Fear #5: Reconstruction is a vanity decision — I should just be grateful my cancer is gone.
“Absolutely not,” Russell says. “This is all about doing everything you can to try to even out the chest wall, not only for physical appearance but to even out the weight on the chest and stop back problems.”
Following a mastectomy, Russell says women with large breasts “get very unbalanced. They start leaning in one direction.”
“The whole process of being treated for breast cancer is difficult enough,” Link says. “There’s no reason a woman shouldn’t try to feel good about herself at the end. There should be no guilt about trying to become as whole as possible.”
Fear #6: If my cancer comes back, it will be easier to detect if I don’t have reconstruction.
“Absolutely incorrect,” Russell says. “Women who get a recurrence on the skin, it looks like a mosquito bite in the skin. It’s very, very easy to detect.”
“Local recurrences occur less than 10 percent of the time,” Link says. “When they reoccur, they are almost always on the surface.”
Fear #7: My partner won’t be as attracted to me if I don’t have reconstruction.
“I have a lot of patients who have not had reconstruction and they are still functioning normally sexually,” Russell says. “Many of them said the fact that they developed a life-threatening illness changed the relationship both emotionally and sexually. It was a wake-up call to the marriage. My advice is to know how you use your body sexually before you go into these surgeries.”
At the same time, Russell points out that the breast is a sexual organ. A mastectomy will deaden sexual stimulation in the skin over the removed breast. And getting a new “breast” from reconstructive surgery will not improve sexual stimulation, either.
“There is always an adjustment period after breast surgery, and discussions can help,” Rakoff says. “Many couples find it helpful to get professional counseling. Your partner should love you for who you are.”