Mellissa, Farah and Tracy talk about
body image after breast reconstruction

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Actually yesterday, for the first time, I forgot that I had implants. I forgot that they weren’t my own.

Farah

Having a risk-reducing mastectomy and breast reconstruction can change how you feel about your body. Most women are eventually happy with how their new breasts look. Some women, like Melissa, even feel better about their body after surgery. For most women, like Farah, it takes some time to become comfortable with their body after surgery.


Lara talks about body image after breast reconstruction

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I was so nervous about how it would look after. Because I really did like my breasts and my body beforehand, and I was worried that I wouldn’t feel so good about it after. But that’s not what happens.

Lara

Getting used to your body after mastectomy and breast reconstruction will take time. Your body will take time to heal after surgery, and will look different as it heals. Some women, like Lara, are surprised by how happy they are with their body after breast reconstruction.

Find out more about breast reconstruction.


Lara and Natalie talk about the changes to their breasts after reconstruction

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It feels like I have tennis balls basically for breasts. So that’s a disappointment. Aesthetically, they look nice, but they’re firmer than I would like them to be. And they do impede intimacy.

Natalie

Reconstructed breasts will feel different than natural breasts, especially if implants are used. Some women, like Natalie and Lara, are disappointed by how hard their breast implants feel. Some women find it uncomfortable to hug people after breast reconstruction.

When breast tissue is removed during a mastectomy, the nerves in and around the breast are cut, which results in a loss of sensation. It is possible for the nerves to regrow in your reconstructed breasts but the sensation you may feel will still not be the same as before.

After breast reconstruction, you may find that your partner’s touch on your breasts feels uncomfortable. Talking openly with your partner about this is important. There may be other parts of your body that can give you pleasure from intimate touching.


Sherry and Lara talk about dating after mastectomy

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I think I tried some hypothetical circumstances, like, “What if this woman you were dating told you she didn’t have breasts, how would you react? Just silly things like that. Just testing the waters about how it would go over.”

Lara

After her mastectomy and breast reconstruction, Lara needed to know whether the man she was dating would be accepting of her body before becoming intimate with him. It was important for her to be able to trust a new partner before telling him about her reconstructed breasts.

You might be worried about how dating will be different after having a mastectomy. You might wonder if you will be confident in becoming more intimate with someone. You might also worry about how your future partners will react to your body. These are understandable feelings as you start dating after surgery. Building trust with a new partner before telling them about your surgery is a positive way to move forward while protecting your feelings.

When you are preparing to talk to a new partner about your surgery, it can be helpful to practice what you are going to say. Realizing all that you offer in a relationship can help you feel more confident, too. You are much more than your breasts.

If you are afraid to date after your surgery or you worry about talking openly with a new partner, it might help to talk with a professional counsellor


reflection questions

When preparing for your risk-reducing mastectomy ask yourself:

  • What specific body image issues am I most worried about?
    Some common worries you might have before your mastectomy:
    • I worry that I won’t like my body after a mastectomy
    • I worry that I won’t feel feminine or attractive after mastectomy
    • I worry about losing the feeling in my breasts and nipples
    • I worry that my partner (or future partners) won’t accept me
  • What would help me cope with these worries?
    Some things that might help you cope with your worries:
    • Learn more about how your body will change after surgery
    • Talk with your partner about how your body will change after surgery
    • Speak with a support group or counsellor about your feelings
    • Speak with other women about their experiences of having a mastectomy and breast reconstruction
  • What will allow me to feel beautiful and sexy after my mastectomy and reconstruction?
    Some suggestions to help you feel beautiful after your mastectomy:
    • Wear fancy lingerie
    • Wear your breast prostheses and lingerie during sex, if you haven’t had breast reconstruction
    • Study yourself in the mirror and identify the things you really like about your body – try to focus on these positive characteristics
  • How do you feel now about your breast cancer risk? How do you feel about your decision to undergo risk-reducing surgery?
  • It may be helpful for you to keep a journal of your experiences and reflections. Your feelings may change over time. Writing down your thoughts can help you cope with difficult feelings. Writing in a journal can also give you important insights as you make decisions and reflect on your situation.

Tracy talks about her husband’s support during her mastectomy

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talking to your partner about intimacy and the changes to your body

If you are currently in a relationship, it can be helpful to spend some time talking with your partner about sex and intimacy. Talking about your concerns before a mastectomy will make it much easier to talk about what you need after your surgery.

Here are some questions that may help you prepare for your conversation:

You can think about these questions before your surgery:

  • How have you as a couple dealt with other difficulties in your relationship?
  • How is your relationship right now? Do you find it easy to talk about each other’s needs?
  • Do you find it easy to talk about what makes sex enjoyable for each of you?
  • Are you able to talk about what you like or don’t like during sex?
  • How does your partner feel about the loss of your breasts or, if you are having reconstruction, the loss of sensation in your breasts?
  • How is your sex life now and how will you deal with it if it changes? Are you both willing to express intimacy in other ways or change your sexual routine, if needed?

You can think about these questions after your surgery:

  • Has my partner seen and touched my breasts since surgery?
  • Since my mastectomy, is there any kind of touching that feels uncomfortable? Have we talked about it?
  • Am I happy with my body? How can my partner help me to feel beautiful and sexy after my mastectomy and reconstruction?

(Questions adapted by permission courtesy of Fox Chase Cancer Center)