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Mastectomy: How to Live a Quality Life without Breasts
My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer…The decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made.... I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity. ~Angelina Jolie~
What is Mastectomy?
Mastectomy is the removal of one or both breasts through a surgical operation. It is usually done to treat breast cancer. Others undergo mastectomy for preventive measures when it is discovered that they are high-risk for breast cancer. Recent studies have shown that mastectomy reduces breast cancer risk and incidence in high-risk women more than 90% to more than 95%.
Why do some women undergo Mastectomy?
Some women need to undergo mastectomy because they have been diagnosed with breast cancer and it is one of the best ways to treat the disease before it can spread in her body. Other women have been diagnosed to have defective genes that can later on lead to breast cancer which puts them at very high risk. Before they suffer the debilitating effect of breast cancer, they undergo preventive surgery to remove their breasts.
Whatever the reasons are, women who undergo mastectomy experience a hard time making the decision of removing the essential parts of their womanhood. The impact of losing one's breast can vary from one woman to another. Some women lose their self-esteem while others find peace of mind knowing they have made a wiser decision.
What about you? Have you got some family members with breast cancer? Are you at high risk? Have you been diagnosed with breast cancer and is contemplating whether you can bear living the rest of your life without your breast or breasts? How do you know you are making the right decision?
Can Mastectomy give you Quality of Life?
Most women appear satisﬁed with mastectomy that is done for the purpose of preventing breast cancer, reducing its risk and their anxiety. However, a sizable minority of women report negative psychosocial outcomes according to a research study published in 2008 found in the Breast Journal. The authors' survey in a large community sample also demonstrated women's overall high levels of satisfaction with breast removal done for preventive purposes. More than 80% of women were satisfied with their decision to undergo mastectomy. On an important note, more than 60% of women in the survey were contented with their quality of life at the time they responded to the survey conducted.
Here are some of the testimonials found in the survey that was conducted taken from the journal article, "Positive, Negative, and Disparate -- Women's Differing Long-Term Psychosocial Experiences of Bilateral or Contralateral Prophylactic Mastectomy" by Altschuler, et. al. (2008).
"For years I felt like a walking time bomb and after the surgery I felt a high sense of relief. It was the best decision I ever made."
"I am very happy with my double mastectomy. I have never regretted it - and am free of worries about breast cancer."
"Sheer vanity - the new boob(s) will look perkier longer. If you wear a deep neckline and a bit of scarring shows - so what! You're a survivor. Be proud of yourself and thankful."
"Even at my age 63, I still enjoy buying a new bra with ﬁller. Anywhere between Twiggy or Dolly Parton and letting my husband choose!"
Women who underwent mastectomy were able to live a quality of life with lasting positive outlooks because of their husbands' support. One woman who was a respondent in the survey shared: "My husband's response to my double mastectomy was ‘‘now I can hold you closer…'' Yes, he is a gem."
A few of the women in the survey spoke of sexuality in describing quality of life. One woman said, "I have never been sorry about my mastectomy. I feel like I have no worry about breast cancer and my husband has never made me feel less than a woman, he sees me as sexy."
Most of the women who experienced mastectomy were concerned with their implants, the process of breast reconstruction, and about pain after surgery. Yes, some painful experiences can happen after mastectomy. This painful experience is not only physical but you may also feel emotionally hurt.
One woman in the survey shared, "My implants ruptured, after 11 years and I had them removed with no additional reconstruction. I was told that the implants would last till the end of my life."
Another respondent shared her worry, "(I wish I had known) that there were so many problems for women that received silicone implants. I worry about my implants causing medical problems."
"I wish I would have known how long recovery would take and understood how much pain there would be. My chest and stomach area are still in recovery and it will be 7 years in September."
A woman who was not satisfied of the result and probably regretted her decision shared, "(I wish I had known) how weird they would look and feel."
Another one was concerned of her body image and her self-esteem is perhaps disturbed with the after effects of her mastectomy. She said, "(I wish I had known) the possibility that I would not appear natural, symmetrical or real. My breasts are distorted, do not match and have no nipples. Appearance with clothes is okay."
As to the question, "Can Mastectomy give you Quality of Life?" Consider weighing the consequences. Let's just say you are at high risk for breast cancer and it has been determined that you have the defective genes which can eventually lead to breast cancer and you have a positive family history of cancer as well. Are you willing to experience the negative effects of breast cancer and eventually lose your quality of life as you begin to experience the different signs and symptoms of cancer? Or would you risk losing your breasts through mastectomy and find out for yourself whether you can still actually live a quality of life? Which of the two is bearable considering your chances at living a quality of life?
You may experience pain after surgery but there are medications for that and therapies that will help you become more comfortable. You may lose your asset or your complete sense of womanhood because of mastectomy but you can still be active and live a quality of life that you want to experience.
How to live a Quality Life without Your Breasts
There are basically three things you can do to live a quality life even without your breast or breasts. Have a solid support system, get busy with the things you enjoy doing, and do activities that will not make you feel inferior or less of a woman. The first one is always the key to surviving the journey of breast cancer issues in your life or any issue at all.
With a good support system, you will be confident that you can stand by your decision and still enjoy living. Your support system can be your partner, your family, or your closest friends and relatives. Your support system will help you feel better and will help you find strength to survive cancer or help you find courage to prevent breast cancer.
Getting busy with the things you enjoy doing keeps you away from worry and self-pity. Living a life full of worries and insecurities is not living a quality life. Get out there, socialize, and interact with other people.
Be a proud survivor and influence others to think that losing one's breast(s) does not mean losing one's femininity. What is it you are good at? Focus on your strengths and engage in activities where you can be more productive and which you are being appreciated.
You are a wonderful woman inside and out even with one breast or without both.
Altschuler, A., Nekhlyudov, L., Rolnick, S., Greene, S., Elmore, J., West, C., & ... Geiger, A. (2008). Positive, negative, and disparate--women's differing long-term psychosocial experiences of bilateral or contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. Breast Journal, 14(1), 25-32.
Claes, E., Evers-Kiebooms, G., Decruyenaere, M., Denayer, L., Boogaerts, A., Philippe, K., & Legius, E. (2005). Surveillance behavior and prophylactic surgery after predictive testing for hereditary breast/ovarian cancer. Behavioral Medicine, 31(3), 93-105.
Eldor, L., & Spiegel, A. (2009). Breast reconstruction after bilateral prophylactic mastectomy in women at high risk for breast cancer. Breast Journal, 15S81-9.
Kurian, A., Hartman, A., Mills, M., Ford, J., Daniel, B., & Plevritis, S. (2005). Opinions of women with high inherited breast cancer risk about prophylactic mastectomy: an initial evaluation from a screening trial including magnetic resonance imaging and ductal lavage. Health Expectations, 8(3), 221-233.
Skrzypulec, V., Tobor, E., Drosdzol, A., & Nowosielski, K. (2009). Biopsychosocial functioning of women after mastectomy. Journal Of Clinical Nursing, 18(4), 613-619. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2702.2008.02476.x
Wingfield, K. (2008). Mastectomy: how the decision is made. Cancer Nursing Practice, 7(4), 7-8.