The completely overwhelming feeling of knowing your surgery date is approaching is hard to explain to others who’ve never experienced such anguish. My BRCA sisters can probably relate to the fact that it’s a very different type of anxiety. For some it’s elective surgery, preventative measures against the possibility of developing breast cancer. For others like myself, it’s the next necessary step in the fight against cancer, to ensure it hopefully never returns. Either way, the thought process one has to go through to prepare for the fact that they will lose both their breasts, is extremely scary, and even with newer nipple sparing procedures, your breasts will not be the same as they were.
When I found out I too carry the BRCA1 mutation like my Mom, at 25 years old, I was in no place to mentally handle such a challenge as a prophylactic mastectomy. I was single, in my dating prime, and building my marketing career. Perhaps if I wanted a physical change to adjust how I looked, it may have been an easier decision to make, but I was happy with my physique. My Mom and I both thought at the time, that diligent surveillance was the right approach. She was 39 when first diagnosed with stage 2 ductal carcinoma. At 25, the looming fear of possibly getting breast cancer, even knowing I had the BRCA1 mutation, wasn’t eminent. My thinking was, god forbid if they find something, it will be early enough to treat easily and at that point, I would get a mastectomy. In 2005, it was not nearly as common as it is now for young women in their early 20’s to get preventative mastectomies. I even enrolled in a research study through the NIH and none of the Oncologists in that study discussed prophylactic measures with me.
So how does one handle anxiety as their mastectomy date approaches? Some of my helpful tips below and please feel free to share your own:
- Make sure you have a great support system in place and don’t be shy to share your fears and needs with them – family, close friends, great doctors, etc.
- Ask, ask, ask… The more questions you ask your surgeons the better. Knowledge can be comforting. Most breast surgeons have many years of practice with patients in all types of medical situations and can help ease your fears.
- Research products that can help make your recovery a little easier such as specialty support tanks designed to hold drainage bulbs out of sight, specialty pillows designed to help support the areas of your upper body for more comfort, etc.
- Don’t be fearful to take meds and painkillers. Valium helped me a great deal! I found sleep to be my best friend during recovery. The less you move around, particularly within the first few weeks of recovery, the better.
- The morning after surgery can be the most difficult. It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep in a hospital, let alone after major surgery. I was nauseous from being under anesthesia for many hours as well. It will be greatly beneficial to make sure you have a close relative or friend there for you when you wake.
- Scar reducing/healing products are very helpful. I used ScarAway silicone strips. They’re reusable and easy to take on and off. Some scars are more concealed then others depending on where incisions have to be made. Mine are quite visible on the sides of each breast, so I wanted a product to reduce inflammation and aid in healing as quickly as possible.
I urge others to comment and share what helped them during mastectomy surgery and aided healing afterwards.
xo fellow BRCA-nites