Sometimes hitting the beach feels like a test of confidence, because stepping out of street clothes into swimsuits can often means stepping out of your comfort zone.
Whether you love swimsuit shopping or hate it, that feeling when you've found "the one" is like bringing your inner supermodel to full fruition — but it can be a process. For women who've been diagnosed with breast cancer and have specifically undergone a mastectomy (the full removal of the breast), hitting the beach can require a few extra steps.
The five women below agree that body confidence after a mastectomy may take time, but it later shines so bright the sun has competition. Read on to hear what these women had to say about finding body acceptance after undergoing the surgery.
1. Kathleen Llamzon, 30
Kathleen Llamzon, a nurse with a passion for travel, was 26 when she had her first mastectomy and later removed her other breast as a prophylactic measure. Llamzon kept her spirits up with help from friends and family, but after her relationship ended during her treatment, she felt differently.
"I got really physically self-conscious, my hair [was] missing, and after the mastectomy I had these new scars," the Torontonian said. "But after a while when you watch yourself grow, the hair comes back, and learning what clothes you can wear to hide the scars — you just adapt to it and once you own up to it, everyone sees you glow."
Llamzon didn't let the changes to her body stop her from seeing the world.
"I was swimming in Dubai, I had my prosthesis in and it slipped out, that's when I thought about trying reconstruction," she said. "But my procedure was different, it just kept rejecting so I left it and I'm still flat-chested. I wear my prosthesis when I feel like it, but when it's a bathing suit, I just don't and I learned to wear bandeau tops and it just worked out. It felt comfortable — it felt like me still."
I learned to wear bandeau tops and it just worked out, it felt comfortable — it felt like me still.
Llamzon, who has her sights set on Morocco and Israel as her next travel destinations, has been open about her journey on Instagram, hoping to encourage other women dealing with cancer to not feel alone.
"It's something I proudly flaunt, too. I never had any rewards in school, but I think this is the greatest thing I've ever done," she said. "I get private messages from women and it's amazing to connect with them."
2. Sylvie Normandeau, 37
Toronto actress Sylvie Normandeau believed she was doing everything in her power to prevent cancer.
"I had a child and [was] breastfeeding, I remember that being one of the things you can do to lower the risk," she said. "I was exercising daily, eating a mostly plant-based diet; my background is in nutrition and wellness. I was a personal trainer prior, so it really did come as a shock [when I was diagnosed]."
In the summertime I discovered ways to use bathing suits that are more conventional and use ruching to your advantage.
Normandeau had her first mastectomy in 2011 and the second in 2013.
"For two years, I only had one breast, so back then I was lot more self-conscious and the big driving factor for getting the second side done was the symmetry because I felt like I couldn't be myself," she explained.
Normandeau chose to not have reconstruction surgery and the decision hasn't stopped her style or her work.
"In the summertime I discovered ways to use bathing suits that are more conventional and use ruching to your advantage. Not all styles will work, but I do wear a two-piece and found swimming inserts you can put in to give a little shape," she said. "I'm way more confident now after the double mastectomy to show off however I am, but that did take a while."
3. Rach DiMare, 29
Rach DiMare was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2016, just a few months after her honeymoon at the age of 27. She had a double mastectomy and immediate reconstruction last summer.
"I'm slowly but surely getting more comfortable with my body, but everything was foreign. Things that I knew were me, just little things about my body, even if no one else could see it, I lost that and I felt like I lost who I was," she said.
I tried on what felt like a million swimsuits, but it's like giving everything a chance — what did I have to lose?
DiMare authors a Chicago-based fashion blog called RD's Obsessions and uses the site and social media to connect with other women who have had similar experiences.
"I knew when I was diagnosed that most of my followers were not breast cancer survivors ... but what was nice was the response I got. Either they knew someone or some of them surprisingly had their own fight with cancer," she explained. "It also led me to finding other people around my age and I think that helped give me that sense of community."
DiMare gives credit to her husband — who is the photographer for her blog — for allowing her to take time to find what works. For their annual trip to Florida, for instance, DiMare said she had to take it step-by-step.
"I tried on what felt like a million swimsuits, but it's like giving everything a chance — what did I have to lose? Shopping for swimsuits in general, even before, was hard, but just give yourself time to find what works," she said. "It's a lot of trial and error, but just continuously working on myself, working with my doctors and being open about the issues I'm having mentally and physically, I think that's what helps builds confidence."
4. Jennifer Nasu-Rooney, 43
Jennifer Nasu-Rooney was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and had her first mastectomy within two weeks of her diagnosis.
"I was pretty self-conscious about it and I did wear a prosthetic," the Torontonian said. "The self-confidence came after, with the support of my husband. It came over time."
After treatment was done, Nasu-Rooney took a celebratory trip down south.
"The prosthetic is kind of like a chicken cutlet and I hated mine, it felt heavy, it's sticky and weird, I just started putting foam padding in one side of my breast," she said. "I had to do swimsuits that you can put the chicken cutlet or the foam padding in, you had to have something full coverage and it is awkward coming in and out of the water."
As much as you think people are looking at all the little details, they're really not.
On gaining her confidence back, Nasu-Rooney says don't dwell on details.
"There's something to be said about losing everything that's feminine all at once; you lose your breast, your hair, your fingernails, your eyelashes fall out and I lost a tremendous amount of weight so my curves went," Nasu-Rooney said.
"As much as you think people are looking at all the little details, they're really not ... I'm not a Victoria's Secret model, but I'm proud of how far I've come. I'm still a work in progress, but my self-esteem is higher than it's ever been."
5. Andrea Morley, 38
Andrea Morley, from Niagara-on-the-Lake, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and had her first mastectomy in March 2013.
"I was devastated when I found out I needed to have a mastectomy. It was the final stage of losing control over what needed to be done in order for me to be healthy," she said.
"Right before I had it done I used to go to this support group called WellSpring and they had this article posted with a woman from St. Catharines who had a mastectomy and was posing topless with her mastectomy scars showing and she just looked so strong, so fierce ... it broke down that barrier for me."
I was quite surprised by how easily I was able to transition to the new normal and, if anything, I felt more empowered.
Morley celebrated her road to recovery with a cruise.
"Of course, that meant a bathing suit. I talk about confidence, but I didn't want to go out without having some kind of prosthetic in and either people did a really good job of not noticing, or people just [didn't] notice," she said.
Morley's decision to remove her second breast came much easier.
"I was quite surprised by how easily I was able to transition to the new normal and, if anything, I felt more empowered," she said. "I think that's one of the most important things to raise is it doesn't have to change who you are."
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