The Psycho-social and Psycho-sexual Benefits of Breast Reconstruction
The psycho-social and psycho-sexual benefits of breast reconstruction have been studied in a number of peer reviewed articles. Sharing evidence based research is a key component to my advocacy work. It is important to me that studies have been done and data has been collected from patients who have had reconstruction to assess the impact and outcome of such a complex surgery. These studies validate the information I share.
A Personal Account of the Benefits
I did a lot of research before my DIEP flap reconstruction but not specifically about the psycho-social or psycho-sexual benefits. Keeping that in mind, this blog for me, is truly a personal account of what impact my own reconstruction had on my self-image and femininity. I am not yet comfortable dipping my toes in the water of revealing the impact on my sexual well being as it is simply too personal a topic for me to pen about. That may change over time but the simple fact is this; restored femininity, your own personal sense of beauty, what defines you as a woman and your sexual health are all tied together.
It is not always easy for me to make the choice to post personal photos of myself on my blogs. Many times it feels self-indulgent, self-promoting. These photos I am sharing in this blog, however, show a sharp contrast in body form and may give you a personal glimpse into the transformation that I went through and how the reader can see the very look of confidence restored on my face after my reconstruction. I share these photos in celebration of the transformation that took place for me after DIEP flap breast reconstruction.
Photo number one, from left to right in this collage of pictures begin with my last trip to the gym before my surgery on November 19, 2014. I was 12 short days away from what is hopefully the longest surgery of my life, DIEP flap breast reconstruction. I purposely saved this photo with the date as a reminder. I wanted to feel very strong going into my surgery and I encourage other women to do the same.
What I noticed about this photo was this. I was wearing my prosthesis at the time. It was hot, heavy and uncomfortable at the gym. I look at my tummy and the excess fat I was carrying around my waist even though I considered myself to be in very good physical condition at the time. I liked going to that gym because it was small and personal and I was often there by myself. I didn’t have to worry much about anyone seeing me. The prosthesis always felt like an unnatural shape to me and I believe it is visible in the first photo compared to the round, natural shape in the post-reconstruction photos that follow.
I admittedly was a woman who was adversely affected by self image after my mastectomy. I lived with not having breasts for seven months. I cancelled social engagements on more than one occasion because I was never comfortable in my new wardrobe that I was forced to change to accommodate my prosthesis. The prosthesis never felt like me nor was it.
Photo number two, the middle photo shows me after my reconstruction. Not only do I now have form, new breast that are 100% me, but that tummy is gone! That tummy is now my breasts. I like to refer to them as my “belly boobs” when I’m having light heart-ed conversation with friends about my surgery. It is true that I posed for this picture, but that is a pose that I never did before breast cancer and especially not before reconstruction.
Photo number three is a dress I bought when I went shopping with my mother after my reconstruction. I wore this dress on a night out with my husband and it was a first for me. I went bra-less, something I didn’t do even before I had breast cancer and certainly not after my mastectomy. My confidence, femininity and shape had been restored.
Referencing one particular article that I read while writing this blog states the following:
Writing in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Dr. Edwin Wilkins of the University of Michigan and colleagues also determined that women who had immediate reconstruction at the time of their mastectomy had more of a psychological boost than those who waited to have the procedure until a later date.
~ The Emotional Impact of Breast Reconstruction
Articles are based on the statistics gathered at the time articles are written. Changes in scientific advancements can change a study over time. Personal outcomes gathered in a study certainly vary from one patient to another. I want to make two personal comments and facts on the above referenced information: 1. I had delayed reconstruction. 2. I was not part of this study.
What I can tell you is this, from the time I had my mastectomy to the time I completed my reconstruction was a period of rebirth in my self-confidence and a boost to my sense of femininity after losing my breasts and gaining my form back.
What I wish I could do is post the before and after photos I have seen on my closed/private Facebook page of the countless women I have personally seen transformed by this surgery. I have watched as women go from diagnosis to treatment, through being bald and sick to deciding on which option to choose for reconstruction. They share their experience from the planning stage, fears of the surgery, and on to the trans-formative confidence and smiles that reflect a new self image, restored femininity and the ability to move beyond the diagnosis and cancer.
Beauty Among the Thorns
The picture of this cactus shows vibrant, beautiful flowers that overshadow the sharp needles below the blossoms. This reminded me of an analogy I drew of those who have gone through reconstruction.
We do blossom among the thorns and our beauty radiates our strength.
Your body feels different than before surgery. There is numbness, tightness and adjustments to be made while recovering from reconstruction. But visible smiles and comments post reconstruction make a clear statement that support the articles that have been written and information that has been gathered stating that there are definite psycho-social and psycho-sexual benefits of breast reconstruction.
One Last Bit of Advice
Your research can affect your outcomes. Do your homework and choose your reconstructive surgeon wisely. Find a board certified surgeon who has a high success rate, engages you in the risks, recovery and expected outcomes of your surgery. It will make a difference in the confidence and femininity that you gain back after a mastectomy.