A mastectomy is a form of surgical treatment that is often featured as part of the medical approach to breast cancer. In this article we wanted to explore some of the ways loved ones can support someone after they have had a mastectomy as part of their cancer treatment.
What is a mastectomy?
The term 'mastectomy' actually covers a few different types of surgery ranging from a radical mastectomy where all of the breast tissue, muscle behind the breast and the lymph nodes are removed, to a subcutaneous mastectomy, where the skin and nipple remain in place.
Does everyone with breast cancer have a mastectomy?
No, the need or option for a mastectomy depends on a variety of factors, ranging from your overall health to the location, size and stage of the cancer itself.
In context, BreastCancer.org looked at the medical records of more than 1.2 million women in the USA, diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in one breast and treated from 1998 to 2011, and found that 35.5% had a mastectomy.
How can I help someone after a mastectomy?
After a mastectomy, the typical recovery period is six weeks. While most people will be able to resume most activities before then, other side effects can last longer - particularly when it comes to emotions and especially if you have more follow up treatment to contend with. For loved ones, it can be hard to know how to help, but there are a few things you can do to show support.
Physical support after a mastectomy
Do the heavy lifting: As with any surgery, it takes time to recover after a mastectomy and because of the location of the procedure, it can result in bruising, swelling and stiffness, making it hard to lift anything. In the early days, your loved one shouldn't be doing a lot of bending, stretching and lifting anyway - it's not good for the body or the stitches. However, it can take time to rebuild strength, especially if muscle has been removed. Help out by taking the literal weight off their hands.
Do the driving: For the first six weeks after any surgery you're not allowed to drive, which can be frustrating and limiting. One way you can help is by offering your services as a personal taxi, especially when it comes to doctor's appointments.
Run errands: Help take some of the anxiety out of your loved one's down time by offering to run errands for them. Pick up medication from the pharmacy, grab any shopping that can't be done online, and, if they have children, offer to do school runs and play dates.
Offer to cook: So many of us show love by preparing food. Nutrition is essential when we're recovering, so if you can help by preparing meals that will keep in the fridge for a few days, that's always a welcome support. For those with kids, if you can help cook for them, it can really help to make life easier too.
Gifts to help recovery: We all like to have gifts to make us feel better, but with cancer treatment it's not easy to find things that are usable on sensitive skin. One of the most common things we get asked about following a mastectomy is scarring. Why not opt for a luxury gift that makes a real difference to your loved one's recovery, like our Defiant Beauty Scar Oil.
Supporting you through cancer treatment
Hospital Visits Breast Cancer Care Package
Emotional support after a mastectomy
In some ways the emotional side effects of a mastectomy are trickier to deal with than the physical ones. Many people find that their self esteem is badly affected and that they feel stressed, anxious and depressed. These are the side effects that can last for a long-time, even after reconstructive surgery, if that's an option. As a loved one, there's no clear path to offering support, but some of the simple ways you can help include:
Be there: It's so simple but it means a lot - just be around. Digital communication is great, but make sure you spend time in person as well. You don't always have to talk, in fact sometimes it's better to allow someone to be, especially in the early days when they're still recovering from the surgery itself. Go and visit the hospital, take a book or a magazine and sit with them for a while without placing pressure on them to talk or entertain you. Do helpful things if you can, like collect their washing and grab a fresh jug of water.
Check in: As time goes on, remember to check in every now and then. It's so easy for people to forget as the weeks roll by that someone is still dealing with their situation. We all have our own lives after all. WhatsApp, Text, email - these things are all game changers when it comes to checking in and reminding someone that you're there for them. That said, do pick up the phone every once in a while, it does make a difference to hear a loved one’s voice.
Listen: As a friend or family member, you're not expected to have the answers - just listen if your loved one wants to talk. If they say they feel unattractive, reassure them but don't dismiss their concerns, if they're worried or anxious or low, you don't have to find solutions. Listen and allow them to know you hear them - most of us just need to be heard.
Gifts for emotional wellbeing: Aromatherapy and self-care rituals can be powerful ways to help soothe nerves and support emotional wellbeing. Why not try our Well Being Beauty Serenity Body Oil to promote peace of mind with its relaxing, warm citrus aroma of frankincense and mandarin.
Self-care for confidence in your appearance