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Who is wearing that yellow Polka Dot bikini anyway?
I can hear that sharp intake of breathe, the pulse rate is starting to rise and you’re feeling a little hot and sweaty (and that isn't just the hot flush!) and all because you have read the word ‘bikini’ and it is the summer.
If you have just finished cancer treatment or are still going through it, this little itsy bitsy teeny weeny word could become a gigantic and rather overwhelmingly large problem, especially if you have a holiday planned.
Some of the side effects of treatment and surgery like scars, swelling, bruising and discolouration may not seem much to friends and family who have watched us heal and recover to some extent but the physical and emotional dents to our confidence that these bullets make are massive and can cause a lot of anxiety and stress. Our body image has likely changed in some shape or form and the steroids and drugs can also make us puffy and put on weight as well as lose weight. I know it may sound crazy to be getting that worked up about something that should be exciting and it may come over as a little vain but this is a real situation and one that I feel gets very overlooked.
After my chemo finished, I went on a short break to France and stayed in a budget gitte as a little break before my radio started. We were in an area near Lourdes and it was the most magical, beautiful place I had ever been. I needed this time to breathe and hilariously hugged trees, did some gentle yoga, had healing head massages and relaxed in the stunning French countryside eating baguettes and cheese! I didn't want to lie on a busy sandy beach, where I would most probably feel vulnerable and uncomfortable. My hair was slowly growing back and I wasn’t a huge fan of my reflection in the mirror with clothes on! I love the sun but I needed a holiday to nurture my body and wellbeing, not crush it!
With all the benefits about taking breaks and choosing holidays as goals during treatment, things take on a whole new approach. Planning a break to celebrate the end of treatment or to give you a change of scene are so healing and such a boost but while BC (before cancer) you may have opted for hot and sunny beaches, you may be looking at cooler destinations now, like mountains and lakes where you don’t have to bare your body like some Baywatch wannabe. However, if hotter climbs are your thing and you are seriously considering paying extra baggage to take a solid folding screen to hide behind, let’s see if there aren’t some strategic things we can do to make it a little less of the holiday from hell!
Clothing and swimwear
This area is probably the most challenging but there are many swimwear brands that have been created to give us a little comfort and confidence, especially if we have had breast surgeries and we are concerned about wearing underwired bikini tops or having to insert fillers for mastectomies.
About The Girl is a fab website. I met Amy a few years ago when she came to sell her lingerie and swimwear at an event I threw to raise money for my Moonwalk back in 2012. It is still going strong I am pleased to say and I am not surprised. Amy had breast cancer herself so understands the frustrations and sells many types of matching underwear but also a lovely range of gorgeous swimwear as well as beach wear and beanies to wear with pocketed swimwear http://www.aboutthegirl.co.uk/seafolly
Tankinis are also a great option for keeping under wraps while wanting to swim http://www.nicolajane.com/mastectomy/swimwear/
This website is also very sensitive to the frustrations post surgery and/or breast cancer. Get the credit card out and get shopping!
Hats come in all shapes and sizes and can accessorise any summer wear in a pretty way. Again, the shops are filled to bursting with hats and sunglasses to help us give Audrey Hepburn a run for her money, but accessorising for a holiday spent lying horizontal on sun beds can help us feel more feminine and confident.
There is also the kaftan option and nowadays there is a huge amount of choice in this area. Shops such as Accessorize and Monsoon are great for these and Boden, Next and Debenhams have a lovely selection at the moment.
This area can also be overwhelming and with the heightened awareness of skin cancer there are plenty of high factors around. If, like me, you have scars that you can’t always cover, it is good to wear a factor 50 specifically on those areas and anything else from a 30-50 or whatever you feel more comfortable with.
There are many safer sun lotions on the market today. I have tried both the Neal’s Yard factor 30 and 50 as well as the Arbonne factor 30. Both are great. The Arbonne needs to be applied at least half an hour before sun exposure and the Neal’s Yard gives great coverage but it is very chalky the higher you go and does look a bit like you have dipped your hands in clay. My daughter is very fair and I used the Neal’s Yard 50 on her on holiday and though not fab to apply it certainly did the trick and she didn't burn at all. Other skincare brands are also available including Jason and Fresh.
This is something we can find easily. We don’t necessarily need to bagsy a bed with our towels at 6am to make sure we get the best spot but if we have hats, umbrellas, palm trees (or any trees) or a covered balcony or terrace, we can sit on a sun lounger in bikini (or long sleeved maxi dress!) and read our holiday fiction for hours! We can hide in our own self-made shadow safe in the knowledge that no ultra violet rays will get us!
If a holiday alone is your thing, good for you but if you are anxious about exposing your body and being away and you are feeling vulnerable, lean on your friends and family. Get together and brain storm a few alternative ideas. Maybe a retreat where you can totally nurture your wellbeing and chill out - sign up for a walking holiday, a trip to Italy to paint or to Morocco to do a few days cooking course! It could be a good way to find a new focus to help you move forward rather than just relaxing on a beach.
Another thing that can help if you are feeling self-conscious is to go shopping with a good friend or family member to get their trusted opinion and let them help you pick things out to help you feel better. Alternatively, if the idea of going into random changing rooms and hiding behind curtains that never pull completely shut makes you feel sick, buy some bits and pieces online, get the girls over, open a bottle of wine and have a girls night in while trying things on. It’s way more safe, private and comfortable in your own surroundings and once you have decided what works and what doesn’t, you can take the rest back - just remember to keep the receipt!!
Whether you are going away or lying in the garden, baring all after cancer treatment is a whole new ball game. It is a minefield and can be hugely unsettling. The information can be so overwhelming. We need vitamin D for our bone health, especially if we are on hormonal treatment and yet we are constantly advised to stay out of the sun. We are bombarded with magazines of models in varying amounts of swimwear and made to feel that, unless we look like that, we may as well hide in a dark hole. Summer becomes just another casualty of cancer, depending on our levels of self-confidence, where we are with our treatment, what sort of cancer we had and our general wellbeing.
While some of these tips may feel obvious, they may also help calm the racing pulse and remind us that there are always options and choices. It’s your choice whether you want to expose your body and your choice where you want to do it. Make those choices for you and empower yourself. Decide what is best for your wellbeing for optimum relaxation and breathe. You know what you need to maximise your healing and if a holiday is a box on that list, go with your gut and book something that will make that itsy bitsy teeny weeny problem, even weenier! After all...
‘Sexiness isn't being young, hot and wearing a bikini. It’s being powerful and feeling like you belong in your skin and it feels good.’