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Regaining Self-Esteem After Breast Cancer Surgery

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Regaining Self-Esteem After Breast Cancer Surgery

A woman smiling

About 1 in 8 women in America will develop breast cancer in their lifetime according to the American Cancer Society. Of these women, many will require a mastectomy, an operation that removes the breast. This surgery is often a necessary and life-saving option for women battling breast cancer. However, it can leave many survivors feeling like they’ve lost a piece of their femininity and self-confidence. To help, Truyu Aesthetic Center offers breast reconstruction surgery. Performed following a mastectomy, this procedure offers breast cancer survivors an option to regain a more natural-looking breast.

First Steps

The road to breast reconstruction begins after the diagnosis of breast cancer, often identified after mammogram imaging, a type of X-ray that looks at breast tissue. If a subsequent biopsy tests positive for cancer, the battle to fight it begins. A team of experts at Altru Cancer Center works to identify the proper course of action for each individual. If it’s determined that a mastectomy is the best solution, a general surgeon will perform this surgery. The surgeon may bring up the possibility of breast reconstruction. If this option isn’t presented, the patient can initiate the conversation with their surgeon or other providers.

In Grand Forks, Truyu offers a variety of plastic surgery procedures, one of which is breast reconstruction surgery. Truyu plastic surgeon, Dr. Jaron McMullin, is one of two practicing breast reconstruction surgeons in the Grand Forks area, along with his colleague Dr. Kevin Muiderman. Dr. McMullin encourages education about breast reconstruction, knowing that it can be an important option for many women who’ve battled breast cancer. “I hope that women become more informed about this process so that they know it is an option for themselves, their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and friends,” shared Dr. McMullin.

How it Works

Breast reconstruction surgery can be performed in two different ways. The first uses existing tissue from other locations in the body (abdomen, buttocks, thigh, etc.). The tissue is transplanted to the breast and restructured into a breast shape. This option, according to Dr. McMullin, is more extensive with a longer recovery time. It is typically done if the patient has been through radiation treatments, which leaves the skin with decreased ability to heal.

The second method, more commonly performed by plastic surgeons nationwide, including Dr. McMullin, is done by using an expander followed by a silicone or saline implant. After the mastectomy is performed, an expander is put in under the tissue remaining after removal of the breast. There is a port within the expander to allow it to be filled slowly. This allows the skin of the breast to be stretched carefully after a mastectomy, which takes a large amount of the breasts’ skin. After the expander has reached the size needed, surgery is done to replace it with the implant. Dr. McMullin says that this method requires less intensive surgery and recovery time.

Easing Uncertainties

The road to reconstruction is often filled with doubt and uncertainty. Many women diagnosed with breast cancer are hesitant to undergo another surgery and are worried the results won’t be what they hoped for. This doubt can be lessened by viewing images of past successful operations performed. There are also improvements being made every day due to advancements in technology. One such technique involves injecting fat into the hollowing left behind after a partial mastectomy. Reconstruction not only improves outward appearance after mastectomy but also can help women regain self-confidence.

Self-esteem in many women after breast cancer can be diminished. The removal of one or both of the breasts may feel a bit like a loss of femininity. Receiving breast reconstruction surgery can give women a self-esteem boost; this is something Dr. McMullin has seen firsthand. “One recent patient rarely smiled. After the mastectomy, she seemed to have lost her happiness and confidence,” shared Dr. McMullin. “When she came back for her appointment following her implant surgery, I finally saw her smile. Her self-esteem and confidence were back.”

Some women may think that they are not eligible to receive breast reconstruction surgery because their mastectomy took place 10, 15, or even 30 years ago. Further, some women may think that their insurance may not help pay for reconstruction. Dr. McMullin said that usually isn’t the case. “I’ve had women who come to me years after their surgery and have breast reconstruction done. Many women think they may not be able to afford the surgery, but reconstruction following a mastectomy due to breast cancer is, by the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998, covered by group health plans, health insurance companies, and HMOs, as long as the plan covers medical and surgical costs for mastectomy.”

If you or someone you love has battled breast cancer, consider reconstruction as an option that can help regain confidence and get you back to feeling like you.