Breast Cancer Survivor Allowed to Swim Topless at Seattle Pool

PHOTO: Jodi JaecksPlayKelly O for The Stranger
WATCH Seattle Says Breast Cancer Survivor Can Swim Topless

After failing to find swimsuits that fit comfortably, breast cancer survivor Jodi Jaecks asked the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department if she could swim topless at a local pool. At first their answer was no.

The aquatics manager for the Parks and Recreation department told Jaecks they require "gender-appropriate clothing" and therefore she would not be able to swim topless.

"I'm not an exhibitionistic kind of person. It's not my personality," Jaecks said. "I don't think of this as nudity. Not as it's generally perceived."

But after a Seattle weekly newspaper, The Stranger, ran a photo of Jaecks topless Wednesday, the Parks and Recreation superintendent changed his mind.

"This was a long standing policy that had been in effect for a lot of years and it had never really been challenged," Dewey Potter, the communications manager for Seattle Parks and Recreation, told "The staff on the face of it did their job by following policy, but when the superintendent took a closer look he decided attitudes had shifted and he decided to allow this woman to swim and look at further cases one by one."

After hearing the superintendent's decision Wednesday, Jaecks, an Illinois native who moved to Seattle in 1991, decided not to swim and is adamant that this is not just about her but about all cancer patients.

"I never wanted this to be personal. This isn't about me specifically," Jaecks said. "Sure it started that way with my personal interest in swimming, but as soon as the department clarified their policy then it became much more political to me."

In March 2011, Jaecks, 45, found a lump in her right breast during a self-exam. Although her surgeon told her the lump was small enough to have a lumpectomy, Jaecks chose to have a double mastectomy without reconstructive surgery.

"I'm not neurotic but I knew that I would worry if I just had the one breast removed," Jaecks said. "I just felt like it was an empowering decision to make."

A topless photo of a breast cancer patient who had a double mastectomy ultimately led Jaecks to her decision.

"It's such a powerful image. She's so healthy and fit," Jaecks said. "It showed me I could be in shape again. I could be happy again."

Jaecks, who had always been fit, was eager to get back to a workout regimen. But when physical complications made it difficult for her to do activities she had done in the past such as biking, weightlifting and playing tennis, she had to look for something else.

Her biggest issue, she said, was "my body image after the fact. It wasn't the removal of my breasts but chemo put me into menopause and my body changed. I gained 10 pounds. I looked different."

A facilitator at a post-breast cancer class, as well as Jaecks' partner (Jaecks is gay), suggested swimming as a possible fitness option. She recommended the Medgar Evers Pool because it was the warmest and least chlorinated pool in town, which was very appealing to Jaecks.

Jaceks went searching for bathing suits that would fit without hurting her scars. At one particular store Jaecks tried on every type of swimsuit from one-pieces to rash guards, and even men's triathlon tops. But nothing felt right.

"They felt absolutely horrible," she said.

That's when she made the decision to swim topless.

"At some point it changed from being a physical comfort thing to why would I think of covering myself up," Jaecks said.

At first, Jaeck's mother, Elaine, wasn't completely comfortable with her daughter's decision to swim topless.

"At first when she told me about this I was a little bit hesitant," Elaine told "But the more I thought about it, the more I thought Jodi did not ask for this to happen to her. She is representing every woman who had a double mastectomy without reconstructive surgery."

Although given the approval, Jaecks' decision not to swim, she says, comes from the Parks and Recreation department's not recognizing the overall issue.

"I didn't want this to be personal. I thought it was a bigger political issue," Jaecks said. "It's just all about trying to destigmatize cancer and cancer survivors and make people aware of the reality of cancer and in a less abstract way."

But she isn't sure where she will go next with the issue.

"I've been thinking since yesterday what my next step would be," she said. "If I want to approach the parks department personally again to see if I can have a meeting with them to try to sway them to try to make it more of a policy decision instead of just unique to me."

And Seattle Parks and Recreation could possibly be doing just that.

"We'd like to hear from people who have had surgeries and hear what they think might be an appropriate approach and listen to that and possibly shape a policy out of that," Dewey said. "But in the meantime we will look at the policy case by case."