“For large and small breasts, uneven or not at all”, is the refrain of the Garran boutique, Colleen’s Lingerie and Swimwear.
There I joined local woman Belinda ‘Bin’ Barnier as she bought “a pair of boobs”.
Warm and upbeat, she tells me about her three decades in the non-profit sector, helping the community through the Red Cross, the Canberra Theater and now as a manager at OzHarvest.
In fact, she bumped into Colleen while she was working at the Leukemia Foundation, just half a mile away. It was her lunchtime haunt and it was there that she met the store manager and now good friend, Gillian.
“Then in November 2019, out of the blue, I was diagnosed with very aggressive breast cancer,” Bin says. “It was triple negative, which means it could go straight to the brain and the lungs very quickly.
“From diagnosis to hospitalization, it took about 10 days. It was a blessing that I knew this store was here. It became my safety net.
“I walked in, kind of like a dazed mule. I was shocked because I felt so healthy. I wasn’t sick but I was about to go to the hospital.
“The ladies here were sweet and caring. They took me to a locker room and very kindly gave me some advice. For a second, it wasn’t overwhelming.
“They said they would be there to see me through the process. I felt safe.
In camera, Bin shows me the scars where her breasts were removed. Her eyes light up when she sees a piece of clothing in the back of the room.
“That’s the one I took to the hospital!” she exclaims, grabbing the bra. “It’s a soft shape, which was so nice that I’ll never wear underwire again.”
You wouldn’t know it from her sunny nature, early diagnosis, and full recovery, but Bin’s breast cancer journey has been filled with pain and complications.
“Unfortunately, 30% of patients who undergo a mastectomy may develop a complication called seroma. This is a large amount of fluid at the wound site that needs to be drained regularly.
“I had unrealistic expectations. I expected to be back at work in a fortnight. I am back to work full speed now, three months after the operation. Until you do, you don’t know what to expect.
“It took a good four months after chemo to feel good physically. I had real arthritis and was in chronic pain 24 hours a day.
“The chemo tends to trigger whatever your underlying undiagnosed condition is.
“Life has become very basic, living on bed rest and soup.
“Getting out and moving around again has become very important. It was nice to get back to normal a bit. I used to make an effort on chemo days to look my best because it definitely made a difference, even if I didn’t feel my best.
The quirky appeal of Colleen’s shop that attracted Bin during her lunch breaks, has cemented it as a haven.
“The way she decorated it, it’s so girly! Sitting on the beautiful canvas seats and absorbing the comfort, the knowledge, the experience of this store – that’s what makes it a safe space.
“There is empowerment in knowledge and empowerment in choice.
“As a youngster I was small, but as I got older and had kids I got quite tall. I actually found my breasts quite awkward,” she laughs.
“I wore a prosthesis even though I had only had one mastectomy; at the moment i’m not wearing anything and i really like the freedom of it.
“I’m very lucky to have the full support of my partner. He said, as long as you’re healthy and you’re here, that’s number one.
“I have friends who have undergone an appalling amount of surgery to get reconstruction. If people are ready to go down this road, I congratulate them. Having my mastectomy and undergoing chemo was more than enough for me.
Today, Bin buys a bra with small breast forms to wear with tight dresses.
“It’s empowering. I feel like I made a decision for my body; I didn’t want surgery anymore and it’s an easy fix.
She was beaming. “I can be tall or short, whatever I want depending on the day.”
You can find Colleen’s at 22 Garran Place, Garran.
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