Cancer survivor bares scars:'I don't need implants to be beach ready'
Cancer survivor bares her scars
Cancer survivor bares her scars and says 'I don't need implants to be beach body ready' in the most comprehensive swimwear guide ever by real women
- Gemma Cockrell, 50, makes debut today as swimsuit model alongside nine other women of all shapes and sizes
- Mother-of-three, of Guildford, Surrey, resisted pressure from doctors to have reconstructive surgery after double mastectomy
- She also eschewed prosthetic breasts in her bid to become beach-body ready
Proudly baring her body, this is breast cancer survivor Gemma Cockrell, who resisted pressure from doctors to have reconstructive surgery following a double mastectomy
Proudly baring her body, this is breast cancer survivor Gemma Cockrell, who resisted pressure from doctors to have reconstructive surgery following a double mastectomy.
Today Gemma, 50, makes her debut as a swimsuit model alongside nine other women of all shapes and sizes in The Mail on Sunday’s You magazine.
‘I actually feel more womanly the way I am because it’s a decision I’ve taken and it’s made me feel more confident,’ she says.
The mother-of-three speaks with a remarkable strength of spirit considering what she has endured in the past six years – and she credits her husband James and three sons, aged between 14 and 25, for much of that tenacity.
First diagnosed with cancer in her right breast in 2013, Gemma underwent a lumpectomy and radiotherapy. In 2015, the cancer returned, necessitating the removal of her right breast.
Then in 2017, with cancer confirmed in the left breast, that too was removed. Since then, there has been no recurrence of the disease.
‘The surgeons were quite persistent and the expectation was I should have an implant after I had one breast removed,’ recalls Gemma, from Guildford, Surrey.
‘I did feel under quite a lot of pressure from the hospital. At one point I was being measured and they were saying they could do this and that, and I’m calmly repeating, “Thank you, but I don’t want this.” ’
Her reservations sprang from the risks of complications with implants as well as a blood-clotting condition which makes surgery risky for her.
Gemma says her husband’s reaction also gave her confidence. ‘I discussed it with James and asked him if it was going to bother him as he’d have to look at me, and I’m really lucky that he’s so supportive and he said, “As long as you’re OK, I don’t care.”
‘I didn’t want to have an implant. I had cancer and got that out, so why would I want to introduce something else into my body?’
She has also eschewed prosthetic breasts in her bid to become beach-body ready. ‘It was far more awkward when I had one breast and was wearing a prosthesis,’ she reveals. ‘When I was swimming, I never wore it so I was lop-sided for a couple of years. Once the left breast was removed as well, I could wear what I wanted.’
Gemma’s diagnosis also heralded a change in career for the science teacher and she launched her own natural skincare company, called puremess.co.uk. It has gone from a market stall to an online firm.
Swimwear Special: Every body is a beach body
By EMILY DAWES, STEPHANIE SOFOKLEOUS AND LUCY COGHLAN FOR YOU MAGAZINE
We spoke to 1,500 YOU readers, tried on 2,000 costumes and got ten women – all different ages and sizes – to road-test the best. The result? The most comprehensive guide to swimwear ever.
