Thriving after a breast cancer diagnosis with style and confidence | BCAM 2023
After going flat, Rosemary Carrera embraces her new body by rocking a signature style and helping others do the same.
If you had peeked into Rosemary’s pre-cancer closet, you would have found three hues: black, white, and denim. But all that changed after Rosemary was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer at age 40 and had a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, a hysterectomy, radiation therapy, and, eventually, breast reconstruction.
Initially, Rosemary opted for breast implants, but after her reconstruction surgery, she recalls, “The pain and discomfort I was enduring were taking a significant toll on me.” She had a frank discussion with her surgeon and had the implants removed. Her relief was immediate, and Rosemary regained mobility and comfort that she hadn't realized she had lost.
Now, Rosemary finds joy in wearing vibrant colors, patterns, and styles she would never have considered. She also wears tight-fitting tops that accentuate her flat chest. As she says, “For me, it’s really important for my tops to fit snugly because if I wear something that's a little bit loose on top, I notice my shoulders start to shrug and everything just hangs off me. But when I wear a top that's really tight, I stand tall, my shoulders are back, and I'm like, yes, I'm flat. Look at me.”
It took a few months to figure out what style worked for her new body — not an easy task for Rosemary, who finds going to the mall “torture.” Still, she spent the time to try on different types of outfits and mix different ideas until she finally found that a tight top and a loose bottom with a fun print and bright colors really “felt good.” Once she made that discovery, shopping became easier.
Rosemary emphasizes the importance of recognizing that there is no one solution when it comes to breast reconstruction. She says, “Each person is unique and their priorities and needs differ. It's essential to evaluate what matters most to you. Do you value physical activity and comfort over appearance, or is how your clothes fit a higher priority? There's no right or wrong answer; it's a personal choice.”
When I wear a top that's really tight, I stand tall, my shoulders are back, and I'm like, yes, I'm flat. Look at me.
Talking about her choices
Often, people will stop Rosemary on the street and ask her if she’s had breast cancer. She’s open to talking about her journey, especially if it encourages someone to get a mammogram given her experience: “If I can inspire or educate someone through my fashion choices, I'm more than happy to engage in that conversation.”
The hardest conversation happened recently, and it was with her almost six-year-old daughter. They were in the shower after a long day in the pool, and her daughter asked, “Mommy, why don't you look like the other moms?” When Rosemary asked what she meant, her daughter pointed to her chest, saying “You don’t have these.” So, they had a conversation her daughter could understand, about mommy having been sick for a while and how getting better left scars.
As her daughter grows, she is certain that they’ll continue having age-appropriate conversations. Basically, Rosemary will answer, “I like the way I look.”
Rosemary hopes that by confidently embracing her appearance and wearing outfits that accentuate her flat chest, she can instill a sense of body confidence in her daughter and others.
Still, embracing a post-breast cancer surgery body is a process, one that is ongoing. On occasion, Rosemary will experience what she refers to as "breast envy" when she sees women with full, voluptuous figures wearing certain styles of dresses that she feels she can't pull off. But her priorities have shifted after her breast cancer diagnosis. For her, comfort and well-being matter more.
As president of the 305 Pink Pack, which provides resources and support services to women in cancer treatment in South Florida, Rosemary is dedicated to bridging the information gap for the Spanish-speaking community, particularly in Miami.
In a community where it is very common for people to often take the advice of their neighbors before their doctor’s, Rosemary wants to ensure that accurate and valuable information is passed down the chain.
This dedication to advocacy and deep understanding of the importance of personal confidence led to the creation of True Match Tresses, a project Rosemary initiated after recognizing disparities in providing wigs to cancer survivors of different racial backgrounds. Knowing the impact hair loss can have on a woman during cancer treatment, she collaborated with the local Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Miami program to the initiative, which is focused on providing high-quality, affordable wigs to women of color. Rosemary partnered with two local Black woman-owned wig businesses to make this vision a reality. The wigs have been so well-received by her local community that Rosemary hopes to expand this program nationally.
In the end, Rosemary's message is clear: our beauty is not defined by our physical appearance. Instead, it is our self-confidence and comfort in our own skin that truly shine through. Still, she adds, “How we dress can help us feel better about ourselves and bring out that confidence even further.”