Body image following a mastectomy can be a terribly tricky subject. For many women, their sexuality and self-image is tied to their appearance. Breasts are an erogenous zone on the female body, and much of today’s fashion involves the tantalizing display of cleavage. When a mastectomy results in the loss of one or both breasts, the results can be devastating. When a survivor looks in the mirror and can’t appreciate her new look, how can she be comfortable being nude with a partner? Regaining confidence as a sexual being and confidence about attractiveness can be tough, but it is worth the fight. Remember, many women face these issues and can offer support.
Everything Starts With Acceptance
Before they look in the mirror and making a negative judgment about their appearance post-surgery, encourage survivors to take a look at pictures posted by other people who have undergone surgery. Imagination can be the worst enemy of those who have yet to see their scars. As they look at pictures, one of the first things many realize is that it isn’t as bad as they first thought. Be sure to look at images along a timeline. Scars always look their worst immediately after surgery. Over time, they fade and become a part of the tapestry of a life well lived.
Other tactics to help deal with the change might include a picture journal. By taking pictures of only the scars, survivors can gain some perspective. For many women, it is much easier to have a negative reaction to personal appearance flaws. When they belong to someone else, ladies are more likely to judge without getting caught up in the emotional impact. Instead of looking at the images directly, upload and put them up in a side-by-side comparison of other women with the same type of scars. This can help provide needed distance to allow for unbiased viewing. As survivors get more comfortable looking at the scars, they start to gain acceptance. Scars are a badge of honor, not a disfigurement.
Talk With Your Partner
Survivors must learn to love their bodies again, and so must their significant others. A major physical change can be tough to deal with. Cancer scars can be a reminder of the terror that often accompanies that first diagnosis, both for the patient and her partner. Talking through the change and exploring images together can help cancer survivors and their significant others get ready to face intimacy after surgery. A little preparation can go a long way. Remember that partners also mourns the loss of a part of their sexual relationship. Talking about this can be challenging, but it is essential.
Reconstruction or Decorative Art
While it is impossible to deny that there has been a change after a mastectomy, that doesn’t mean a women must spend the rest of her life looking at the scars from a surgery. There are many reconstruction options that can restore the appearance of a breast and other options that decorate the chest. Some women choose to get mastectomy tattoos in a celebration of beauty and survival. Ultimately, the choice belongs to the survivor, and friends and family should be supportive of the decision.
Support Is Out There
A support group full of other people who have faced the same challenges can be invaluable in the first months after surgery. Many breast cancer survivors face anger, bitterness, low self-esteem and a host of other overwhelming emotions, even once they are declared cancer-free. There is a vibrant community out there that can help, but only if survivors reach out.
About the Author: After the death of her grandmother during cancer treatment and the subsequent diagnosis of her aunt, Nadine Miller has become sensitive to the needs of cancer patient’s and their families. Cancer is always a tough subject, but she learned that the right support can help along the journey to wellness, and she believes that reaching out is an important part of giving back to the community that was so supportive as her family battled this disease.