We preach self-love, and body positivity but here’s the cold hard truth: undergoing a mastectomy can mess with your self-confidence, mental health, and self-image BIG TIME.
Dealing with insecurities as a woman is already hard enough, so adding mastectomies, reconstructive surgeries, explant surgeries, AND breast cancer treatments can plant even more seeds of doubt. If we are being totally honest, it is realllllly hard to not deal with all of these things and not feel, well...ugly.
The road to self-love and compassion for both your physical body and inner self after a breast cancer diagnosis can feel impossible to reach. We know, because we’ve been there. So have so many other countless women, breast cancer patients, survivors, thrivers and previvors in the AnaOno community. We talked to a few women who are on the road to self-acceptance after breast cancer and are setting their sights on the ultimate goal: self-celebration and true self-love after their mastectomy surgery. Read along for their own reflections on personal struggles with negative body image, and the personal mantras that are helping them work beyond their doubts.
“My head and my heart are constantly battling against each other. As I dive deeper into finding out who I am and how I feel about myself and my body, that little voice in the back of my head keeps sneaking these words and feelings in.
You are not enough
You are less than;
Less than a woman
Less than desirable
Less than wanted
Less than whole.
Why would anyone choose someone like you?
Deep in my heart, I know these things aren’t true. But my head makes them feel so real. As if my life experiences, genetic mutation, surgeries, a few scars, and implants can make me less of a woman? Less than desirable? As if our physical appearance and bodies are the only things that define our worth and capacity to be loved?
The mind-blowing part is that I don’t feel this way about anyone else. In every woman I meet, every story I hear, every scar that I see - I see strength and beauty, and someone so worthy of love. I see a woman who is so much more BECAUSE of her experiences, the farthest thing from less. How can I see this in others yet question myself?
Lately, I’ve been leaning into these feelings instead of pushing them away. Embracing them and allowing myself to sit with them and feel them deeply. What I’ve realized is that no one can make you love yourself or accept yourself. No one can make you feel wanted or enough. We must do that for ourselves. We cannot fully give love to others until we can truly give love to ourselves.
In middle school I heard this quote that really stuck with me:
In order for two halves to make a whole,
The halves must be whole within themselves first.
I’m realizing that these feelings come from a place of not being truly whole within myself and it is something I’m passionately working on.”
“My hair is gone, my breasts are gone, my nails are gone and my mobility is limited. I see it but I still can't believe it…Going flat with no breast has been so trying on my anxiety. So many people staring...trying to figure out if I'm a male or female. I've even had kids ask if I knew I was in the women's restroom. But today, walking outside with this [new tattoo] gave me a little bit of confidence and stability. Since I'm still here, I'm going to make it my point to do all the things I've always wanted to accomplish and be successful according to my measure.”
“I dreaded the day where I would remove the bandages and see the aftermath of 5 surgeries. Worrying whether I made the right decision. Not knowing if I would like the body staring back at me in the mirror. The feeling of uncertainty peeling away the layers of gauze and tape after each surgery has been one of the hardest things about reconstruction. I've been wanting so badly for this all to be over for a long time now. From going through a lumpectomy 2.5 years ago to having a bilateral mastectomy and 3 more surgeries to reconstruct my breasts, it's time to move forward....
I went shopping for bikinis yesterday which as many of you know can be a frustrating experience. I always leave feeling deflated and flooded with negative self-talk picking apart at all my imperfections and flaws: the lumpiness of my boobs, the scars all over my stomach from all the needle pokes, the hormone therapy pudge. I hadn't even gotten started trying stuff on yet and I was already tearing myself down.
And then I looked up and everything changed. Notes of positivity lined the mirror, each one a reminder of how beautiful our bodies truly are. I couldn't help but smile and feel the negative thoughts fading out of my mind. Appreciating my body for how much it's gotten me through these past few years. How resilient it's been. It's easy sometimes to focus on the bad stuff but it's amazing how moments like these make you rethink how you talk to yourself and remind you to give yourself the same amount of love and respect that you give others because we are all perfectly imperfect.”
Many people within the community have found practicing positive affirmations and mantras are a productive way to adjust to your new body and build self-love after a breast cancer diagnosis, treatment or surgery. Thinking and saying positive words about your body as you heal and recover from breast surgery, mastectomy or reconstruction can work wonders on your mind, body and spirit. In the blog, ‘The Way You Speak To Yourself Matters’, breast cancer survivor Tamera Anderson-Hanna gives advice and practical steps you can take to implement the power of positive self-talk into your healing journey.
To begin, she encourages us to create positive mantras or affirmations that are focused on the here and now. “For example, don’t say someday I will have a beautiful body. Say, “I AM BEAUTIFUL.” She recommends using these “I am” statements to help us affirm the message in the present rather than someday in the future.
‘I AM’ Statements are a practical way to practice self love every morning.
Treating yourself can be a way to show compassion to yourself as well. You deserve to look and feel like the beautiful, sexy and powerful woman again, and what is more empowering than treating ourselves to luxurious lingerie --even if no one else will see it. If you are in the stage in your journey where you are wondering, “How Do I Feel Sexy Again Post-Mastectomy?”, we have a few awesome ideas. A few of them include: treating yourself to a beautiful bra like, The Molly or The Gloria, having a self-love photoshoot, and even getting in touch with your new body through masturbation.
Whether you are recovering from your mastectomy at home right now, or are years out from your surgery journey, please know that wherever you find yourself in yourself in your mental health journey since your breast cancer diagnosis, you are doing AMAZING, and are deserving of every ounce of love in the world. More than anything, you are never alone in what you face. Together as a breast cancer community, we can support each other and remind us of how beautiful we all are, on the inside and out.
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Dana Donofree is joined by Dr. Brannon Claytor to answer your questions about the ASPS news that some surgeries are being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Claytor is the Chief of Plastic Surgery at Main Line Heath and owner of his private practice, Claytor/Noone Plastic Surgery.