It is said that no woman should have to go through the experience of breast cancer alone, and it is true. Breast cancer is a very scary experience and we all need a strong support group behind us to help cope with the realities. However, each woman is an individual, and in the end, each woman’s fight and experience will be solely her own, and no one else can walk that mile for you. There is no one way to address and manage the grief of losing a breast, and sometimes even the suggestion that there might seem naive and even degrading.
If you’re coping with a mastectomy, there are some things that will be unique to your struggle, but there may be some comfort in realizing that other people have coped with similar situations and may have gained some insight on some ways to help you through the process, and explain why your feeling certain ways, and remind you that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Numbness and shock are most characteristic of this first stage. Psychologists say this is nature’s way of protecting us from the harshness of reality and allows us the time to gradually absorb the truth. At this stage, many women have described thinking that the experience is not really happening to them. This is a good time to deal with the practical arrangements, such as scheduling medical appointments before emotion hits.
In this stage of protest, we are most likely to experience confusion, anger, and sadness. we feel betrayed by our bodies, and often at God or the doctors. It is common for people in this stage to try and bargain with God, by promising to attend church regularly in exchange for the spring of their breast, for example. These unrealistic attempts to strike a deal is symbolic of our need to feel control over an uncontrollable situation; it is also common at this time to experience physical stress induced symptoms, like lack of sleep, pain, diarrhea, and fatigue.
During the disorientation stage, we begin to change our routines to adapt life after the mastectomy. It often coincides with the time at which your chest has healed and you are getting back into wearing your regular wardrobe. You begin to realize small ways in which your routine has changed, for example, selecting clothes now means finding a top that will not irritate your tender chest, and you need to compensate for the missing breast. These things are likely to cause confusion, disorientation, and depression.
Withdrawal is a common feature of the detachment stage. We tend to isolate ourselves, and may become apathetic or resigned. This is the time of which too much contact with people may feel intrusive of exhausting. We often need to deal with our grief alone at this time.
This is the time in which our lives start to get back on track. We acknowledge that we are not happy about our loss, but we accept the fact that we can live without it. This stage begins wisdom and insight into our lives, builds character, and reminds us that we have the ability to feel joy again.
Many people become grateful and want to give back by engaging in volunteerism and becoming proactive. It is at this time, you may start to realize that you have gained some advantages from your battle.
Have you coped with a mastectomy? What insight or advice can you give us for getting through this time of grief? Please let us know.