Fort Myers Surgeon Develops A Bra For Post-Surgical Breast Cancer Patients

Nov 7, 2014

Susan Hunter (left) and Dr. Lea Blackwell. Blackwell recently received a patent (pictured) for a bra aimed at making post-surgery recovery less painful for breast cancer patients.
Credit Ashley Lopez / WGCU

Dr. Lea Blackwell of Fort Myers is a surgeon specializing in treating breast cancer patients.

Through the years, she’s performed hundreds of mastectomies and lumpectomies. In that time she’s heard a lot of her patients complain about the bra they have to wear following their surgeries.

“They said, ‘how long are you going to make me wear this? I hate this thing,” Blackwell explained.

Blackwell said hospitals typically put patients in bras they say are really uncomfortable. Besides a weak Velcro clasp in the front that easily comes undone, she said the bra in general is just poorly designed.

The seam is placed right over where the nipple is,” she noted as she held a standard post-surgical bra in front of her chest.

“I also noticed that the sides were really high,” she said. “Ultimately, that was designed to help distribute the compression. However, the way that breast surgery has evolved – and even at the time when this bra was developed—you make incisions underneath the arm. And so this side was hitting right where incisions are.”

Dr. Blackwell's prototype bras in different sizes and colors.
Credit Ashley Lopez / WGCU

Furthermore, Blackwell said women don’t have a lot of options. Not wearing a bra is uncomfortable, too.

Susan Hunter from Fort Myers is one of Blackwell’s patients. She’s currently dealing with a second round of breast cancer and recently had a double mastectomy- meaning both her breasts were surgically removed. Hunter said right after surgery she felt suddenly losing the support of a bra was unsettling.

“There was nothing,” she said. “There was no dressing or no support or anything-- and I felt very exposed and insecure and like I couldn’t touch it. You know, I was very afraid.”

So, Dr. Blackwell said she decided she needed to create her own bra for her patients. She wanted a bra that had a sturdy clasp that was easy to open and close. Blackwell said she decided upon smaller versions of life preserver vest clasps. She lowered the sides of the bra, so they wouldn’t touch the incisions, too.

She also chose a fabric for her bras that are more breathable and comfortable, especially for her patients here in Florida. And after months of working on a prototype with a local seamstress, she finally had a bra she could put on her patients after surgery, including Hunter.

"I think that there is a lot of really strong feelings about people that are suffering with breast cancer in particular because there is a lot of emotion involved with breast cancer and it affects so many people." -- Dr. Lea Blackwell

“It just gave me a little bit of support that I really felt I needed without being a dressing that you have to look at and be like ‘oh, what am I supposed to do with that? How am I supposed to change this?’” Hunter said.

Blackwell said she’s getting a lot of good feedback, mostly from nurses who help breast cancer patients on a daily basis. But, she’s primarily trying to make sure she’s taking care of the physical – as well as emotional—needs of her growing number of breast cancer patients.

“You know, women are such caretakers,” Blackwell explained. “I think that there is a lot of really strong feelings about people that are suffering with breast cancer in particular because – there is a lot of emotion involved with breast cancer and it affects so many people.”

Throughout the design process Blackwell also sought out a patent for her bra, which she recently received. Right now, she said she’s looking for a manufacturer that will help her get the bra to more women.