There seems to be assumptions in the community that are sometimes perpetuated in the media, about the reasons why a woman chooses to have her breasts reconstructed. Most women survive early breast cancer but undergoing treatment for breast cancer means they can lose a lot; she might feel sickly from chemotherapy or other drugs, she might be thrown into early menopause which has numerous side effects, she might feel weak and lethargic from repeated surgeries and she will have lost much or all of her hair.
There is significant concern and support for a woman who is physically undergoing these changes, friends and family and often times, strangers, rally around to help a women who is clearly suffering. People close might show their support by making meals or doing jobs around the home, and strangers might carry the groceries to the car.
Everyone is pleased to see a woman recovering from treatment, her colour returns, her body gets stronger, she returns to previously enjoyed activities. Her hair grows back. There is no question that when your hair is long enough to look like you have it short by choice, it is a good time in recovery, and those around you respond accordingly.
But breasts don't grow back. And for many women this is a private hell. Its hard to discuss, those around her simply cannot understand what it is like to be in her shoes. She might feel isolated and very sad. Support is sometimes in the form of cover yourself with a pretty scarf so no one will notice you have just one or no breasts, or the subtle pressure to embrace your scars and move on. Lots of women are comfortable and happy to go this way, and many women celebrate their mastectomy scars but not everyone.
There is a silent struggle going on for some women, who feel conflicted between their desire to be whole again, and knowing that reconstruction surgery is completely by choice and they question if they should put their families through more when they seem recovered from breast cancer. There can be a strange kind of guilt that a woman feels putting herself first in pursuit of a purely aesthetic outcome that often only she, and perhaps her partner, might see and value.
Recognising that breast reconstruction is for a woman's personal journey and for the purpose of looking in the mirror to see a whole body reflected back might represent a change in the way we need to respond to women making this choices. It is about uncovering after breast cancer with a restored body rather than covering up.
Posted by Louise Turner