10 Products That Helped These Black Women Get Through Their Breast Cancer Treatment

by Bee Quammie
Products that helped black women get through breast cancer treatment. Bra, nail polish, a shirt and ...

For many women going through breast cancer treatment, looking good means feeling better overall. And while some may view focusing on style during such a serious time as frivolous vanity, many women who are actually going through this journey see this as an opportunity to boost their spirits and engage in something that makes them feel like the person they were before they entered this new chapter of their lives.

A review of international studies published in 2016 showed that for breast cancer survivors, specifically younger women (under 54-years-old), body image had a major impact on aspects of cancer survivorship. The research found that mastectomies and chemotherapy treatment can affect one's confidence and femininity, contributing to low body image and a poorer quality of life. The review concluded that in order to support a healthier quality of life, more interventions would be needed to help cancer survivors address specific body image issues — and some organizations have taken on that task. Programs like the American Cancer Society's Look Good Feel Better workshop, which offers free in-person beauty classes, addresses the psychosocial needs of patients, filling an important gap in treatment by helping women to restore their identity.

For black women specifically, the connection between cancer treatment and beauty can be incredibly complex. But business coach Monique Bryan, appellate attorney Shondriette Kelley, as well as paralegal and certified life coach Natalie Wilson all relied on fashion and beauty products as a means of therapy throughout their breast cancer treatments. Here are 10 of their go-tos that helped them to look and feel their best throughout their journeys.

Azure Skies Cosima Kimono

Bryan was diagnosed with triple positive breast cancer one week after she turned 36. For treatment, she went through eight rounds of chemotherapy, 21 rounds of radiation, and had a lumpectomy to remove any remaining cancer cells. Thankfully, she has just celebrated one year of being in remission, and is now taking a daily dose of Tamoxifen to prevent the cancer from returning.

Nathalia Allen

During treatment, the Toronto native says kimono robes were her go-to throughout the process. "They were really light [and] because the chemotherapy gives you crazy hot flashes, I needed something that would breathe," she explains. Kimonos not only look great, but they're also flexible enough to easily put on post-surgery, when many aren't able to fully raise their arms, and they also leave enough room for drainage tubes as well. Bryan says she frequented Zara and Aritzia for her fashion fix.

Oyin Handmade Whipped Pudding

Maryland-based Kelley was diagnosed with stage IIA breast cancer four months before she turned 40. An aggressive course of treatment was prescribed, consisting of a lumpectomy, followed by a lymphadenectomy, eight rounds of chemotherapy, 30 sessions of radiation, and a brief stint in the ICU after going into a diabetic coma.

Courtesy of Shondriette Kelley

Now at 41, Kelley receives monthly injections of Zoladex and takes Tamoxifen daily. She also visits her oncologist every three months, and can now say, "So far, so good" when asked if she's still in remission. While she was going through her journey, Kelley notes that severe dry skin was one of the side effects she experienced during chemo, but she was able to find relief by using Oyin Handmade's Whipped Pudding — a thick, shea butter-based hair and body cream that keeps the dry skin at bay.

Amoena Annette Non-Wired Mastectomy Bra

At 35, Toronto-based Wilson began her fight with breast cancer, with the disease returning two more times after her initial diagnosis. The licensed paralegal, certified life coach, and motivational speaker initially battled ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a non-invasive form from of the disease, when her journey began in 2008 — undergoing a double nipple-sparing mastectomy followed by a challenging breast reconstruction. A few years later in 2013, she was diagnosed with Paget's disease, a cancer that affects the nipple, then got hit with the news that the DCIS had returned. But despite her ongoing battle with the disease, Wilson reigned triumphant and is now cancer-free and undergoing breast reconstruction once again.

Irene Dominguez

During her multiple reconstruction processes, Wilson has had to use custom bras and swimsuits that worked with prosthetic breasts, finding great options with brands like Amoena and American Breast Care. With a wide range of options, both of these brands have all kinds of beautiful bras and lingerie made for women who have undergone mastectomies and other related breast surgeries. But while she was happy to find some things that worked for her, she did wish the prosthetics she was provided with were a bit more diverse. "The prosthetics came in flesh tones and even had a nipple," Wilson shares. "The pet peeve I had was that I never saw dark-skinned, flesh-toned prosthetics." Unfortunately, exclusion is a problem that is all too common for black women across the spectrum.

