Feelings of loss and grief and difficulties with sexual intimacy are common after breast reconstruction. Talking with a friend, family, member, breast care nurse or professional counsellor can help.
Looking at the reconstructed breast for the first time
Having the bandages removed for the first time can be a daunting experience. It is usual to feel nervous or anxious. It might be helpful to talk to a breast reconstruction surgeon or nurse and/or to a family member or friend about any concerns. This may affect how you feel about your appearance and even about yourself.
The look of the reconstructed breast(s) will improve over time as the bruising and swelling improves. After a breast reconstruction using implants, the reconstructed breast(s) will reach their final look and feel relatively quickly. After a breast reconstruction using a tissue flap, the improvement will be more gradual as the swelling subsides, bruising fades, and the reconstructed breast(s) begin to ‘settle’ into their new position.
Some women are shocked when they first see the scars on their breast(s) or other parts of the body. The scars will fade over time but will never fade completely. At about 18 months after surgery, the scars will have faded as much as they ever will. Skin quality and wound healing will affect how well the scars fade. Moisturisers and massage may help.
It is usually possible to hide the scars under minimal clothing, possibly even under swimsuits and underwear. Further surgery to improve the appearance of the scars may be an option later down the track.
“I wasn’t really rapt... It (reconstructed breast) was a good shape and realistically it was a damn good job, but I wasn’t enthusiastic and I didn’t hate it…I just was like, you know, I could live with it at the time."
Grieving for a lost breast(s)
All women who have a mastectomy may experience sadness at the loss of a breast, including women who have an immediate breast reconstruction. A reconstructed breast will not be the same as the original breast, and many women experience grief in response to this loss.
If you have a delayed breast reconstruction, you will experience living without one or both breasts. This may affect how you feel about her appearance and even about herself.
If you have an implant or LD flap breast reconstruction that requires a tissue expander, you will probably live without a breast shape for a short period of time. Until the tissue expander is inflated, your chest may be flat. This may be quite a shock. Although the expansion process can happen quite rapidly, your self-esteem and body image may still be affected.
"It changed my body image absolutely because... even before the bandages and stuff came off, I could see that I was in shape, you know. The symmetry was now right. You could stand in front of a mirror and you looked like you were supposed to look and automatically you feel a whole lot better. You're just not missing anything, you are all complete again."
Feelings about breast cancer
For many people dealing with having breast cancer and undergoing its treatments is a lengthy and life-changing process. Throughout the experience of a breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and breast reconstruction, women can get caught up in the ongoing physical and emotional recovery as well as maintaining the ‘normal’ day-to-day demands of their lives. Some women comment that it is only when they reach the end of the breast reconstruction experience that they realise they must still deal with the reality of having had breast cancer and their concerns and fears related to this.
"The thing is, it changes your whole life, I mean it changes every area of your life, whatever area you choose to talk about or just mention, there would be some kind of impact. And it's all positive."