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Life After Mastectomy

By Stacy Harkleroad, LO Cfom C.Ped

Cancer is the scary “C” word that so many people fear today.  Cancer affects the lives of the person diagnosed and the people that surround them.  Technology is advancing each year and early detection and treatment options are increasing the survival rate exponentially.  In 2009, 211,731 women were recorded as being diagnosed with breast cancer.  Of those, 40,676 died from breast cancer.  While still a very large number of deaths, a majority were survivors.  This article will talk about life after mastectomy, which is an increasingly popular method of treatment for breast cancer.

Mastectomy as Treatment
In an article published in 2011, one physician was asked what percentage of women underwent mastectomy once receiving the diagnosis of breast cancer.  His answer was surprising.  While not being able to scientifically give a number, his answer was that more and more women are electing to have a mastectomy earlier.  Instead of trying other methods such as lumpectomy and chemo/radiation, these women went forward with radical mastectomy and removing the entire tissue source.  The thought would be to reduce the risk of recurrence through surgical intervention.

Life after mastectomy has three basic options.  First is reconstruction with surgical implants.  Second is to leave the chest wall as is after surgery. A third option is to use post mastectomy prosthetics, or breast forms.  A federal law mandates that all insurance carriers that cover mastectomy surgery must also cover surgical reconstruction and breast prosthetics as well.  These options allow women to make choices to get back to life after mastectomy in more than one way; undergoing more surgery, doing nothing, or wearing a prosthetic device.

Our Team is Here to Help
Here at Bristol Orthotics and Prosthetics we offer many brands and types of breast prostheses.  As an ABC Certified Mastectomy Fitter (Cfm), I am able to help women before and after the mastectomy.  Many of our referral physicians refer clients to us before the surgery to learn about options they have afterwards.  We also work with the American cancer society and a program called Look Good Feel Better.  This is a workshop designed to teach women how to wear wigs, apply make up and wear breast prostheses after surgery and during radiation/chemotherapy treatments.

Being a survivor of breast cancer takes courage.  Having a team of support around you is necessary.  Our staff works with your cancer team and surgical team as well as the therapy team.  There are complications that arise after surgery like lymphedema, or swelling in the arms from surgery.  Understanding that this can be treated and maintained helps to cope with the side effects.

A diagnosis like cancer is very scary.  Having information and making well informed decisions help control the fear and move you forward.  Life after Mastectomy means dealing with a changed body on the outside.  I have seen so many people who come for breast prostheses fittings over my career face this battle with a strong will to survive.  I am amazed at how strong they are after facing such a battle.  With many support groups and education available it is good to become well informed once you have the diagnosis of breast cancer.

If you are going through breast cancer treatments talk to your physician about your options.  If mastectomy is the path you choose then talk with other women who have gone through this.  Learn what challenges you may face.  Find out what it is like to wear a breast prosthesis.  With advancements in prosthetics there is nothing you cannot face.  We offer forms for swimming, night-wear, exercise forms and bras.  There are many choices for shape, size and color of forms.  The manufacturers of forms have increased the aesthetics of forms and bras to help achieve a very natural look and feel.

Whatever your future holds we are here to help you.  Please call if you have questions or want to consult before or after surgery.  We offer a calm environment for your comfort and we realize it is more than cosmetic reasons you are seeking our help.  Life after mastectomy is just that: LIFE!

For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact Bristol Orthotics & Prosthetics at 1-800-524-4447 or www.bristoloandp.com.

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