Japan breast cancer survivor designs underwear to help others cope with the disease

Kyodo

A breast cancer survivor has created an undershirt with a built-in bra to help other women fighting the disease.

After having one of her breasts removed due to cancer, Mie Bowman, 36, now runs an underwear business called Shitagiya Clove. She holds sessions in the city of Saitama where women being treated for breast cancer can share their experiences and concerns while trying the underwear.

Bowman was diagnosed with early stage cancer at 31 and chose to undergo a mastectomy, but the surgery left her self-conscious about her appearance and reluctant to go out in public.

She also found it difficult to purchase suitable underwear, with items for breast cancer patients only available online, meaning she could not try them on beforehand. The items she did purchase were not comfortable, she recalled.

“I thought there may be others with the same problem,” said Bowman, adding that the experience inspired her to create more comfortable products herself. She launched her business in May 2016.

Developing the underwear was not easy. After making countless calls to find companies willing to work with her, she finally found one in Saitama Prefecture.

She asked other cancer survivors to try on her sample products and repeatedly modified them based on their feedback. Many said they felt uncomfortable from the sweat caused by hormone treatments and were bothered by the tightness of the underwear.

Reflecting their input, she decided to make the underwear out of cotton to prevent it from sticking to the skin, and inserted underarm sweat pads. It also uses thin round pads to create a natural curve, and lace instead of wires and elastic bands to provide support.

Bowman raised money through crowdfunding and other means, and started full production and sales from May last year.

She also holds fitting and chat sessions every two months to give women a chance to try the customized underwear and share their experiences with cancer.

“I was feeling lonely while I was undergoing treatment and I wanted friends,” Bowman said, reflecting on her experience.

“When people tell me they feel better after talking, it makes me happy. I want to continue providing a place where people can feel comfortable,” she said.

Bowman also offers individual fitting sessions for women who cannot take part in the gatherings.

“I hope that one day people can look back at their experience and see their illness in a positive light,” she said.