If you haven’t been through a breast cancer diagnosis and mastectomy, you can’t really understand the upheaval that happens to your life. Because after breast cancer, your emotions change, your body image changes, and the peace in your life is turned upside down.
All those doubts and fears don’t go away at the end of treatment, or after the recovery from breast reconstruction.
So, where can you find your old normal? Well, that’s impossible, because it’s gone. Searching for that “new normal” seems so insurmountable, but it’s oh so extremely necessary to move forward.
Flip My Switch . . . Please!
For most women, it’s not as simple as “flipping a switch” and immediately going back to life with full gusto. Because the adjustments to life after breast cancer, and learning to love your new breasts after a mastectomy, are often a long and winding emotional road.
What now sits on your chest is new, and unfamiliar. They are a kind of monument to what breast cancer has stolen from you, and a constant reminder of all that you’ve been through.
Feel My Breasts?
Sitting in the doctor’s office and hearing that your new breasts will “feel” like your old ones offers hope that your life will return to some normalcy. They can say it feels like a natural breast, but really, they are referring to how it feels to someone else, and not to you.
Many doctors don’t fully understand the relationship a woman has with her breasts. Or how intimately well she knows her breasts. That idea of how natural they will feel and look to others is merely a reflection of how much of our culture judges based on appearance. It’s not the most uplifting fact, but it’s good to keep in mind to avoid unreasonable expectations or assumptions about what’s normal.
When women discuss breast reconstruction with their doctors, often they are told their new breasts will look better than before. Sometimes though, the potential consequences of breast reconstruction aren’t always made totally clear.
Women are often surprised at the numbness they experience in their new breasts, and the lack of sensation and sexual arousal.
Women want to believe that reconstructive surgery will make them “whole” again. But sometimes they don’t completely understand, or are not even told, that they will lose sensation during the surgery. The sensation is unlikely to come back.
This has a huge effect on intimacy, and even self-image or self-confidence.
So, Where Do I Find This “New Normal” After Breast Cancer?
Dr. Lisa Newman, M.D., a former director of the University of Michigan Breast Care Center, says in an article about finding “peace of mind”, and reclaiming your life after breast cancer . . .
“Patients should be aggressive about reaching out and embracing any strategy that helps them conquer the psychological baggage that might be weighing them down. For some patients, these strategies might include yoga. For others, it might be some alternative exercise regime or professional psychotherapy, or a hobby or social activity, or even a pet. And for many survivors, being able to provide guidance to other, newly diagnosed patients can be an effective coping strategy.”
Finding your “new normal” is something, unfortunately, you will have work at; it will not just appear. It may not be easy to find, but is as important to your recovery as treatment and breast reconstruction.
Trying to become one with the new monuments on your chest will take time, and will require perhaps some physical adjustments as well as psychological adjustments.
But in the end finding your “new normal,” and embracing it, will prove the strength that you have found during this long journey, and will propel you forward to tackle whatever else lies ahead.
If you enjoyed this article, may we suggest Lisa’s article on her experience with life after breast cancer?