this thing's incredible

The $13 Bra That Got Me Through Radiation Treatments

A model wears the author’s go-to radiation bra. Photo-Illustration: retailer

A little more than a year ago, I was sitting in a meeting when I looked down and noticed it: the Bulge. My post-lumpectomy bra was poking out from the top of my scoop-necked T-shirt in front of my boss and, if memory serves, my boss’s boss. And thanks to its long, zip-front closure, which wouldn’t quite lie flush against my skin, it jutted out in a speed-bump-esque hump that, I felt, proclaimed to everyone: “She’s wearing a cancer bra.”

While I was wearing a cancer bra — I was going through radiation for an early form of breast cancer (which my lovely surgeon evicted in May 2019) — I didn’t necessarily want my bra to announce that. It was one of several expensive cancer bras that online forums had told me to buy, and although those bras might have worked for others, none was ever a match for me. (Everyone’s surgery and physique are different, and I didn’t have the complication of a mastectomy.) So one evening, in between my favorite treatment-time hobbies — watching Below Deck and putting together jigsaw puzzles while propped up on a Strategist-recommended wedge pillow — I went down a social-media rabbit hole to look for a bra that wouldn’t make the process feel more dehumanizing than it already did.

A few online support groups led me to the Hanes Get Cozy bra, which sells for a fraction of the price of my most expensive cancer bra (which was $54) and comes in sizes up to 3XL. Many a support-group member promised that it combines all the best parts of “regular” and “radiation time” bras, describing how its more traditional cut, gentle V-neck, and bit of cinching in the center make the Hanes bra feel less clinical to wear. Because it’s a seamless, wireless pull-on bra, you can also peel it off gently during treatment, they added. The praise was convincing and the price modest, so I bought one. On top of matching the support-group members’ descriptions, the bra is the softest one I’ve ever owned, which was especially important during my last days of radiation, when the zaps can scorch your skin like a sunburn from hell and you do not want anything itchy, stiff, or irritating near your flesh. I soon bought three more and wore them (almost) every day for a year — and never once got another case of the Bulge.

I know it sounds sappy, but I grew to love my bra(s) the way one would an emotional-support animal. By the time I made it to radiation, I didn’t feel much like a human anymore but rather like a clump of partially toxic cells for people to poke and cut at. (And I still consider myself lucky for not having a worse case of cancer.) I felt like a lab specimen or, as my therapist called it, “patient-ified.” So while a cheap bra may seem like a very small thing when you’re facing the Big C, this one really was everything to me: It made me feel like a normal person dressed in normal clothes that she wears to do normal things. I continued to wear the bras for about a year once I was cancer free, then I put them aside in my drawer, where they sit next to my new favorite bra — it’s a pull-on too.

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