The Alliance in Reconstructive Surgery (AiRS) Foundation has been committed to helping women who survived breast cancer and mastectomy by funding breast reconstruction procedures since 2014. Breast reconstruction is more than restoring a woman’s breasts; it heals an individual from the inside out. It is also an attempt to relieve women of the psychosocial distress induced by their survival through cancer and mastectomy.
The services of AiRS are particularly important for women with difficulty gaining access to reconstruction surgeries, as they are experiencing greater consequences of psychosocial distress. Rural states like West Virginia have lower rates of reconstruction procedures because of poverty, medical comorbidities, and lack of access to healthcare. According to the study, ‘Closing the Breast Cancer Loop: Barriers and Perceptions of Breast Reconstruction among Rural Women,’ a participant in the study said, “The sad thing is, people don’t get any health care because it costs so much money until they’re very, very ill, and sometimes it’s too late to get help.” These women are susceptible to living with stress, anxiety or depression for a long period of time, which can diminish their quality of life.
Losing a body part, whether it’s a breast or a leg, can be traumatic. An individual has been mutilated; a part of them has been removed in order for them to survive. The stress, anxiety or depression induced by this disfigurement can affect one’s daily lifestyle to the extent that “they struggle internally with thoughts which cripple them in a way that does not let them see themselves beyond their current situation,” states Dr. Olufunke Awosogba, psychologist and assistant professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Individuals cannot be present as their mind is wandering through thoughts such as who they used to be or what the future holds for them. In addition, stress in the long-term can have deadly effects on one’s physical health. The mind-body connection tells us that emotional distress can translate to tension in the body, posing minor attacks each time. The hormones excreted during times of stress on a regular basis is an added stressor. Breast cancer patients have already surpassed that threshold and therefore must be aware of how these additional stressors are being managed.
When our mind is aware that something is different, we appear in the world with a lens, clouded with the belief that there is something wrong with us. A patient that AiRS has helped with reconstruction shares her story of self-consciousness:
“I always was fixing the bra and noticing that both breasts looked a similar size and line, and it was not that easy, specially working with hands up, the prosthesis was coming out of my collar. Sometimes I was laughing at it but it made me nervous too. I was not able to wear some of my clothes or many clothes … slowly I felt I was different from others, I was not normal! Why did I have to think or touch my breasts every day? After physical work? Why couldn’t I go swimming any more?”
The brain constantly plays these repetitive beliefs which women are aware of in everything they do. Overtime women start declining social opportunities and closing themselves off.
By definition, reconstruction means rebuilding after something has been damaged or destroyed. It will never be an exact replica but it will restore hope, hope that you can keep moving forward. The AiRS patient adds about her reconstruction, “I think I am back to normal again, although now I did bilateral mastectomy and the shape is not like mine, I feel much more confident… the skin is mine!” According to a study published in the medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, of 106 patients that had gone through mastectomy, 30 had immediate breast reconstruction while 76 had delayed breast reconstruction. When evaluated on psychosocial characteristics 12-18 months later, patients who had immediate breast reconstruction scored higher in positive body image, sexuality and health-related quality of life. Receiving a breast reconstruction as soon as possible following the mastectomy can decrease the psychosocial distress.
Breast reconstruction surgery is the bridge towards healing. Healing the internal trauma will allow women to live an enhanced quality of life. Not all women have access to this source of hope, and thus it is the mission of AiRS Foundation to ensure women all around the globe get to live as their best selves. Make a donation today to join us in this movement!
Mullens, C. L., Hernandez, J. A., Conn, M. E., Kennedy-Rea, S., & Ueno, C. M. (2020, February 20). Closing the breast cancer loop: Barriers and perceptions of breast reconstruction among rural women. Plastic and reconstructive surgery. Global open. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7159942/.
American Society of Plastic Surgeons. “Immediate Breast Reconstruction Reduces Psychological Impact of Mastectomy.” American Society of Plastic Surgeons, American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 24 Sept. 2016, www.plasticsurgery.org/news/press-releases/immediate-breast-reconstruction-reduces-psychological-impact-of-mastectomy.