The Psychological Impacts of Breast Reconstruction

If you’re considering breast reconstruction after a mastectomy due to breast cancer, you’ve probably read a lot about how breast reconstruction can make you feel whole again. In fact, we talk a lot about the benefits of breast reconstruction on this blog because the AiRS Foundation helps women receive reconstruction for that very purpose: to help women feel whole again no matter their financial status.

And while it’s true that breast reconstruction often boosts self-image, confidence, and overall feelings of femininity, it’s critical that each patient considering breast reconstruction take a serious look at the psychological impacts of the procedure to determine the best possible choice.

Here are a few things to consider:

First, the good news: breast reconstruction after a mastectomy has been proven to help women heal emotionally and physically.

Time and time again, women who choose to have breast reconstruction find that they feel like themselves — beautiful and feminine — after reconstruction. Women who cannot afford reconstruction often suffer from mental trauma, feeling ashamed of their bodies or hopeless without the option of reconstruction. For many women, natural-looking and natural-feeling breasts are an important part of their identity.

But, it’s important to consider: reconstruction is still major surgery.

Breast reconstruction takes several weeks of recovery, a time during which your breasts and your emotions may be tender. If undergone for the wrong reasons under the wrong circumstances, any surgery, including breast reconstruction, can be detrimental to your mental health. When choosing whether reconstruction is right for you, consider whether you are ready to experience the feel of synthetic implants (breast implants are remarkably natural feeling and looking, but you, of course, will know that they are different from your original breasts) and whether the breasts you choose fit your natural look. It’s essential that you choose the type of reconstruction that’s right for you. And it’s also important to manage expectations. While reconstruction can help you heal, you will still have gone through cancer treatment, losing your breasts, and reconstructing new ones. This fact on its own may take time to get used to, so be gentle with yourself throughout the procedure.

And remember: opting out of breast reconstruction is always an option.

If breast reconstruction doesn’t seem right for you, then don’t pressure yourself into having it! Many women choose to embrace their new chests, perhaps because it feels good to remind themselves that they beat cancer, or because they want to subvert feminine cultural norms, or merely because they don’t want another invasive procedure — they feel just fine the way they are. If this is you, that’s fantastic! Opting out of reconstruction is a real option, and it’s important that no one pressures you into reconstruction if this option doesn’t feel right for you.

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