I led a healthy and happy lifestyle and made sure my children did too because well, I was someone who believed health was wealth. I was proud that often other mom’s would come to me for advice on choosing a healthy lifestyle for my family.
Just like I had a perfect house, my body was perfect too – or so I thought.
To my surprise, 3 years ago, at the age of 38, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
After the biopsy, the doctor revealed that cancer had made its way to the lymph nodes. Having been fairly healthy all my life and not having the slightest interest in science, I didn’t really know what purpose lymph nodes served. However, thanks to Abudo’s Breast Cancer platform, I learned quickly that “cancer has spread to your lymph nodes” is not something you want to be told. Soon I found myself making important life-altering decisions.
Finding out that I had developed breast cancer made my heart sink and at that time I could only think about my children and how it would affect my relationships. But I was standing strong until my doctor told me that the tumour was big and it had to go. But how was it supposed to go? Lumpectomy? Nope.
The doctor suggested a mastectomy and my mind went blank.
Some people ask me why?
Well because like all other women, my breasts were such an important part of me and my sexuality. Moreover, I had breastfed each of my children for years. And as dramatic as it sounds they’re an essential part of me just like my lungs or heart. Without my breasts, I didn’t know whether I would feel whole or truly confident with myself. I knew that it would get rid of cancer but I didn’t know about the emotional effects of mastectomy.
I thought long and hard about the mastectomy decision. Was I being too selfish because I cared about my appearance? Was I being foolish for choosing my breasts over beating cancer? What would my husband think of me? All sorts of questions ran through my mind but ultimately I decided to go ahead with surgery. After all the cancer would disappear and then all my worries would vanish right?
It was a very long night before the dawn of the day on which I decided to get my mastectomy done.
Sooner than I realized, the morning of the surgery arrived. I never knew when I reached the oncology surgical theatre that after a few hours I would be a totally different person. Laying there in the white hospital gown hooked up to machines and constant questions by doctors, I began having second thoughts. But it was too late to go back now, I was drifting away in a deep sleep. After what seemed like forever, I awoke. I felt numb. I wanted it all to be a bad dream and I wanted to wake up ‘normal’ next to my husband and three screaming kids. But this was a reality now.
Looking in the mirror became a bad habit. Day and night I would stand there prodding and poking at my chest. I hated what I saw. Coping with cancer was not nearly as hard as coping with the aftermath of mastectomy. I didn’t feel feminine, I didn’t feel like me. My mental health after mastectomy was deteriorating fast and I couldn’t help it.
I began distancing myself from my husband because I had already assumed that he wasn’t going to love me anymore. I wasn’t sure how he would respond to my body and so I hid away from any intimacy. I didn’t know that the emotional effects of mastectomy would not only affect my life but also the lives of the people around me. It was hard not only for my husband but for my children too. They were old enough to realise that mommy was not herself and needed support. They all rallied around me and tried their best to make me happy but my mental health after mastectomy was more unstable than it had ever been.
Mastectomy complications are not always physical, they can be mental too. I felt frustrated and angry and wondered why I ever decided to go through surgery. My body was engulfed in feelings of worthlessness and my thoughts were turning dark. These feelings began interfering with my everyday routine and I was going downhill fast. No matter how much I tried there was nothing anyone could do to make me feel comfortable in my own body again. I knew I needed help but I wasn’t ready to admit it.
My husband suggested we go out for some retail therapy. After all, doesn’t a bit of retail therapy make everyone happy? Wrong. It made me miserable. The clothes I normally bought didn’t fit me right anymore. I struggled to find the right things that looked good on me. I felt like the whole world was looking at me and judging me. I gave up. My husband decided that the emotional effects of mastectomy were getting out of hand and it was time I got some professional help.
After many attempts at convincing, I finally gave in. We booked an appointment with a therapist, who listened patiently. She explained a mastectomy complication I was going through was mental trauma and all my symptoms were pointing towards depression. She suggested regular counselling to help with the trauma until I felt stable and ready again.
A year after counselling I was finally able to look into the mirror and love me for me. I realised that my mastectomy wasn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s a constant reminder that I was brave enough to beat cancer.Although I wish I had believed in prevention being better than cure; I’m glad I stand here today stronger than ever and help women like me who are going through the same thing.
Here are a few tips to help you with post mastectomy trauma:
Sex After Mastectomy
The emotional effects of mastectomy can have a negative impact on your sex life. Because of surgery, you may feel less sensation in your breast and nipple. You may not be sure as to how your partner reacts.
It’s okay. It’s normal.
You don’t have to rush to reignite the flames. Take as long as you need and be open and honest with your partner. It’s okay if things take time. It’s just important to be patient with yourself. If you still find that you’re struggling, it may be a good idea to try counselling for couples as it will help create a better understanding.
Shopping For Clothes After Mastectomy
After your mastectomy, you may find that your clothes don’t fit the way they used to. Rather than beating yourself up about it, use it as an excuse to go on a shopping spree. There are bras designed for post-mastectomy. They help fill out dresses and t-shirts which may make you feel comfortable when going out. There are even swimsuits available that help take off focus from the chest.
Try out different styles and experiment with your look. You never know you might end up finding your inner fashion guru.
Depression After Mastectomy
Mental health after mastectomy can be greatly impacted. Constantly feeling worthless, down and feelings that interfere with your everyday life, are signs of depression.
If you feel that these feelings are ongoing, consider getting professional help. Talk to a therapist or a loved one and be honest about your feelings. Keeping things bottled up will only make it worse for you.
Mastectomy And Self-Image
After going through a Mastectomy not feeling like yourself and feeling less attractive are normal feelings. Many women go through this. However, part of the healing process is learning to feel comfortable and learning to love your new body.
I know it’s easier said than done. I’ve been there.
But sometimes connecting with other people who are going through the same thing can be helpful. Join support groups and exchange tips on getting through this difficult time.
Going through something like a mastectomy is not easy. However, it’s not impossible to get through it if you keep yourself strong.
Get Up. Gear Up. Live Better.