Butter London Nail Lacquer

Both Bryan and Kelley shared that chemotherapy often turns patients' nail black during treatment, so a safe, non-toxic polish was high on their list of beauty must-haves during their journeys.

Brands like Butter London, OPI, and Zoya were among their top picks, offering bright, beautiful colors in an "8-free" formula — meaning their lacquers did not contain toxins like formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, or triphenyl phosphate, some of which are said to be linked to breast cancer.

Dermablend Professional Leg And Body Makeup

After her mastectomies, reconstruction surgeries, and fat grafting procedures, Wilson notes that she was left with several scars on her chest and legs.

She shares that body makeup by brands like Dermablend Professional helped her to cover scars and blemishes, giving her a more even skin tone.

Head Wraps

When she wasn't in the mood to throw on a wig or hat, Bryan would reach for a colorful head wrap to raise her style quotient — and stay protected from the elements.

"With a compromised immune system you cannot afford to get sick," Bryan explains, stressing the point that multi-functional, protective fashion is crucial for women going through breast cancer treatment. In sunny weather, head wraps protect sensitive scalps from the sun's rays, and in chilly weather, they help to keep heads covered and not exposed to the cold. Bryan recommends brands like The Wrap Life and Cee Cee's Closet — they both have a great selection of wraps in different colors, patterns, and sizes.

Tom's Of Maine Long Lasting Deodorant

"During radiation, my radiologist recommended I switch to a natural deodorant," shares Kelley. "Something without aluminum, and Tom's worked well for me."

The National Cancer Insitute suggests that aluminum, a key ingredient in many antiperspirants, can be absorbed into the skin, leading to hormonal changes that may cause breast cancer. And while there isn't yet a solid answer on whether or not this is absolutely true, many cancer patients would rather not take on any additional risks during treatment. Deodorants like Tom's are natural, smell lovely, and work efficiently without the use of aluminum. Kiss My Face and Rocky Mount Soap Co. are also great natural deodorant options as well.

Thrive Causemetics Pink Lips + Lashes Set

Having a fresh, glowing face can be a great pick-me-up for a lot of people, and for anyone going through cancer treatment, it can be even more meaningful. Thrive Causemetics was one of Bryan's favorite tools to maintain her glow during treatment — and for good reason. The company offers luxury cosmetics that are vegan, cruelty-free, and made without latex, parabens, or sulfates. Latex is considered a carcinogen, and other studies have linked parabens to breast cancer cell growth. Also, women undergoing cancer treatment tend to be more sensitive to certain chemicals, so sulfate exposure can lead to a host of complications.

Thrive was founded by Karissa Bodnar in memory of her friend Kristy, who passed away from cancer. And for every product purchased, Thrive donates the same product to a woman in need — who is either experiencing cancer, homelessness, or domestic violence. So not only will this brand having you looking and feeling great, you'll also be doing something good for another woman as well!

Warby Parker Light Responsive Lenses

"With chemo came extreme sensitivity to light — all light, indoor and outdoor. I would get these crazy headaches," Bryan reveals. So she decided to invest in fashionable sunglasses with photochromic lenses — glasses that transition in sunlight — to protect not only her eyes, but to also help cover her bare brows.

Warby Parker's Light Responsive Lenses helped Bryan to see comfortably, stay stylish, and protect her sensitive eyes during treatment.

Now Essential Oils 100 Percent Pure Lavender

Due to their overpowering scents and synthetic ingredients, perfume was a no-no during cancer treatment for Bryan, who opted for essential oils like lavender and peppermint instead.

In addition to smelling good, essential oils have great benefits. For example, lavender is known for stress reduction and improving sleep, and peppermint oil is great for boosting energy and calming headaches. The National Cancer Institute also reports that essential oils are beneficial during cancer treatment due to their natural plant bases and their use in aromatherapy.

While each of their cancer journeys were different, Bryan, Kelley, and Wilson all agree that finding ways to feel their best while going through treatment was a challenge. But simple products like a cute lipstick, a comfy kimono, or a beautiful head wrap made a huge impact for these women, and gave them the self-esteem and resilience needed to keep fighting while always looking fly.