From left to right: LOUISE, 38, bikini top, £42, and briefs, £20, Curvy Kate simplybe.co.uk. SHIRLEY, 57, swimsuit, £310, cossieandco.com. GEORGIE, 18, swimsuit, £70, uk.calzedonia.com . ARIISH, 22, Bikini top, £60, and briefs, £25, beija.london. CORAL, 26, swimsuit, 3140, hunzag.com. EMILY, 21, bikini top, 360, beija.london , and briefs, 38.99, hm.com. GEMMA, 50, bikini briefs, £18, J by Jasper Conran, debenhams.com. SINEAD, swimsuit, 3240, Dos Gardenias, matchesfashion.com. NICOLA, tankini, £48, longtallsally.com. CALLIE, 30, swimsuit, landsend.co.uk
GEORGIE, 18, SIZE 14; BRA SIZE 34DD: ‘This shoot has really changed my mind about styles I wouldn’t have tried before. I’ve learnt to disregard old rules such as “hourglass shapes can’t wear frills around the hips”. Similarly, people with a tummy are often told to cover up with a one-piece. I really like bikinis and feel that if you want to get your tummy out you should get your tummy out. I look for pieces that will make me feel confident. If I feel great, that’s all that matters.’ Georgie wears bikini, £260, arabellalondon.co.uk
- Support doesn’t mean that bras have to be heavy at the front. cross-back bikini tops help to keep everything where it should be
- For bigger busts, the U-wire structure offers full support, putting less strain on the straps
- Don’t be afraid to sample new styles, regardless of the ‘what not to wear’ rule. If you like something, try it – you might find a new favourite
ARIISH, 22, SIZE 14; BRA SIZE 36DD: ‘I used to struggle with swimwear shopping – I could never find anything people my age would want to wear to the beach. I was insecure about my shape, but now I’m looking for bikinis that will show off my waist and curves. Swimsuits can hide your figure and I don’t want to look straight up and down. I think a lot of girls with love handles feel the same. This two-piece has both support and adjustable tie sides, and it makes me feel good!’ Ariish wears bikini top, £22, and briefs, £16, both figleaves.com
- Tops with wider straps above the cups transfer support all the way up to the shoulders and back without the need for underwiring
- Vertical stripes are a great way of elongating the torso and drawing attention away from the chest
NICOLA, 59, SIZE 14-16; BRA SIZE 34E: ‘Brands are realising that women like me in their 50s and 60s need to feel that we are recognised within that market. Now, for the first time ever, I actually enjoy swimwear shopping.’ Nicola wears swimsuit, £45, lauraashley.com
- To redirect attention, go for bold prints – they can be very flattering
- If a high-leg cut is not for you, check out brands such as Long Tall Sally, Laura Ashley and Aspiga for a more modest leg-line
- Tankinis are a great middle ground between swimsuits and bikinis and their versatility allows you to mix and match to suit your own style
- To create an hourglass silhouette, look out for styles with ruching and integrated cups which both flatter and provide support
SINEAD, 28, SIZE 12; BRA SIZE 34DD ‘My body shape varies depending on the time of the month. Sometimes I’m an athletic build but other times, like today, I’m an hourglass, which is why I’m wearing a bikini. When I feel less curvy I choose a swimsuit to create a more defined waist.’ Sinead wears bikini, £271, arabellalondon.co.uk
- Look out for tie-back styles which allow you to adjust the fit
- If you’re unsure of colour, timeless natural tones can be a good place to start
- High-leg hipster swimsuits and bikinis accentuate curves, flatter thighs and elongate legs
CORAL, 26, SIZE 6; BRA SIZE 32DD: ‘Being small on the bottom with a bigger bust, I have to do a lot of mix-and-matching of sets. Support is really important for me. I find that a lot of brands just lengthen the straps when upping sizes rather than adjusting the cups, which puts a lot of strain on my neck. I like a lot of coverage up top and good quality fabric that supports you is worth paying for.’ Coral wears bikini top, £65, and briefs, £25, beija.london
Brown swimsuit, £275, zimmermannwear.com. Red bikini top, £34, and briefs, £19, Curvy Kate, simplybe.co.uk. Black swimsuit, £130, cossieandco.com. Green bikini top, £28, and briefs, £16, johnlewis.com.
