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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Bilateral Mastectomy

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I am writing this five months since my skin sparing bilateral mastectomy for breast cancer. I feel like I am still learning, still healing and there’s a lot of things that don’t really get covered in a book or video that I wish I had known before I had my surgery.

1. No matter how you felt about them before, you will grieve the loss of your breasts.

I had large breasts. I didn’t like them, and I felt like they were in the way. I started grieving the loss of my breasts shortly after I met my surgeon and I told him I wanted the mastectomy. I left his office with my mother in tow, and by the time we got to her car I was crying. The tears came and went right up until I had my surgery. I felt confused, because I did not know why I was so sad for something that most days, I didn’t like. I had to learn it’s OK to grieve the loss of your breasts. They’re still a part of you, no matter how you feel about them.

2. The “iron bra” feeling is real.

One of the first things I remember immediately after surgery was feeling like the ace bandages that were wrapped around me were too tight. It wasn’t until I got home and the bandages came off for the first time that I realized this feeling wasn’t the bandages — it was me. Even to this day, five months later, I still feel like I am wearing an iron bra that I cannot take off. It is a constant feeling of wearing a bra that is too tight. Exercise helps, but I still feel it daily.

3. For awhile, you may hate looking at yourself in the mirror.

The first time I looked at myself in the mirror as I was getting ready to take a shower, I cried. I saw extra skin, the dog ears; I saw one side looking like it had caved in on itself, I saw staples, I saw my drains and I cried. I cried through  most of that shower, also. I cried every time I had to shower and look at myself. I remember feeling like a “freak,” like I wasn’t “normal.” I hated having a visual representation of what cancer had taken from me. It’s been five months, and while I still periodically look at my chest, still swollen in certain spots, I sigh. I feel like I am starting to feel… some acceptance of the new me.

4. Healing takes time.

It’s been five months, and I feel like my body is still healing. Having body parts removed takes a long time to heal. Some parts of my chest still feel swollen, I had a seroma drained last month and feel like another one is forming in the same spot and there are days when I still get very, very tired. This is not a surgery with a quick recovery time. It is a huge adjustment.

5. Flat reconstruction is an option more doctors need to talk about.

When I told my doctor I wanted a mastectomy, my mother immediately asked about reconstruction. My doctor stated he did not do reconstruction with mastectomy because he felt the body needed to heal from the mastectomy first. I was fine with this because I wasn’t sure if I wanted it. Now, I did not expect the excess skin, or the dog ears. Later on, I became aware of flat closure. Women all over are opting, if they have had reconstruction, to explant and remove their implants and excess skin and just be flat. Or, if they have not had reconstruction like me, to have no excess skin, and just be flat. When I first became aware of this and saw pictures of women, beaming with their nice looking flat chests, I was in awe of how beautiful and confident these women looked. More doctors need to put flat on the menu. More doctors need to give that as an option. (For more info, check out Flat Closure Now.)

Now, despite all of this, I do not regret my choice of having the mastectomy. I’m happy to say that with it, my chance of recurrence for breast cancer is down to less than one percent. Without taking medications! As someone that has an increased risk of cancer, that’s amazing, and makes the last five months worth it.

Getty image via Chinnapong.

Originally published: January 22, 2020
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