Where Breast Cancer and Sewing Intersect

About four years ago I found a lump which forever changed my life. To deal with the situation, I focused on the amazing advancements in medical treatments, the support of my friends, and sewing. Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, I’d like to share a little about how important sewing was to me while I was dealing with cancer. (Spoiler alert – I now have no evidence of disease; I’m healthy!)

My first phase of treatment was chemotherapy, and as a garment sewer, I asked what I needed to wear to the infusion room. (I was the kid who joined ballet for the tutu, and forty plus years later, the right outfit was still important to me!) During the intro to chemo class, I was told that the nurses just pulled collars down and to the side to administer infusions through the port I had installed near my right shoulder. I was horrified! They weren’t going to stretch out my handmade clothes! I immediately set out to make a couple of tops with front placket openings, which worked really well. I also took a piece of cashmere fabric – which some might have called a blanket- to each infusion to stay warm and remind me of happy times buying and sewing fabric.

At one point, the treatments were causing—neuropathy, numbness in my fingers—and my oncologist was concerned that I couldn’t sew. She adjusted the chemo cocktail to allow me to regain dexterity in my fingers.

Several months later I was preparing for a bilateral mastectomy. I learned I’d have post-surgery drainage bulbs and wouldn’t be able to lift my arms higher than my shoulders for about six weeks. I then set out to make a few tops with interior pockets to hold the drains and a front that opened all the way. Part of that task was anticipating what my new measurements would be. Before surgery I was a 38 DD. Who knew what I’d be after? I had decided to live flat (no reconstruction), so I made my best guess, learned how to do a small bust adjustment, and started sewing,

Post-surgery I still had several months of infusions and I made a dress (again with a front bodice opening) to wear to them. It’s still in my closet.

Adapting patterns, customizing pockets and packets, and adjusting to my new shape helped me bridge my pre-diagnosis and post-surgery life. Sewing was a constructive outlet during an intense and challenging ordeal. I hope you never have to face the same situation, but please consider monthly self-exams. As one slogan encourages, “feel them on the first” of every month.