Patient tips Five ways to prepare for a mastectomy—emotionally and physically

Five ways to prepare for a mastectomy—emotionally and physically

In 2015, Beth W. was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. After receiving her initial treatment at another facility, she sought out a second opinion at City of Hope, where she eventually embarked on a nine-month treatment journey of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. One question Beth W. gets the most from other patients is how to prepare for a mastectomy.

  1. You’re not your breasts (or your hair!). Two of the biggest concerns I hear from other women diagnosed with breast cancer involve losing their breasts or hair from surgery or treatment. I understand completely. Both losses can feel incredibly tough to navigate, not just physically but emotionally as well. Remember: Neither defines you. Your heart and soul determine who you are. You’re beautiful and wonderfully made. You’re not “less” of a woman because of a mastectomy (or hair loss)!
  2. It’s OK to grieve. You experience a loss of a close friend when you undergo a mastectomy, so a period of sadness is normal. As you look in the mirror at your chest, speak kind words to yourself—just like if you were comforting a girlfriend.
  3. Consider your options after mastectomy. Of course, reconstruction is one option that involves several surgeries—but it isn’t the only option. I chose to wear a bra and prosthesis. If you decide to go this route, get a professional fitting the first time for the prosthesis. Once you get used to wearing one, you can find an entire range of price options for bras. Some ladies choose to go “flat,” and some even choose tattoos over the scar. Whatever you decide, it’s your choice, and you aren’t alone.
  4. Discuss your concerns about the procedure with your care team. Everyone I know who has had a mastectomy could hardly wait to “get it over with.” If you have anxiety about the surgery (like I did), talk to your care team about options to help keep you calm before the surgery. Something that helped keep me calm is remembering surgeons and hospitals perform thousands of mastectomies. They’re skilled experts, and there was nothing to fear.
  5. Recovery just takes time. It may feel tough to navigate the drains until they’re removed. Remember, all of your body parts work. You can walk and move your arms and sit and stand. Your chest will be sore, but each day, it should improve as healing continues! 

A cancer journey can be overwhelming.

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