Losing a breast is not easy for a woman. However, for patients who’ve had a mastectomy the right kind of emotional support and guidance can help recover from the setback.
When 34-year-old Shruti was diagnosed with breast cancer, her world shattered around her. The successful IT professional had never imagined she would have to face such a health predicament so early in life. Yet, she hoped the doctors would be able to preserve her breast and perform a lumpectomy to remove the cancerous tissue. However, further tests revealed that a mastectomy was her only shot at survival.
Left with no other option, Shruti went ahead with the surgery. But it was the post-surgery period that was the hardest on her. While she religiously did her physiotherapy exercises and followed her doctor’s instructions meticulously, she couldn’t bring herself to look in the mirror or even let her husband see her. The trauma of losing a breast was too much for her and she lost her self-confidence and became depressed.
For most patients who’ve undergone a mastectomy, dealing with the loss of a breast is traumatic and understandably so. What these patients really need is support — emotional support from the family and counselling by the doctor in-charge of their case.
“Patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer undergo a lot of anxiety, especially since they are so uncertain of the future. To top it off they are at the receiving end of a lot of pitying looks and comments, not to mention having to deal with the treatment, which is often very painful. In this scenario if they also have to deal with the loss of a breast due to mastectomy, the trauma is manifold,” says Dr Minhaj Nasirabadi, consultant psychiatrist at Apollo Hospital.
Dr Minhaj regularly sees patients who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer and are required to undergo a mastectomy at the hospital he works in. “I’ve noticed that the patients are very anxious before the surgery itself, since it is hard for them to imagine having to lose a breast and deal with the cancer. Besides, once the surgery has been performed they face a sort of body dysmorphia, where they have to try and get used to living without one or both breasts. It can take a toll on patients and some of them may become depressed. Such patients need counselling pre and post surgery and also anti-depressants to help ease their depression. However, these should be taken under medical supervision only, as we prescribe medication that will not interfere with their cancer treatment,” says Dr Minhaj.
“Often it is the younger patients who are more deeply affected by the loss of a breast. Some patients opt for corrective surgery for a better aesthetic look after they’ve had a mastectomy. But more than anything, the patient needs constant support from a counsellor, their doctor and more importantly family,” he says.