“You have breast cancer, and – ”
The world comes crashing down when a woman hears her doctor say these words. Beyond contemplating the chances of survival and the fear of death, even undergoing treatment can be overwhelming and emotionally scarring for many women. Mastectomy (partial or complete surgical removal of the breast tissue) is a very frequent component of most breast cancer treatments.
While every woman has a unique way of dealing with breast cancer surgery, there are a number of common fears, which most women find difficult to cope with.
- How will my body change?
The main concern of any woman undergoing breast cancer surgery is the fear of the loss of a body part – in this case, the breast. Most women find it difficult coping with this loss and fear the negative effect it would have on their appearance and their body image, a loss of their sexuality and femininity.
- Will the society accept me?
Many women who have undergone breast removal surgery become self-conscious and withdrawn. Proper psychological counselling and emotional support is needed to help in their road to recovery. They need to be educated about their options – Breast prosthesis, which resembles natural breasts, or breast reconstruction using tissue and skin from other parts of the body. Their doctor can help them understand the various prosthesis and reconstruction options, pros and cons of each technique and the one which best suits the patient. With the patient and her family’s inputs, the doctor can then decide on a treatment plan.
- Will I be able to breast-feed my child?
Both surgery and radiation therapy tend to damage the milk ducts present in the breast and this can significantly reduce the milk supply to the infant. Also, immediately post chemotherapy, there might be harmful chemicals still being secreted in the breast milk. It is important that a woman discuss all these concerns with her healthcare team before deciding on breastfeeding her child. Nevertheless, cancer treatment does not completely stop a woman from breast-feeding.
- How will my spouse react?
Many women begin feeling physically detached and emotionally withdrawn from their spouses and tend to blame their illness for the negative effect it has had on their sex lives. On the other hand, the spouses may also find it difficult or may feel confused on how to best express their love and support without hurting. At this point, it is important that women have open communications with their partners, discuss each other’s concerns and support each other in building a healthy sexual relationship.
For a breast cancer survivor, it is important to realise that it is perfectly fine to ask for help. Breast cancer survivor groups as well as their own healthcare team can provide counselling and support that can help them regain their confidence and overcome any fears.