Despite being a key preventive/corrective procedure in the fight against breast cancer, mastectomy (or surgical removal of breasts) can take a serious toll on the emotional health, dignity and well-being of a survivor. As hard as it is physically, it is equally taxing emotionally to adapt to changes to one’s body after breast cancer. There’s always a period of adjustment after such a major change in a woman’s life and it is all about one’s outlook towards coping up that makes the difference. All emotional responses to that are perfectly valid, and it is vital to acknowledge emotions as they arise.
While the emotional outcome after breast surgery is highly individual, following are some leaves from the books of the strongest survivors:
Self-image, worth and dignity
Feeling less “feminine” or worrying that one will be less attractive to their partner after mastectomy, has been very common. A lot of women feel embarrassed to step out and socialize, for they fear accidental intimacies or hugs. A part of the healing process is to start feeling comfortable in one’s new structure. Support groups of survivors play a huge role in helping boost the body image.
Feeling irate or depressed after mastectomy is common. Time is the best cure. If one continues to be in the state of despair even as time passes, speaking with a counselor or those who have undergone mastectomy in the past, can help.
Awareness of choices at the right time
Some women, during surgery, opt for expanders on the same day. An expander is used to prepare the breast area for reconstruction by slowly stretching the area and making room for an implant. The idea is to prepare oneself well and well enough for the post-surgical life.
While some women embrace ‘flatness’ (mostly seen with double mastectomies), some go for reconstructive surgery, or some feel more comfortable using a mastectomy bra with slots for breast forms. For the former, fitting into regular clothes becomes challenging and mastectomy bras with inserts can help fill out dresses or shirts.
On the same page with the partner
Speaking out all concerns and fears with one’s partner is the best way forward in maintaining a happy, healthy life after the surgery.
The recurrence anxiety
After the surgery, most women get concerned with the probability of recurrence of cancer. It is of utmost importance to keep a regular check on that. Coping basics like breathing, observing, practicing hobbies, learning to be patient, trying to be a role model for the family helps.
It is also important to start loving one’s new body. Figuring out what helps you feel good about oneself, and sticking to that regimen helps a great deal. Be it food therapy, exercising, dancing, yoga, it is about enjoying the new life.
The bottomline is that by staying positive and surrounding yourself with a good support system, one can undergo a mastectomy with their self-esteem intact. The Survivors need people (family and friends), groups and/or counselors they can turn to for strength and comfort. Whatever the source of strength or comfort, make sure one has a place to go with their concerns.
In this journey, it is important to let people in, and let in anyone else who may help. There are other women who have shared their thoughts and courage and then turned around and offered their strength and support to help others. It is important to be one of them! It is important to be the one who not only survives, but thrives.