It can be hard — physically and emotionally — to adapt to changes to your body after breast cancer. Whether you’ve lost a part or all of your breast, it’s normal to mourn that loss.
Making Tough Choices: Reconstructive Surgery After Breast Cancer
Deciding whether to have breast reconstruction surgery after a mastectomy is a very personal choice.
You may choose to have reconstructive surgery, or you may feel more comfortable using a mastectomy bra with slots for breast forms. Some women who have had a double mastectomy choose to “go flat.” Before making a final decision, take time to learn about all the options available.
Coping with the Emotional and Sexual Effects of Mastectomy
There’s always a period of adjustment after such a major change in your life. You may feel less attractive, have trouble shopping for clothes, or feel differently about sex. Learning to be comfortable with your new body will take time.
Mastectomy and self-image
Common struggles for women after losing a breast include feeling less “feminine” or worrying that they will be less attractive to their partner. These concerns may be more pronounced in women looking to get back into the dating scene after cancer. Part of the healing process, however, is learning to feel comfortable — and even learning to love — your new body.
Sometimes you need help to get through this initial time. Support groups at your local hospital or online can help you connect with other survivors and learn what worked for them.
You can also look for groups like Look Good, Feel Better, which offer programs through the American Cancer Society, all designed to help boost your body image
Sex and sexuality after mastectomy
Changes in self-image can also affect your sex life, either physically, mentally, or both.
As a result of breast cancer surgery, some women may feel less sensation on their breast and nipple. Even if the entire breast wasn’t removed or you had breast reconstructive surgery, you may not have feeling in the nipple. In addition, you may be unsure how your partner will respond to your new body.
You don’t have to rush to reignite the flames. Take your time, talk openly to your partner, and experiment with different positions that make you feel more comfortable and less self-conscious. Most importantly, be patient with yourself.
If you’re struggling and it’s affecting your relationship, consider couples counseling.
Shopping for clothes after mastectomy
If you forego reconstructive surgery, you’ll find that many of your clothes don’t fit the same. Use this opportunity to shop for different styles. Mastectomy bras can help fill out dresses or shirts, which might help you feel more comfortable when going out.
Likewise, when swimsuit season rolls around, mastectomy swimsuits have different styles to take some emphasis off your chest. Some mastectomy swimwear comes with inserts to place breast forms.
Depression after mastectomy
Feeling frustrated or down after mastectomy and breast cancer treatment is normal. However, despair or feelings of worthlessness, especially feelings that interfere with your daily life, are signs of depression.
If your feelings aren’t turning around as time passes, consider speaking with a counselor to get help moving on with life after mastectomy. The Center for Counseling and Cancer Support at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center can help you with these issues.