The healing process
It can take some time to adjust to a new body shape after breast surgery. After your operation the swelling will go down, bruising will fade, and scars gradually become less obvious.
Most women gradually become used to their new shape, whether they’ve had conservative surgery or a mastectomy, or a reconstruction after mastectomy. You will get more used to your false breast shape (prosthesis) if you wear one, and less worried that it will fall out or that other people will notice it. You are likely to find that your confidence will gradually come back.
The emotional ups and downs may last longer. You may find anxieties coming back when you go for check ups or if a programme on the television or radio mentions cancer. Or new situations may bring more fears, anger and insecurities. If you get involved with a new partner, you may get very anxious.
Breast cancer surgery can leave you emotionally and physically drained. It is important to give yourself time to adjust. Get care and support from others in whatever way is best for you.
Your feelings after breast surgery
It is not unusual to feel very upset at times in the the first months after surgery. Many women have intense feelings including
- Anger and resentment
These feelings may be mixed with relief that the cancer has been found and treated. People react very differently to surgery. Most women need time to come to terms with the changes to, or loss of, their breast. Breast cancer surgery can leave you emotionally and physically drained. Give yourself time to adjust. It can help to talk to people you find supportive, including friends and family members, or your breast care nurse.
How you will look after surgery
Women find different ways of dealing with the changes to their bodies. Some prefer to see the results of the surgery for the first time alone. Others want a partner or friend, or doctor or nurse, to be with them when they take their first look.
Your surgeon will do all they can to make sure your scars are as small and discreet as possible. And with time, many scars will fade and be far less visible. How you look is an important part of your self esteem. It can be very hard to accept sudden changes in your looks that you are not happy with. Women often say they feel angry, upset and confused for some time after this type of surgery.
You may feel worried about how friends and family see you. You may think that you are no longer as attractive as you were. Going back to work and meeting new people can be more of a struggle if you are trying to cope with changes in your appearance. Even though people may not be able to see the changes, you may worry that you somehow look different.
If you have children, you may be concerned about how they will see you and how it might affect them. It is normal to worry about these things. But the people closest to you will not see you any differently as a person. They will want to support you as much as they can, so it can help to let them know how you are feeling. Talking things through can help you to feel less isolated and more able to cope.
There are several things that may help you to cope with changes in the way your breasts look. They may not take away all the emotions that you have but they can make things easier. They are described below.
Finding out what to expect ahead of time
Talking through your treatment with your surgeon and breast care nurse is probably one of the most important things to do before your operation. Even if you feel at the time that you don’t want to know, it can really help you deal with things later on. If you let your surgeon and nurse know that you want to have the complete picture, they will be completely honest with you. They will answer any questions that you have about how you will look and what the surgery will involve.
You are likely to be very swollen and sore just after surgery, but this is temporary. Your surgeon and breast care nurse will know how worried you are and will want to put your mind at rest wherever possible.
Talking to people close to you
The best source of support for most of us is family and friends. You may feel worried about upsetting them. But many people are surprised how much it can help just to share your feelings.
If you are having problems with your intimate and sexual relationships because you are worried about the changes to your body, try letting your partner know.
Sexuality after breast surgery
Breast surgery will not directly affect your physical ability to have sex. But your emotions may change your sexual feelings for a while. Many women need to feel fairly happy with their bodies to have a satisfying sex life. If you think that your partner may be put off, you may worry about the time when you allow them to see or touch your body. There is no right or wrong time to take this step. When and how, depends on your own feelings and relationships.
Some women feel very sensitive and need time to build up their courage before they feel able to let their partner look at them or touch them after the surgery. Other women need almost instant comfort and find that touch relieves their fear of being rejected.
Arriving home from hospital after surgery can be an anxious time. Coming to terms with everything you have experienced and the changes to your body can be a lot to deal with.
If undressing with your partner on the first night home from hospital worries you, there are things you can do to prepare. While you are still in hospital, you could ask the nurses to help you tell your partner what the result of the operation may look like. Or you could ask them to speak to your partner for you, if you prefer. A nurse, or your doctor, can be with you when you let your partner see the operation scar. Or you may choose a relative or friend to be with you and talk it over together afterwards.
You may find it helpful to take your partner with you for your clinic visits before the operation. That way they will be prepared for how you will look after the surgery and when you come home. They may also be more able to help support you emotionally at a difficult time if they understand what is being planned.