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Originally published June 20, 2012 at 9:09 PM | Page modified June 21, 2012 at 7:52 AM

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Breast-cancer survivor fights city, wins right to swim in pool topless

After months of trying, a Seattle woman who underwent a double mastectomy has won permission to swim topless in city pools.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Jodi Jaecks learned on Wednesday that she will be permitted to swim topless in Seattle's public pools, but she isn't happy.

The breast-cancer survivor, who underwent a double mastectomy, asked in February to swim with her chest uncovered, contrary to Seattle Parks and Recreation Department policy that women must wear tops in city pools.

At the time, wearing swimsuit tops was painful for Jaecks because they pressed sensitive scars and nerve damage resulting from her March 2011 surgery and subsequent chemotherapy.

"I certainly was not trying to be provocative — I just wanted to convince them that it wasn't inappropriate," Jaecks said. "I could have gone back and just jumped into the pool topless, but that's not my style. I was trying to be respectful."

The 47-year-old pushed the issue for months with the support of other cancer survivors, but it wasn't until The Stranger published a story about her situation on Wednesday that the parks department relented.

Now, the only woman who can swim topless in Seattle's pools is Jaecks — and only during adult lap sessions.

Permission to swim topless will be considered on a case-by-case basis for other people who have undergone surgeries, Seattle Parks and Recreation Superintendent Christopher Williams said in a news release issued late Wednesday afternoon.

Jaecks says that's not good enough. She wants the dress code changed for all women with mastectomy scars. She'll keep on pressing for such a policy change, she says, and Wednesday night was not sure whether she would take advantage of the decision in her favor.

"It's absurd and ludicrous that they would give one person permission because it puts the onus on a specific person to ask for permission individually," Jaecks said. "It's going to be harder for a more reserved, self-conscious woman to have the guts to stand out and be different."

Today, bathing-suit tops aren't as painful for Jaecks as they were in February, but she says not having to wear suits emphasizing what's been taken from her body is liberating — not just for her own self-image, but for anyone who has battled cancer.

"If the rest of the world could get used to these images — which would be huge — I think it would be easier for women to deal with getting breast cancer," said Jaecks, whose body and energy levels have been slowly returning to normal since her chemotherapy ended in November. "Aside from being alive, there aren't many upsides to life after cancer."

Seattle parks officials repeatedly declined Jaecks' request to swim topless at Medgar Evers Pool in the Central District. Public nudity in itself is not illegal, but it goes against policy designed to help patrons feel comfortable at city park venues, said Dewey Potter, spokeswoman for the parks department.

Potter said they had discussed other options — Jaecks could wear loosefitting jerseys as she swam, for example — but Jaecks specifically wanted to be topless.

"We're trying to protect children," Potter said."A public pool isn't necessarily the place to be carrying out an agenda."

Jaecks said baring her scars is important because it was the photo of a mother who had undergone a mastectomy lying freely on a beach with her children that first inspired her to get a mastectomy, rather than a less-invasive procedure.

The decision was difficult for Jaecks, but it ultimately freed her from fear of more frequent surgeries, mammogram checks and possible cancer resurgence.

Jaecks said she understands why she'll be limited to adult lap sessions, but objects to that limitation as well.

"Kids get cancer, too," Jaecks said. "It's a human fact people need to wrap their heads around. Children can embrace reality, too."

Seattle Times staff reporter Jayme Fraser contributed to this report.

Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or avaughn@seattletimes.com

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