It is an important and equally delicate subject – the visitors are clearly surprised at how confidently the two models strut their stuff. After the fashion show, Irmi - who, like the other women, only tells us her first name - explains how she learned to live with cancer. It was just before Easter when she discovered a large knot under her left armpit. "One morning it was just there." She found out that she had a particularly aggressive tumour and that 17 of her lymph nodes were affected. "Make the most of the time you have left", was something she heard from more than one doctor. "I was 44 years old and had four children, the youngest was only eight years old."
She "cried until she was empty". In the hospital, Irmi met another patient who had a book on the latest medical findings about breast cancer with her. She read through the night, made notes and jotted down questions. The very next day she looked for a competent oncologist. She made sure her insurance would pay for a treatment with the then still unorthodox chemotherapy drug called "Herceptin".
She developed a love for classical music, which she listened to through her many medical procedures and when she spent time outdoors. She and her husband walked many miles in the idyllic landscapes of the lake district in Upper Bavaria. They both walked on their own and then met back at the car. They both needed time to think. "A cancer diagnosis shocks everybody", says Irmi. "For the woman, for her partner and for the whole family." She says that everyone needs to process it in their own way. At first, I struggled with my fears when I was out walking. Then I started having some good ideas and I felt a surge of energy. It was my very own pilgrimage."
The date for the OP was set, but she finally decided against a silicone implant to even out her chest: "Another change. I didn't think it would be good for me." A friend of hers introduced her to the lingerie company Anita. She was measured and was given a fitted epithesis, a silicone pad for the inner pocket of her mastectomy bras. She started wearing tight-fitting T-shirts again. She enjoys the compliments she gets for her new swimsuits at her surf club.
Like Irmi, many breast cancer patients find out later that there are regulated health insurance grants that entitle them to receive corrective epitheses and mastectomy bras with internal pockets and comfortable underbust bands. "They look good and nobody can tell", says Petra. "All you want is to have your life back."
Just before Christmas in 2010, the then 49-year-old felt a sudden pain in her arm. "There's no way I am going to live with reduced mobility", was the first rebellious thought that crossed the mind of this strong mother of six – but she did go to see a doctor. Petra found out that she had multiple carcinoma in her left breast. The breast was removed, she received a silicone implant. She then had to undergo chemotherapy, which means regular intravenous infusions on the healthy side of the body. The plan was to implant a port under her collarbone. On the day of the surgery, however, she decided against the port, which meant that each infusion would be injected straight into her veins. A chance encounter and conversation with a doctor had raised some doubts in her mind and Petra decided to go with her gut feeling. She cancelled the appointment and went window shopping with her husband instead. It was a turning point for her and for the way she dealt with her illness.
From then on, she always had the courage to trust her instincts. "Every woman must find her own way", she says. "Don't let anyone convince you otherwise, once you have made up your mind about what you want." She kept herself well informed every step of the way and then trusted herself to make the right decisions – sometimes even against the recommendations of her doctors. These decisions led her to decline anti-estrogen therapy as well as radiotherapy. "It is not easy to make decisions like that when you have young children." It took her three days to get to grips with the response of the doctor at the radiotherapy centre: "Fine. You will be dead in two years."