Body & Fitness

Two women who turned breast cancer into a new beginning

There’s no doubt a breast cancer diagnosis is scary, but for some women it inspires a business venture that’s life-changing – for themselves and their customers.
Emma Conyngham

Emma Conyngham

When Emma Conyngham, 43, had breast reduction surgery she expected to come away with her size 10F breasts reduced to a B-cup.

Instead, doctors told her they had found cancer in her breast tissue – which hadn’t shown up in pre-surgery mammo-grams – and that she needed further surgery to remove her breasts altogether.

Nice nips

“I’d only had my new tiny boobs for three weeks and they were still black and blue and bruised when they said they had to come off and I needed a double mastectomy,” says Conyngham.

“It’s been very quick for me. The whole thing happened very fast; my head is still spinning.”

She then underwent reconstructive surgery and, “looking like something out of a slasher movie”, turned to temporary nipple tattoos to help her reconstructed breasts look more natural. The former aid worker was unable to find designs she liked at an affordable price, so decided to make her own tattoos under the cheeky brand name Nice Nips.

“You peel the plastic layer and put them up against your breast with a wet cloth and, hey presto, you have nipples again,” she says.

“The idea is to bridge the gap from when you had your mastectomy to when you have your final nipple reconstruction, which is anywhere from one to three years. That said, we’ve got many customers who say they can’t be bothered getting nipples again because they’re so exhausted by all the surgeries and they plan on using these forever.”

The tattoos, $20 for three pairs, last four to six days and can be removed with eucalyptus oil. Women who’ve had a single mastectomy can provide a photo of their remaining nipple and Conyngham will create a matching tattoo. This service costs $140 the first time.

“Women put them on and say it’s an incredibly emotional moment,” says Conyngham. “You become quite divorced from your boobs after a mastectomy – they’re surgical objects that are pushed and pulled by surgeons. When you put the nipples back on, it’s like saying, ‘I’m back’. The cancer is gone and you’re reclaiming your territory.”

The tattoos are available online at nicenips.myshopify.com

Queen Zaria

Most 23-year-olds have no trouble finding lingerie to fit, but after pilot Kamya Ghose underwent a mastectomy just 18 days after being diagnosed with breast cancer, she quickly realised finding a bra to suit her new shape was almost impossible.

“Ever since I had my operation I haven’t been able to find a normal, attractive mastectomy bra, which means I haven’t been able to feel normal or wear normal clothes,” says Ghose.

“I remember walking into a shop and the shop assistant was sympathetic about what happened but when we couldn’t find any bras she just said, ‘Why don’t you just wear a jacket over it?’ To me that kind of response wasn’t really good enough – why should I have to wear a jacket over all my clothes?”

Research revealed a huge gap in the New Zealand market for mastectomy bras so Ghose decided to design her own. The new business, named Queen Zaria after the African warrior leader, is just about to launch.

Ghose says her pretty lingerie will provide support and style for women who have undergone surgery for breast cancer – as well as plenty of lace, frills and diamantes.

“When you’ve been through something so devastating your self-esteem obviously drops down and you think, ‘Why is this happening to me?’” says Ghose.

“You start feeling quite helpless and to not be able to wear your normal clothes and your normal wardrobe on top of that, it’s even more devastating.

“A bra is the first thing you put on in the morning and the last thing you take off at night, so it should be something that makes you feel good about yourself. And we all know how good it feels wearing a matching set, so why lose that feeling because you’ve had surgery?”

The bras will be available to purchase online from early next year. Prices will range from $80 to $250.

Related stories