These Women Tell All About What Getting a Mastectomy Is Really Like

A mastectomy is a highly invasive, emotional, and taxing procedure. The breast-removal surgery is performed as a way to treat breast cancer when a lumpectomy (breast-conserving surgery) cannot fully treat the disease.

Two highly supportive communities; The BuzzFeed Community and Reddit, provided platforms for women who have undergone the surgery to discuss their experiences. What they reveal gives insight into the intricacies of the procedure as well as advice that only someone who has had the surgery can give.

Reconstructive mastectomies are not equivalent to typical breast augmentation

Mastectomies are incredibly difficult operations. | Megaflopp

A typical breast augmentation, generally performed by plastic surgeons as an elective surgery, do not heed the same results as a reconstructive mastectomy.

“A mastectomy is NOT the same as a boob job. All the breast tissue they can get is taken out, and your nerves are cut. Most people never gain back full sensation. It is also an extremely painful surgery, and it is common to have drains coming from your chest for weeks afterward,” BuzzFeed community user christieb4cf98f065 told the site.

Next: Be proactive in taking the steps to prevent infection.

Some people need surgeries to treat post-mastectomy infection

Mastectomies often lead to other surgeries. | Jacoblund

Reddit user purpleit11 wrote about her cousin’s difficulties after surgery. After receiving a prophylactic double mastectomy, her cousin acquired an infection and needed another surgery almost four weeks after her initial operation.

 Breast operations, classified as “clean procedures” by the National Healthcare Safety Network, have an anticipated 1 to 2% surgical site infection incidence, or probability. All breast cancer treatments raise your risk for infection, including surgery itself. To prevent infection, breastcancer.org recommends showering daily, washing vegetables and fruits thoroughly, and getting a flu shot two weeks before chemotherapy or in between cycles, among other tips.
Next: Some people choose to have the procedure as a preventative measure.

Some people choose to have preventative mastectomies

Some people elect to do mastectomies before cancer develops. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

People opt to have a preventative mastectomy, a surgery to remove breast tissue before it develops cancer, for multiple reasons. Among these is a strong family history of breast cancer, a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation, and atypical lobular hyperplasia, an irregular cell condition.

BuzzFeed user lizt4ed313c42 admitted that while some may view the procedure as “extreme,” she sees it as “taking control” of her future. “I have the BRCA1 gene mutation, which means I have about a 65% lifetime risk of developing cancer. I don’t like those odds and I’m only 29, so I’m undergoing a preventative double mastectomy and reconstruction to lower my odds below the general population risk.”

Next: Another way to be as prepared as possible.

Know your post-mastectomy tips ahead of time

It’s difficult, but it’s also important to put a plan together. | Mihail Ulianikov/iStock/Getty Images Plus

The Newport Center for Orthopedic Surgery offered post-surgery care tips from Lisa Chavos, an employee who has worked with real patients for the past two decades. Chavos recommends mastectomy patients allow both their body and mind sufficient rest to heal and “work through the recovery process,” and to talk to others who have been through the process. “This will give you perspective and will allow you to vent, grieve, cope, and celebrate your ability to move forward with your life.”

BuzzFeed user jmorposmo agreed and recommended readers find an online or in-person support group. “I found the ‘Young Previvors’ group on Facebook and it has been super supportive and helpful to be able to talk to other fellow mutants while going through the mastectomy process as well as the other screening you have to do when you have the BRCA mutation.”

Next: There’s no set time for recovery.

Recovery can seriously affect your day-to-day life

Nurse With Digital Tablet Talks To Senior Patient

The recovery process can take years. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

Women who have had a mastectomy relayed that things they used to take for granted, like sleeping comfortably and lifting light objects, became difficult for them post-mastectomy.

“You feel so much pressure on your chest after the surgery, and it took over a month or two for me to lay down to sleep. I had a bilateral mastectomy five years ago and I still get sore,” kimberleyb428486db6 wrote, while nikkijamaica found that physiotherapy was necessary to help increase her range of movement. “Before, it was difficult for me to exercise, but now I’m feeling motivated to do things that I was hampered from doing before. My best friends have already committed to working out with me, and their support really means a lot.”

Next: Be wary of others’ insensitivity.

People will ask insensitive and invasive questions

Thinking young woman looking up at many question marks

People will ask ignorant questions. | iStock.com/SIphotography

Three women recounted the things their friends and family asked them after their mastectomies, and the questions they wished they hadn’t been asked. The three agreed: Don’t compare the procedure to a “boob job,” don’t ask to see the results of the surgery, and do ask about what happened.

“Everyone would say, ‘You’ll be fine,'” Jodi told Cosmopolitan, “I know that’s a natural thing to say, but say it without your head to the side and in a very sad voice. One friend who had had a boob job came over after my op and pulled her top up and said, ‘Yours will look like this once you have healed.’ It was the most insensitive thing anyone has ever said to me.”

Next: One of the most important tips.

There is a whole community out there to embrace you

Desperate woman getting support

There’s plenty of support out there. | iStock.com/oneinchpunch

No single experience is the same, heyoo29347 points out: “So try not to compare your reconstruction with others’, because everyone has unique challenges and setbacks they must face, and you’ll just be disappointed. Learn to love your new self and celebrate the life you now get to live as a result of your surgery!”

However, there are still thousands of women going through the same surgery and experiencing similar fears to yours. Visit various online communities for support or join a support group in your area.

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