The decision to have a bilateral mastectomy was undeniably the right thing to do at that time to save my life. Being the right thing to do didn’t make it any easier to deal with. The loss of my breast to cancer affected me both mentally and physically after I had a radical mastectomy and this became my new normal. I have decided to share my life after mastectomy with you.
I had a reconstructive surgery the same day I had my bilateral mastectomy, so I woke up with smaller breasts. Close friends who know me well knew I thought my previous ‘FF’ size was oversized, but waking up to smaller didn’t make me feel any better whatsoever.
‘THE STRANGERS’ as my friends and I refer to my reconstructive breast is NOT an augmentation. I met someone who said I should look on the bright side and consider them a boob job….. hmmm well they are not!
I had to deal with several challenges and I decided to pen this down as a means of sharing an insight for better understanding of anyone who has had a mastectomy done or intending to.
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The Effects of Mastectomy:
Mastectomy and Intimacy: After leaving my abusive ex and all the derogatory remarks he made of me never finding another partner, I had a silent fear of being naked or intimate with anyone after my mastectomy. He brutally consistently referred to my mastectomy as an amputation and this made me feel like I was less. Just thinking about meeting someone made me cringe and I seriously felt it was a deal breaker. I wore this insecurity for a long time like a cloak until I met my fiance. I battled internally with how to address this with my fiance. When I finally opened up to him, he alleviated my worries and made me feel pretty. He clearly made me know that my health and being alive is all he cared about. He loves my body more than I do😉.
It is completely numb:
I lost all sense of feel in my breast after my mastectomy. I could literally walk into a brick wall and not feel a thing. It is totally numb. My breast doesn’t feel the same and probably never will. Some nerves were affected during the surgery, which is very typical and that is the reason for the numbness. This also has the potential to affect intimacy but thankfully, there are other options to explore!
Loss of nipples: Nipples could be saved if it is a lumpectomy, but I had a radical mastectomy and it was more invasive so I lost my nipples. It undoubtedly made me feel less attractive at the time but I am grateful I was able to accept my new normal. There are options for nipple construction but haven’t I had enough pain already?
Distorted shape due to radiation:
I had my mastectomy before I started radiation and I was told it may affect the outlook of my reconstructed breast and it did. Because the primary cancer was on the left, my radiation was targeted on the left side. After radiation, my left boobs was clenched, making it tighter, compressed and slightly higher placed that it’s not so identical twin.
Lymphedema: Lymph nodes were removed from my armpit during my radical mastectomy, I experienced a fluid build-up on my left arm, which is called lymphedema. A radical mastectomy involves removing all breast tissues and lymph nodes that are affected by cancer. I have to wear a compression sleeve on my left hand to ease the flow of body fluids. Lymphedema comes with a lot of pain…. emphasis on A LOT! It can be managed by doing arm exercises and wearing a compression sleeve. Compression sleeves do not need to be boring, you can add some color to your life by wearing the fabulous tattoo-like compression sleeves made by LYMPHEDIVA
How to cope after a mastectomy:
- Support groups: Support groups bring together different people with similar experiences. You may learn first-hand information from other peoples experiences and new coping strategies. For some people, support groups may also serve as an emotional booster or just a channel to make new friends. There are numerous beneficial aspects of joining a support group, it is a great way to manage certain emotions after a mastectomy.
- Learn to love yourself: If you have made the tough decision to have a mastectomy, you are a trooper and a courageous person. With that surgery comes a bold and significant change in your life. You must learn to love your new physical change. This surgery was done so your life could be saved, that reason should make you love yourself and be grateful to have a chance to live a good life with your new change.
- Talk to your partner: Whatever insecurities you feel after a mastectomy, try sharing your thoughts and feelings with your partner. With my experience, sharing every little detail of how you feel with your partner helps in minimizing some insecurities that you may experience after a mastectomy.A problem shared is half solved!
- Be positive: It is important to look at the positives after a mastectomy. The positive in this situation is that you are a survivor and all intense treatment was geared towards a great quality of life. Engage in whatever makes you happy. There are no limitations to what you may choose to spend your time doing.
I battled with my self-image. I was lost, confused, sad and had no hope of finding a partner. It is very ok to express yourself in any way you choose after a mastectomy. The support of a partner is crucial as this builds your self-acceptance and positivity.
Irrespective of the age of a woman, losing a breast or both may affect a woman’s sexuality. But my little advice is always put your life in perspective and appreciate the chance to enjoy life after a mastectomy.