post-surgery garments. She had so many questions about where to buy bras, what to expect, and what insurance covered. I found it surprising that her doctors didn’t explain all the options before sending her on her way.

Once I started working with the Nordstrom prosthesis program, I told my mom about what she had been missing out on. She teared up when she learned she could still wear beautiful lingerie, sport bras, swimsuits, and much more by having a pocket (an extra layer of material, often with small snaps along the top) sewn into the cup to hold a prosthetic breast form. Many department stores, including Nordstrom, offer alterations like these free of charge with a bra purchase.

My most significant takeaway from my time there is that everyone has insecurities about their bodies. This has become even more obvious to me at RealSelf, as I read the stories of our community members. Everyone is striving to find more confidence, and everyone’s path is different. Some buy new lingerie, others opt for cosmetic surgery, and others embrace their body the way it is. Either way, we’re lucky to live in a world where we can make choices that help us feel more confident in our own skin.

Finding a community of like-minded people is so important, especially when you’re facing breast cancer. While support groups exist, it can be challenging to get up the courage and energy to attend, no matter how many questions a person might have. That’s why RealSelf is so wonderful: it allows people to ask questions and learn more wherever they are, without being fully exposed.

I wish I had known about the rich RealSelf community while I was at Nordstrom. Many of the random, difficult, and important questions I was asked could have been answered by RealSelf doctors, or by other women going through similar experiences and navigating tough decisions, from researching procedures to healing.

Sarah’s Top 5 Tips for Post-op Bra Fitting

  1. Work with a fit specialist. Ask for someone specifically certified in fitting prostheses.
  2. Go wireless for at least six weeks after surgery to protect your incisions as they heal.
  3. Buy bras made of soft material — the softer the better, since skin is often sensitive after surgery and radiation.
  4. Unlined, soft-cupped bras are best for pocketing and provide the most natural look with a prosthetic.
  5. A full-coverage bra will support the prosthetic and keep it in place.

Learn more about the Nordstrom Prosthesis Program in the company’s video below:

Sarah Williams is a Recruiting Coordinator at RealSelf who previously worked at Nordstrom in the Prosthesis Program. RealSelf is not officially associated with Nordstrom.

Running Ragnar with RealSelf

Four vans, 22 runners, and nearly two sleep- and shower-deprived days later, RealSelf coworkers crossed the finish line for Ragnar, Reebok’s crazy race of 200-ish miles through Washington State.  

Van on the run.

RealSelf Van on the run.

What started as a simple, “Hey, let’s do a wellness event together,” quickly gathered steam as more RealSelf employees wanted to join in on the action. As captain of a van and part of RealSelf’s recruiting team, I was happy we had a great mix from across the org, including sales, engineering, product, finance, content, and analytics.

Over several months, some people trained, some didn’t, and lots of trash talking took place via Slack leading up to this insane relay race that had us wondering, “What are we thinking?”

Dave crashing out between runs.

Dave crashing out between runs.

At RealSelf, we’re considered a midsize company with just over 100 employees, and it can be a little difficult to get to know everyone. Our vans quickly became capsules for a bonding opportunity like no other. In addition to running long legs, at times picking up extra miles, we also endured hours in sweaty, feet-in-your-face-stinky vans, sleep deprivation, and questionable moments of personal hygiene.

But we also learned that we work with some really interesting, smart, and fun people. Our group included running newbies to experienced marathoners, but everyone was super supportive of one another and had a blast.

Along the way, we shared running advice via Slack, pictures via Google Drive, and texted and Social Media-ed our exhausted selves out. From all this, we have made memories that will last a lifetime. We learned things about one another that we never would have discovered otherwise, like one of our teammates used to be in an ’80s cover band, one dreams of retiring in a trailer park, and two guys played college football.  (There were many other things learned, but we won’t go there!)

Marathoner Cameron shows us how it's done.

“When we drive in the van, Cameron runs alongside to support us,” data scientist Ben on marathoner Cameron.

Of course, there were moments, usually mid-run, when everyone questioned why they were doing this. We had minor injuries, a lost runner, and the experience of trying to sleep in a high school gym.

It was all worth it. Jokes were made, friendships established, and a few well-earned laugh lines added.

Best part? Everyone said they’d do it again next year!

See a few more shots from RealSelf at Ragnar below:

Engineer Eddie crashing out in the van.

Engineer Eddie crashing out in the van.

Our Analytics Team proved to be superhero runners at night.

Our Analytics Team proved to be superhero runners at night.

Merediths in Sales and Analytics enjoy the spoils of finishing the race.

Merediths in sales and analytics enjoy the spoils of finishing the race.

Ragnar medals together spell out an awesome secret message.

Our hard-earned Ragnar medals come together.