mastectomy bras

Post Surgery Bras: Improving Patient Recovery

  |   By Elisabeth Dale

Brad Pitt reportedly bought Angelina Jolie a slew of new bras for her birthday. No surprise that Ms. Jolie would need a new lingerie wardrobe after her double mastectomy and breast reconstruction.

She wouldn’t have worn beautiful bras during her recovery. Women who’ve undergone breast surgeries are sent home strapped into stiff, uncomfortable contraptions known as post surgery bras.

Post surgery bras are a necessity after cosmetic or reconstructive procedures. This represents a growing number of medical patients. Last year the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported over half a million breast operations: including breast lifts, augmentations, reductions, and reconstructions. It can take from a few weeks to several months for these women to get back into normal looking bras.

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Post surgery bras are an important step in the healing process. The chest area is stabilized and kept free from infection. Scarring and swelling are reduced with compression, while delicate drain tubes must be accommodated. This makes design, sizing, and fabric choices challenging, especially when the predominantly male plastic surgeon population has little knowledge of intimate apparel.

Dr. Elizabeth Chabner Thompson discovered the difficulties of post surgery bra wear when she underwent a prophylactic double mastectomy. As a radiation oncologist, she understood her breast cancer patients’ needs, but never more so than when she traded places with them. She hadn’t tested positive for the BRCA gene mutation (now dubbed the Jolie gene), but an overwhelming number of her female relatives had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Elizabeth Chabner Thompson, MD _HiRes

Dr. Elizabeth Chabner Thompson

Elizabeth’s operation and subsequent work with plastic surgeons inspired her to find a way to improve the patient experience. A few years later she founded BFFL Co (Best Friends for Life Company). On their website you'll find specialized clothing, accessories, and resources for men and women who are hospitalized or receiving medical treatments.

The “Elizabeth” post surgical bra, plus stabilizing band, represent some of the helpful products available.. The bra features Velcro fasteners for flexibility and a tailored fit, and innovative side openings for drainage tubes. Its construction, attention to detail, and quality fabric made it a Breast Life Seal of Approval winner.**

Masthead Surgical Strap

Elizabeth Surgical Bra and Stabilizer Band

I asked Elizabeth to share her experience as a physician, post-surgical patient, and entrepreneur:

ED: Why make a post-surgical bra?

ECT: Surgical bras are basic variations on a nylon corset bra designed by men in the 1970's; nylon with zippers. I worked for two plastic surgeons for many years and was appalled at the lack of design creativity. So I took needle and thread and designed a new bra, patented it and brought it to market.

ED: How do most women choose a post-surgical bra?

ECT: Most wear what their doctors suggest. Most doctors spend no time researching new accessories or bras because they are so busy. But patients have to wear these bras for weeks!  Pinching, chaffing and uncomfortable, not to mention really grungy after a day in a bra that is right up against the body, can make a patient that much more miserable.

ED: What was your biggest "ah ha" moment as a breast cancer surgical patient?

ECT: Doctors are the worst patients!  Most doctors know too much and don't follow instructions.  It's so hard to be a patient. Sometimes the little things matter so much to the patient in terms of comfort, and the doctors are just focused on getting rid of the cancer. My mission is to improve patient experience and bring the things that doctors don't have time to focus on directly to the patient.

ED: What was the most challenging part of developing a new bra?

ECT: I can't tell you how many times I had to "start over" or make a little change in order to get it right.  I am constantly on the lookout and I listen to feedback. I try not to take it personally when someone is critical.  You can never please everyone, but you can always try!!

ED: Women tell me breast cancer changed their lives, for better or worse. How has starting up a new business changed yours?

ECT:  It's so hard to start something new-- I can't tell you how many times my confidence has been wounded by the words "no" or people who don't bother to respond to a call or email.  I just told myself to keep trying. Maybe this hasn't really changed my fundamental personality because I have always been a hard worker, but it has certainly taught me an immense respect for people who try to start new businesses and go out on a limb.  It's really easy to stay in your comfort zone, but change requires taking chances and making mistakes.

Image credits: BFFL Co

**I was not financially compensated for this post. I received a sample for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

What's your view? What do you think of post surgery bras? What other products improve patient recovery?

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