We recently asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to tell us what they wish people knew about mastectomies. Here are their responses.
Mastectomies, or breast-removal surgeries, are typically done to treat breast cancer. But more people are now getting them to prevent breast cancer because they are at very high risk — most often because they carry a BRCA gene.
There are several different types of mastectomies, depending on what kind of surgery is done and how much tissue is removed. Examples include a total mastectomy, partial mastectomy, radical mastectomy, nipple-sparing mastectomy, and more. Sometimes only the breast is removed, and other times the chest muscle and lymph nodes must be removed as well.
Regardless of the type of mastectomy, there are many preconceived ideas and misconceptions about what exactly it entails. Here are some key facts people want you to know or wish they knew before getting one. (Warning: This article contains pictures of surgical scars and post-mastectomy breasts.)
Some of the photos in this post were submitted by community members along with their stories, which is noted in the image credits.
1. The entire process can take a long time and several different surgeries to complete.
2. A mastectomy with reconstruction surgery is not the same as as a typical breast augmentation.
3. The pain is both physical and emotional.
4. Some people choose to have mastectomies preventatively.
5. The waiting period before you get a mastectomy can be the most terrifying and isolating part.
6. Not everyone chooses to have reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy.
7. There are a lot of options when it comes to nipples, including 3D tattoos.
8. Mastectomy scars are more than skin-deep.
9. Just sleeping during recovery can be a struggle.
10. Surgical drains can be one of the most painful parts of the process.
11. Complications and infections can happen.
12. It's pretty normal to lose all sensation in your breasts after a mastectomy.
13. You may have to "relearn" how to have sex and feel pleasure after a mastectomy.
14. But adjusting to your new breasts or body can also be fun and interesting.
15. It can be difficult to ask for help with certain things — like lifting and carrying — that you used to do on your own.
16. Finding the right bra can be a struggle, and sometimes the fancy prosthesis bras are uncomfortable.
17. It can be complicated to get an IV or have your blood pressure taken if you've had your lymph nodes removed.
18. Just because someone seems brave, it doesn't mean they aren't struggling on the inside.
19. Asking a ton of personal questions about someone's mastectomy can feel invasive, even if you're coming from a good place.
20. Laughter and humor can be effective coping mechanisms for some people.
21. Having a mastectomy doesn't mean you stop worrying that the cancer will come back.
22. Each person who gets a mastectomy will face unique challenges, so it's important not to compare yourself to others.
23. Support systems — whether those are IRL or online — can make a huge difference.
24. You may never feel "normal" again, but that's because you have a new normal.
25. Losing your breasts may change your body and your self-image, but it doesn't change who you are.
[Responses have been edited for length and clarity.]