It’s estimated that a little more than half of all American women with breast cancer will undergo a mastectomy, the removal of one or both breasts. While this procedure in and of itself is difficult enough, many women are unprepared for the challenges that await them once the procedure is complete.
If you’ve recently undergone a mastectomy or will receive one in the near future, you may be worried about coping with these new challenges. Luckily, it’s not a matter of simply suffering through it—there are real steps you can take to overcome physical and emotional hurdles. Here are five tips embracing life after a mastectomy.
Find a support group.
There’s no doubt it takes a strong woman to survive both breast cancer and a mastectomy, but even the most courageous people need some support every now and then. Finding a group for women with whom you can sympathize, share struggles, and celebrate victories can do wonders for lifting your spirits post-mastectomy. If you are unable to find an in-person group or simply don’t feel comfortable doing so, there are a number of support websites where survivors can share stories with a larger degree of privacy.
Embrace your new look.
Getting used to life without one or both of your breasts can take some getting used to—you’ve literally lost a part of yourself. Some women choose to wear prosthetics, while others find that embracing their radically new body type can be just as beneficial and empowering. As the number of women who have undergone a mastectomy increases, there are more and more clothing designers who are developing fashion lines catered specifically to this demographic. Even though society may place a high level of aesthetic importance on breasts, that doesn’t mean you can’t still look fabulous without them.
Be proud of your journey.
It can be difficult to open up about your experiences surrounding your mastectomy. From the rude gawkers to the well-intentioned people bombarding you with a constant stream of pity, there are plenty of reasons to stay in the mastectomy “closet.” However, sharing your story can be beneficial in two ways. For one, it means you don’t have to suffer in silence—sharing grief and uncertainty is a great way to lessen their hold on you. Secondly, your story could be of huge benefit to women in a situation similar to yours. By opening up yourself, you may provide others with the courage to undergo this important procedure.
Savor your second chance.
Even though a mastectomy may radically alter the life you once knew, in some sense it’s a treatment that provides you with a second chance or the ability to do things differently. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to take up skydiving or lion taming, but if there’s something you’ve always wanted to do but have been putting off, now is the time to go for it!
Give yourself time to readjust.
You may be tempted to hit the ground running after your mastectomy—if you stay busy you won’t have time to think about it, right? Unfortunately, this approach merely postpones the inevitable, and in some cases, it may only make the reality of your situation more difficult to accept in the future. Give yourself time to grieve, get angry, or embrace other emotions as you recover from your mastectomy. There’s no ideal way to make it through such a physically and emotionally exhausting situation, so take the time you need to find a method that works for you.