Psychological Benefits of Breast Reconstruction
There have been many articles written over the years regarding the psychological benefits of breast reconstruction. When a woman or man loses a body part to breast cancer it seems reasonable to expect one would experience upset and psychological trauma no less than any other amputee. However, the decision to remedy the amputation of the body part through breast reconstruction is not an easy process. It means more surgery, recovery, dealing with possible side effects and complications, time off work, support from loved ones, research, and acceptance there will be lifelong scars.
One of the driving factors to move forward with my own breast reconstruction after my mastectomy was to remedy the “psychological distress” I was experiencing from the loss of my breasts. It took a full week after my mastectomy for the psychological anguish to hit home in a figurative and literal sense. This was my second diagnosis. I had a recurrence as well a new primary cancer. I was of the mindset, “Mastectomy accepted! Let’s get these breasts off and the cancer out!”
It wasn’t until a week after my mastectomy I truly began to feel the psychological distress. I was sitting in our living room with my oldest son who had come to help care for me after surgery. I felt a wave of sorrow come over me, left the room, stood in front of the mirror, and opened my shirt to look at my scarred and breast less-body. I put my shirt back on, went back to the room where my son was and the tears began to roll down my face. I choked back my thoughts and looked at him and said, “I think I’m just realizing how much I miss my breasts.”
The Beginning and End of my Psychological Distress.
When I read articles about the psychological benefits of breast reconstruction and patient satisfaction scores after surgery, I feel like I’m sitting in the middle of the article or I am part of the study. One such study was recently posted on Twitter by the plastic surgeon who performed my DIEP flap surgery. It sums up exactly how I felt because of my delayed, DIEP flap breast reconstruction. An excerpt from the article states:
The patient experience is important in breast surgery as it affects the patient psychosocially, her physical functioning, and the aesthetic result.
The one day, when I realized I missed my breasts was the beginning of my psychological distress and it never really ended until the day I woke up from my delayed DIEP flap breast reconstruction. The study referenced in this blog is for patients who underwent TRAM, a different type of autologous procedure than I had, but both are still autologous, using the patient’s own tissue. The conclusion of the study states this:
Through statistical analysis, our results showed that patients who underwent autologous tissue reconstruction had better satisfaction with the reconstructed breast and the outcome, while both techniques appear to equally improve psychosocial well-being, sexual well-being, and chest satisfaction.
Reflecting the findings of the study, I am fully satisfied choosing autologous breast reconstruction. All options were presented to me but I never even considered implants. I do know women, some of them personal friends, who have chosen implants and, like me, have a true sense of gratitude for the method they chose and to have had their breasts rebuilt after mastectomy.
What Are the Choices for Breast Reconstruction After Mastectomy?
- Implant based breast reconstruction ~ There are a variety of types and manufacturers of breast implants. Discuss the options with your plastic surgeon and the aesthetic outcomes as well as the safety concerns of any implants used.
- Autologous breast reconstruction ~ Using a patient’s own tissue from various sources of the body, a new breast mound is reconstructed to rebuild the breasts. Discuss the options available, risks and complications of the surgery, recovery time, and aesthetic outcomes.
- Autologous breast reconstruction with implant ~ Using breast implants with a patient’s own tissue. Combining these two methods is sometimes used to achieved desired volume in the newly reconstructed breasts.
We are living in an era of plastic surgery where the advances in breast reconstruction have greatly improved the aesthetic outcomes for the patient. There have been many advances in techniques used for plastic surgeons performing the procedure. I am proof positive and witness to the fact, using your own tissue results in high patient satisfaction. I look back at those seven months spent without my breasts. I spent those seven months dealing with psychological distress from the loss of my breasts.
I asked some women if they felt they achieved improved self-image after breast reconstruction. Here are a few of their responses:
“Diep Flap” restored my failed implant reconstruction due to radiation. I felt devastated and mutilated after having my implant removed after several attempts to preserve it. Diep gave me some symmetry again despite the many complications I had. It was the beginning of feeling whole again”. ~ Val Wright
I think you have to deal with so much mentally with cancer. Chemo, Radiation, mastectomy, the roller coaster of changes and convincing yourself with each new course that “I’ve got this”. Worse yet convincing your friends and loved ones. By the time I reached the Diep I wasn’t sure I “needed” it. I instantly found I felt whole and me and had a smile that I wasn’t forcing from a frown. It was the closest to “me” that I had found in over a year. ~ Angie Murray
For me diep flap was a blessing. I knew if I came out of surgery with an expander and no breast it would have been emotionally devastating for me. Coming out of surgery after diep I had an immediate breast! I didn’t care if it wasn’t my natural one, I just cared that I had one and I still felt feminine. I am honestly more confident now with my breasts than I was prior to diep surgery. ~ Brooke Hargus
I had immediate reconstruction with DIEP flap after my unilateral mastectomy. In a sense, I never had to deal with the psychological distress of not having a breast. I was very distressed about the idea of having a mastectomy and at the time I didn’t know about DIEP. I assumed I would have to adjust to having only one breast because I knew I would not be happy with an implant. While this surgery is not easy, I knew I would be happier and more satisfied with the result. I have moments now where I forget I ever had cancer and reconstruction. Without DIEP flap I doubt that I would be having those moments. ~ Anonymous
What I will continue to help others understand is this; there are options in breast reconstruction that can improve their self-image if they have suffered psychological distress from the loss of their breasts. We do have choices to reconstruct our breasts or not, but, those facing mastectomy cannot make an informed decision unless they are presented with those options for breast reconstruction.
Did your self-image improve after your breast reconstruction? Mine did and I am grateful.