Psychological effect of breast reconstruction

13:56 14 October in Breast reconstruction, Dr Jonathan Toogood, Surgical

Breast reconstruction is one of my favourite aspects of plastic and reconstructive surgery. Walking a path back to wholeness with a patient who has been diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening disease is certainly one of the most rewarding experiences one can have as a surgeon.

Almost universally, patients will come into the practice feeling defeated. As if their bodies have let them down and one of their most feminine attributes, their breasts, have a vendetta against them, trying to do them harm.

These patients have many concerns. This disease may cost them their life. Even if they survive the illness, they will carry the scar – the stigma of having had destructive and mutilating surgery. They worry that this will punctuate the way they view themselves, and the way others view them, for the rest of their lives.

Explaining to a patient that the disease is curable (in most cases) and that the breast can be restored immediately, brings an element of excitement and reassurance to this otherwise defeated and downcast group of patients.

I explain to them, by means of photographs, that a breast reconstruction could mean a better breast shape and contour than what they had prior to the mastectomy. This not only reassures them that they will be better off than anticipated, but that they might even be better off than before the diagnosis.

My team and I see the change in the patient – going from depressed and anxious after the first consultation to showing off the beautiful result after reconstruction, celebrating her newfound and regained ‘wholeness’.

As clinicians, we often lose sight of the fact that we are returning more than just a breast to a patient. We are returning her sense of self-confidence, her positive body image and her sense of femininity. It is a rare privilege to not only help cure an illness as potentially devastating as breast cancer, but to also help patients become the very best version of themselves.

Psychologically, patients feel a tremendous sense of empowerment. This disease sought to steal either their life or their femininity from them and not only has it been defeated, but the beauty of their reconstruction is a constant reminder of their triumph over adversity.

Our goal as a team is to give breast reconstruction patients the opportunity to look at themselves in the mirror – under harsh fluorescent light – and not only be thankful they have survived, but be pleased with the harmony, balance, femininity and wholeness of their post-cancer, post-reconstruction bodies.

This is our wish for all our patients in this month of ‘breast awareness’ – a subject and group of women who are very close to our hearts, regarding an issue that is very close to theirs.

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