Be the Boss Over Cancer

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The what-do-I-wear questions multiply when you're undergoing treatment for cancer, but a little planning can reduce the stress you feel about your new clothing needs. To decrease the time and energy you spend on your clothes create a work uniform. Find a basic "look" that suits your needs both professionally and physically. This doesn't mean you can't vary it, but a few no-brainers in your closet means your wardrobe is one less thing to think about.


The most common side effect of treatment — fatigue — is something you can be prepared for. If you know you'll need lie down during the day or that you'll be going back to work after a session, wear clothes that don't wrinkle easily. Pick up some low-heeled, comfortable shoes and leave a pair at the office. Walking in heels becomes twice as difficult when you're feeling drained.

The Ultimate Sun Block

Both chemo and radiation increase your skin's sensitivity to sunlight. Even if you're dark skinned and never burn, you need to protect yourself. External radiation therapy will affect the specific part of your body being treated. This area should not be exposed to sunlight for more than five or ten minutes at a stretch. If you're undergoing chemo, your whole body will become sun-sensitive, especially those areas that rarely see UV rays, like your scalp. Avoid exposure, particularly between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and protect your skin as follows:

  • Wear clothes that cover you, such as long-sleeves and pants or longer skirts.
  • Choose tightly woven fabrics.
  • Invest in several broad-brimmed hats.
  • Use accessories like scarves and shawls to cover your chest, throat and neck.
  • Always be aware when you're in the sun (for example, when driving, your left arm can be exposed to lot of UV rays).

Weight Gain and Loss

While many women lose weight during chemo, other treatments, such as steroids, may cause bloating. In both cases, opt for loose and unstructured clothes instead of tailored designs that will look awkward if they don't fit properly. If your face becomes puffy, try V-necks that elongate rounder faces. Crew necks and other round necklines will give the illusion of fullness if you're looking drawn from rapid weight loss.


As your therapy progresses, your skin may become increasingly sensitive, dry or moist. Avoid irritating fabrics, like wool and roughly woven fibers. Breathable fabrics, such as cotton, silk and rayon, are generally more comfortable and absorbent than polyester. Chemo increases the risk of vaginal infections, so switch to cotton underwear and cotton-crotch pantyhose.

Post Mastectomy Clothing

Since your arm will be stiff and sore for several weeks after surgery, stock up on soft tops and sleepwear that either close in the front or can be pulled on over your hips.

  • Mastectomy Camisoles: Until a soft cotton bra becomes comfortable, camisoles that give light support without binding are good alternatives. Mastectomy camisoles contain inner pouches that hold lightweight breast forms in place.
  • Mastectomy Bras and Breast Forms: A number of companies make mastectomy bras with pockets to secure breast forms, but many women find it more comfortable to wear a prosthesis that attaches directly to the body and can be worn with many standard bras. Your doctor will provide information on local stores that specialize in breast forms; while you can mail-order a prosthesis, going to a shop in person will assure a better fit.
  • Mastectomy Swimsuits: Post Mastectomy swimsuits include a pocket(s) for holding a breast form. Styles and costs vary by maker and many can be found by searching the internet.

Post mastectomy products can be found at the Web sites of The American Cancer Society ( and The Woman's Personal Health Resource, Inc. ( both offer a wide range of post-mastectomy products.


Most people with ostomies eventually find they can wear anything they wore before the surgery, including bathing suits and jeans. But it takes time to become comfortable with your new elimination system. For the first few months, loose-fitting drawstring or light, elasticized skirts and pants will be most comfortable. It is important not to wear anything that cuts across or rubs against the stoma, including underwear and belts. Pleated or relaxed-fit trousers and full skirts offer extra room that can mask any bulge, as do longer blouses and jackets. Thigh-high stockings with elasticized tops are a good alternative to pantyhose that may be too binding.

Other Operations

Both the Port-A-Cath and the central venous catheter (CVC line) create a few special dressing considerations. Avoid anything that might clip or puncture the line, like pins and front closure bras. To mask the Port or CVC, wear tops that drape over the area with tucks, pleats or gathers. Shoulder pads are useful because they hold fabric away from the body and can be added to most garments. If you're using an ambulatory infusion pump (a small computerized drug-delivery system you carry with you), ask to see it beforehand because you may want to buy a case for it on your own — the ones that come with the pumps scream medical supply warehouse.

Additional Resources:


Beauty & Cancer: A Woman's Guide to Looking Great While Experiencing the Side Effects of Cancer Therapy
by Diana Doan Noyes

Stores and Web sites

Jodee After-Surgery Inner Fashions
A JC Penney catalog which offers post-surgery bras and breast forms by mail order.

Offers a range of services, including prosthesis fitters by appointment in the lingerie departments, scarf/hat fitting, and makeup tips in the accessories and cosmetic departments.
Call your nearest store.

Tender Loving Care
A mail-order accessories catalog published by the American Cancer Society, which offers bras, breast forms and Cole of California swimwear.

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Hot Weather Tips: Bathing Suits and Wigs


Look Good...Feel Better Program
Women-only seminars sponsored by the American Cancer Society and the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. Complete beauty consultation and makeover, hair replacement, and prosthesis advice.
Telephone: 1-800-395-LOOK (call for dates and locations)
Web site: