Breast cancer survivors hold fashion parade on Sunshine Coast

Full Article – Posted 
Breast cancer survivor Joanna Atzori now describes herself as "flat, fabulous and fierce".(ABC Sunshine Coast: Meg Bolton)

After her first mastectomy, Sunshine Coast woman Joanna Atzori couldn’t bear to look in the mirror. Her cancer was so deep her right breast could not be reconstructed,  and18 months later she had the left breast removed too.

“It was very traumatic coming to terms with my new body,” Ms Atzori said.

“You ask yourself ‘Am I still 100 per cent woman?’ The answer is yes but what you see in the mirror tells a different story.

“As a woman who had E-cup breasts, on one side I was flat and then the other side I still had a breast remaining and that can be really confronting.”

Ms Atzori struggled to look in the mirror after her first mastectomy. (Supplied: Empire Art Photography)

Mindset coach Rhonda Jansen said she also struggled with her new appearance after her double mastectomy and reconstruction, despite having 22 years of experience teaching coping mechanisms to others.

“I looked in the mirror and I didn’t look the same,” Ms Jansen said.

“The scars didn’t worry me so much, it was just looking different.

“I really believe that all those years of me being a mindset coach helped me through all my treatment, helped me through my surgery, helped me mentally on those really dark days.”

Ms Jansen hopes the fashion show empowers and reassures other survivors.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Meg Bolton)

After uniting at a local support group for breast cancer survivors, Ms Atzori realised the pair weren’t alone in their struggle and decided to take action.

She organised a fashion parade for like-minded survivors to model mastectomy lingerie in front of more than 200 audience members this weekend — a chance for the women to show they’re more than their diagnosis.

“There will be a range of women with different surgical outcomes,” Ms Atzori said.

“Some reconstructed, which means they’ve had breasts surgically reconstructed after their mastectomy.

“Some of them are what we term in the community as a uni-boober, that means that they have one breast natural, and they wear a prosthesis on the other side; others don’t.”

She said many people wrongly assumed all women could have their breasts reconstructed post-mastectomy.

“We like to call ourselves flat, fabulous and fierce and that’s something that I try to live every day,” she said.

“We wanted to feel beautiful and sexy and show the world that breast cancer doesn’t have to define how you feel about yourself.”

The event was inspired by a “powerful” mastectomy lingerie catwalk at New York Fashion Week.

“I wanted to do the fashion parade to let women know that it doesn’t matter what we’ve been through, we can still flourish, we can still thrive after breast cancer,” Ms Jansen said.

“Unfortunately I don’t think there’s enough support out there for women and men with regards to helping them mentally through breast cancer, and not just while they’re going through it but afterwards as well.

“It’s a huge area of our health system that needs to be looked at.”

The need to unite

Breast cancer physiotherapist Jen McKenzie said patients commonly struggled with their mental health during and post-treatment.

“Every single day in the clinic I will see women who have pretty low mental health because emotionally, they have been through hell and back,” Ms McKenzie said.

“Physically they are scarred, they are fatigued, they have lost muscle mass, bone stock, they’ve lost range of motion, they can end up with side effects of treatments, such as peripheral neuropathy, where they lose feeling in their fingers, in their feet.

“I’m hopeful that some of the people that are attending this event are going to be recent breast cancer survivors so that they can see that there’s a life after breast cancer [and] they’re not alone.”

Lingerie store employee Chris Gale helps Ms Atzori with a fitting.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Meg Bolton )

Mastectomy lingerie store employee Chris Gale said the company tried to increase support and morale among survivors by fitting them with specialised bras in the hospital post-surgery.

“Mostly there’s tears when a lady is first fitted because they can’t believe how well it can feel and nice it can look,” Ms Gale said.

“They will walk in feeling quite deflated; after we’ve put on a really nice, well-fitting bra with a prosthetic in there it’s amazing.

“They look three foot taller on cloud nine.”

She said prosthetics came in a range of sizes, shapes and were made from different materials allowing women to pick the breasts best suited to their lifestyle and taste.

Ms Atzori said the mastectomy range assisted her to reclaim her confidence and sex appeal.

“It’s taken me three years to get to this point of feeling confident in myself and just saying, ‘This is me, this is who I am’,” she said.

Ms Atzori hopes the fashion show will help other survivors find self-acceptance.(Supplied: Empire Art Photography)