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