- New brands such as Beija, Chantelle and Deakin & Blue are excellent for sizing small backs with large cups
- Prefer classic styles? Invest in quality pieces that will last longer
- Make your investment swimwear last: Opt for chlorine-resistant fabrics, Wash by hand and air-dry
SHIRLEY, 57, SIZE 8; BRA SIZE 32A: ‘Sometimes I hesitate to wear bright shades because I feel I shouldn’t stand out, but I love them. My grey hair suits blues and greens best so I gravitate towards these tones.’ Shirley wears swimsuit, £130, hunzag.com
- When choosing colours, look to your everyday wardrobe for inspiration – These are shades that suit you and you feel comfortable wearing
- A textured fabric is more forgiving than a smooth finish and adds impact
- Elegant and on-trend, a square neckline flatters big and small busts. pair with a skirt or trousers to take you from beach to bar
CALLIE, 30, SIZE 24; BRA SIZE 42E: ‘I love a swimsuit with underwiring. I’ve just turned 30 and my breasts are definitely not as perky as they once were. It’s not a problem, but I do like a bit of support to make me feel more confident. If you have a body it is beach body ready.’ Callie wears swimsuit, £45, jdwilliams.co.uk
- Thick straps will hold the swimsuit in place correctly and feel comfortable on your shoulders
- Ruching and wrap details across the front offer tummy control and a smoother silhouette
- Retailers such as JD Williams (up to size 38), Lands’ End (size 30) and Miraclesuit (size 26) design swimwear with plus-size bodies in mind, incorporating shapewear for support and hold
GEMMA, 50, SIZE 10: ‘I had a double mastectomy and decided against reconstruction. If, by appearing in this feature, I can make one woman who’s been through what I’ve been through feel better, I’ll be happy. Swimwear-wise I’ve always liked tankinis – especially after having three children. The Nicola Jane one [right, second from bottom] was a revelation because it incorporates pockets for prostheses. I’m not used to wearing those, but I gave it a go and it looked great. ’ Gemma wears swimsuit, £40, figleaves.com
- Sports swimsuits are an option if you don’t want your scars on show as they have higher necks and underarms
- Specialist Brands such as Amoena and Nicola Jane offer pocketed swimwear to accommodate prostheses
- The Nike swimsuit has a low, tie-detail back – an alternative way to feel sexy without it being all about the bust
EMILY, 21, SIZE 10; BRA SIZE 34C: ‘When it comes to shopping there’s too much pressure, so I just order online – there’s plenty of choice – and try it on at home. My first rule is to buy ethically made swimwear in sustainable fabrics. I wear a lot of 80s-style, high-cut legs with a higher waist – bikinis most of the time. I think everyone looks great in a bikini!’ Emily wears bikini, £140, Rixo, beachflamingo.com
Stripe swimsuit, £80, billabong.co.uk. Leopard bikini top, £18, and briefs, £16, warehouse.co.uk. Blue bikini top, £20, and briefs, £15, missselfridge.com. Check swimsuit, £125, Solid + Striped, beachflamingo.com.
- Underwired bikini tops aren’t just for bigger busts. Soft cup balconettes enhance smaller sizes too
- A non-string halterneck is a good choice for wide shoulders
- A swimsuit with a belt detail will draw attention to your waist
- Ruffles and frills add volume in a playful way and on a bikini will balance larger hips or shoulders
LOUISE, 38, SIZE 14; BRA SIZE 34E: ‘It annoys me that maternity brands don’t use pregnant women for their maternity shoots, just women with a fake bump – tiny bumps that look like you’ve had a curry! I’m sick of the garish patterns they put on maternity swimsuits too. And when it comes to boobs, I’ve found that a lot of maternity brands don’t use underwiring. But you really need support when you’re pregnant.’ Louise wears swimsuit, £50, figleaves.com
- If you are comfortable in a bikini, simply size up your high-street favourites
- Details such as asymmetric shoulders and vintage prints will keep your look on trend. Check out specialist brands Lily & Ribbon and Seraphine
- If underwiring is essential for you, brands that cater for bigger busts such as Figleaves and Curvy Kate are great
Check out @youmagazine on Instagram for behind-the-scenes videos from our shoot, shopping links and more.
Compiled by Emily Dawes, Lucy Coghlan and Stephanie Sofokleous
Photographs Eva Schwank
Fashion assistants Chloe Gallacher and Lizzie Rose.
Make-up Lisa Valencia at Carol Hayes Management using Bobbi Brown, assisted by
Alex Golshahi and Georgina Murtagh
Hair Elvire Roux at Carol Hayes Management using Philip Kingsley, assisted by Holly Devin
Models Gemma Cockrell, Shirley Brooks at Grey Model Agency, Georgie Blackmore at Leni’s Model Management, Emily Bador and Coral Kwayie at Nevs, Ariish, Sinead, Callie Thorpe, Nicola Griffin and Louise Boyce at Milk.