A recent study performed in Sweden found that women undergoing mastectomy and breast-reconstruction surgery were likely to suffer from poor body image and concerns about their appearance. These results are probably not a surprise to any woman who has undergone such surgeries. The truth is that our breasts are part of who we are and part of how we identify ourselves as women, and being forced to lose them or reconstruct them can be incredibly difficult.
The good news is that it is possible to rebuild your body image after breast-cancer treatment. Consider the following tips:
Make sure you make the choice best for you. When it comes to making decisions about treatment and reconstructive surgery, the big decisions are ultimately between you and your doctors. Your friends, family members, and spouse might have opinions and suggestions for you, and while it is okay to listen to their counsel, you don’t want to make decisions based on peer pressure. So, whether you decide to have reconstructive surgery or not, make sure that your decisions are your own. It’s your body and you need to be your own advocate when it comes to choosing what you feel comfortable with, whether it’s an enlarged new set, something smaller, or no reconstructive surgery at all.
Take it slow. A recent study found that women who undergo chemotherapy are 65% more likely to experience weight gain as a result of their breast-cancer treatment. Even if you don’t have chemotherapy, you might still gain weight as a result of your treatment because you won’t be able to stick to your normal exercise routine and likely won’t have the energy or drive to do so for a while. This is a natural consequence of what you’ve gone through. Yet exercise can go a long way in helping to restore your confidence and boost your mood. Once you get the green light from your doctor to work out again, try joining a yoga group or enlisting a buddy to go for daily walks around the neighborhood. Remember, exercise is just as much about the mental benefits as the physical.
Be prepared for some adjustments. Just because your surgery is over and life is supposed to be “back to normal,” it does not mean that you will automatically feel like yourself once again. There will likely be an adjustment period in which you have to confront some anxieties and reservations about your new body, as well as residual effects such as fatigue and even depression. It’s almost impossible to immediately reclaim your usual confidence and energy, but this is just a stage. With support from your partner and your family, as well as the support of other survivors, you can make it through this time with your strength and confidence intact. Talking about how you feel and addressing your concerns is a powerful way to release negativity and embrace the future.
Visit www.NationalBreastCancer.org to find support and resources online or in your area.