Swimming — any time of the year — is a terrific way to get moderate exercise and strengthen your body before, during, and after breast cancer treatment. There's nothing like a cool swim on a hot day to relax your mind and refresh your spirit — just be sure to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise.
Before you start thinking about bathing suits, remember this comforting thought: most women are self-conscious in a bathing suit, whether they've been through breast cancer treatment or not. Still, we put up with them because they're part of the summer package that also includes swimming; a warm, relaxing environment; and outdoor fun.
Sure, there are some women who are completely at-ease in a bathing suit. But if you're having any feelings of insecurity, look up and down the beach or around the poolside. You'll see all kinds of bodies: small, medium, large, extra-large. They're all okay. Perfection doesn't exist. So don't waste your precious energy on feeling insecure. Instead, use it for pleasant and interesting thoughts, fun, and sharing time with friends and family.
If you've recently had surgery for breast cancer, you may be wondering what your options are for buying a bathing suit that's comfortable for you.
Several bathing suit brands are designed for women who have had breast cancer surgery (mastectomy or lumpectomy). These suits have higher necklines and armholes, to conceal scars. They also have built-in bra pockets for securing breast forms (prostheses) if you have not had reconstruction.
Some suits have other features, such as figure-smoothing panels and skirts, that are popular with many women whether or not they've had breast surgery. And, yes, experts agree that dark solid colors are the most flattering.
You may not need a specially designed bathing suit. If you find standard swimwear that you like, the retailer might be able to add a breast form bra pocket to the inside of the suit. Some stores charge for this service, others don't.
"We can sew a pocket into any suit we sell at no charge," says Rose Tabile, women's active wear manager at Nordstrom's department store in King of Prussia, PA. Nordstrom stores also usually carry Amoena and It Figures suits.
If you have not had reconstruction and do use breast forms, you may consider getting a swim form, which is like a conventional breast form but much lighter. Although weighted forms are good for everyday use — to maintain balance and protect against back and neck pain — they may be uncomfortable or just downright heavy when swimming.
Swim forms are less dense and float better than weighted forms. Made from clear silicone, they're designed to allow water to flow naturally across the chest. Some attach into the bathing suit with fabric tabs, to prevent unexpected "pop-up" moments. Built-in pockets also hold them in successfully.
An ultralight swim form, made from whipped silicone, is practically weightless. It attaches directly to the skin of the chest with adhesive for a more natural line. "There's no gap when you lean over," says Cynthia Shafer, Nordstrom lingerie manager.
Chlorinated water, saltwater, heat, and sunlight won't damage silicone breast forms, but forms should be washed by hand and kept dry between uses. Learn more about prostheses in the Breast Reconstruction section.