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Breast Cancer Treatment: Coping With A Mastectomy
As women, especially American women, much of our femininity centers around our breasts. No matter where you look, there are pictures, billboards, commercials, TV shows and movies featuring women with those beautiful breasts and ample cleavage. The thought of losing one or both breasts to breast cancer can be devastating for many of us. Sure, there’s rebuilding, but will it really be the same again? Even if you have a reconstruction you will never feel there again and for many of us this definitely affects our sexuality.
I had two separate mastectomies, for my breast cancer, despite the fact that I wanted to do them both at the same time. Two different surgeons told me it was not necessary. They later found out that was the case because I had the same breast cancer in both breasts. Through these surgeries, I learned some things about what to expect and how to get back on my feet after a mastectomy for breast cancer.
The first thing to realize is that apart from the emotional aspect of such an operation, it is a simple operation. The breast is made up mostly of fatty tissue and, of course, milk ducts and lobes. Removing this breast tissue is much easier than operating on an organ, but has a much more emotional impact for most of us. Most surgeons will remove as much breast tissue as possible to help reduce the risk of your breast cancer recurring. You will usually end up with a horizontal scar about four inches long. The scar may be red for a while but eventually should fade to where you can hardly see it.
You want to make sure you take loose, button-up shirts (raiding your husband’s closet helps) with you to the hospital, because you won’t be able to lift your arms above your head for a while . You will also need a sports bra and I highly recommend one that ties in the front. They will put it on after your operation. Typically, you should be able to stay in the hospital overnight. If you’re going to have lymph nodes removed, a small pillow, to slip under that arm, will help you feel more comfortable. Check with your local American Cancer Society as they may have small pillows for you. An extra pillow to hold against your chest, if you need to cough, sneeze, or laugh, can help prevent your incision from hurting.
When you wake up you will have a few drain tubes for each side you did. These tubes are important because they allow excess fluid that your body will produce to drain out. If you did not have them, the liquid would have to be aspirated with a needle. Drains, while not fun, are better than that. These drains will need to be emptied several times a day, and you will need to keep track of how much fluid you drain so the doctor knows when you’ve slowed down enough to remove them. You may not know where to put these drains under your clothes. I pinned mine to the sports bra and that way they didn’t pull when I moved.
Back home, plan to have someone to help you for the first few days. You won’t be allowed to access your cupboards and certainly won’t be able to clean the house or pick up your kids, if you have little ones. You will be sent home with painkillers and you will certainly take them if you need them. Studies show you’ll heal faster if you avoid pain, so don’t be afraid to take them as prescribed.
If you have a recliner, you might consider moving it to the bedroom as you won’t be able to lie flat for a while. You will need to sleep in a partially seated position. If you don’t have one or don’t have room for it in your bedroom, plenty of pillows will also do the trick. That’s what I used. Just make sure you have enough pillows to stay comfortable.
If you would like someone who has been there before to visit, be sure to call your local American Cancer Society and ask for a Reach 2 Recovery volunteer. This is a program of the American Cancer Society where they try to match you with one of their volunteers who has a similar experience to what you are having. This woman will come to visit you and bring you all kinds of brochures and information on conventional treatments. She will also bring you a list of exercises you can start doing to regain your mobility and range of motion.
Its very important. It hurts to stretch your arm after surgery, but if you haven’t had reconstruction and you don’t start soon, you’ll lose that range of motion. I would recommend starting gently, slowly raising your arm…let your body guide you…the day after your surgery. This is ONLY if you haven’t had a rebuild. If so, let your plastic surgeon tell you when to start stretching. Push where it hurts a little, but don’t push too far beyond that. Gradually, you will be able to stretch a little more every other day.
Above all, allow yourself to heal emotionally, as well as physically. Some of us just can’t look at that incision right away. Its good. Take all the time you need. I know I felt like some kind of boobless freak, and even six years later, I still have them sometimes. But remember these scars are your battle scars. They don’t make you less of a woman. They make you a warrior.
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#Breast #Cancer #Treatment #Coping #Mastectomy