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I've just been told that I have breast cancer. I'm so terrified! What do I do now? Where do I go for help?
We at the Hastings Breast Cancer Support Group are sorry that circumstances in your life or in the life of someone you love have brought you here. You have already taken the first necessary step of reaching out for support and understanding. This overwhelming fear is very normal. Also very normal is asking the why me? why now? questions. Do not be a silent martyr in this journey. Reach out to family, friends and your medical community for understanding and hope. Contact the Hastings Breast Cancer Support Group or a breast cancer support group in your area to find that safe environment of women who are walking or who have walked the same journey you are about to begin. We all have one thing in common; we seek to see each day as a precious gift to be lived to the fullest. Reach to your own spiritual source as well for strength and guidance.
Why is a support group so important?
A support group provides for you a safe environment to talk with other women who are walking or have walked in the same shoes. These women cannot take away your pain but perhaps can prepare you for what lies ahead. Who better to go to for advice than someone who has already been there and shared the same fears and questions? The group does not have all the answers. It has no magic pill to take away the pain and fear. It makes no judgments, for each of us reacts to life-threatening illness in our own way. It does provide for you an arena in which to safely share your darkest fears and silliest questions. The confidentiality of the group allows each of us to honestly face the big questions and support one another through the unknown keeping ourselves open to love and acceptance. Breast cancer can be a rite of passage, taking you from a good life to a better one. A support group can help you find the way.
When in my journey should I come to the support group?
Women come at different times in their journey. There is no right time. Experience shows that the sooner the better. The group can be of immense help right after diagnosis and before surgery as well as during treatment and follow-up.
I am using the internet and am becoming overwhelmed by what I've read. So many people are giving me advice as well. I just don’t know what to do or think!
Listening to and trusting your medical team is of the utmost importance. Some people use the internet to check out what they are being told by their medical team and find that most helpful. If it is overwhelming to you, STOP doing it. Try to keep your eyes on the prize at the end. Trusting your team and keeping a positive attitude is so very important.
How do I deal with the feeling that my world is so out of control?
There is no right way to handle this situation or any other. You must do whatever is in your comfort level. Making small decisions can help give you back the feeling of some control. Many women have found that keeping a journal recording their thoughts, fears, actions and questions helps as well even if they have never journaled before. Journaling can also help you keep track of medical discussions, ideas and appointments as well as questions to which you need answers. Take the journal with you to your medical appointments. You must learn to be your own advocate - ask for what you need physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Family, friends and your medical team cannot read your mind. Sharing your feelings and asking for what you need will give you back some control of the situation. Let all of the feelings in. There is no proper order or standard sequence for feelings. They are what they are. Make room for all thoughts and feelings rather than try to control them.
Will I lose my hair?
When chemotherapy is required, generally the answer is yes. Wigs, hairpieces, integrations, turbans and hats are available options to deal with this temporary situation.
I have trouble thinking about the physical changes to my body. How do I deal with having a breast or even both removed? What about my sexuality? Am I still a woman without one of the symbols of womanhood?
Your attitude toward your sexuality affects the way people perceive your body. Keep loving your body. There is no single right way to handle this. Some women choose to embrace the disfiguration and others opt for artificial ways to keep the body's integrity. It is fine to be natural or artificial as long as you are comfortable with yourself and allow your inner sexuality to shine in your dealings with people. In a discussion with her husband concerning whether or not she should have reconstruction after her mastectomy, one of our member's husband said to her, "Do you need breasts to go fishing?" Her reply was no and he countered with, "Well there you go then. What difference does it make?" The answer to this lies within you.
What is breast reconstruction?
Many options exist today for breast reconstruction. Talk with your surgeon regarding any questions relating to reconstruction. He ⁄ she will help you contact a plastic surgeon to review your own individual needs.
What can I do to keep my body's integrity without reconstruction?
You can be fitted for a bra and forms as soon as your doctor takes the bandages off and they feel you are ready for a fitting. You will need an RX from your surgeon. A certified mastectomy professional will assist you in achieving symmetry and balance. The forms are light weight and easy to wear. Most health insurance companies cover these products for you for the rest of your life. Each company has different guidelines so check with your provider.
Where do I go to get help with my lumpectomy and mastectomy forms and needs?
Your physician or hospital may recommend a professional for you to see for these needs.
After my breast surgery, will I have any physical limitations?
You will experience some physical limitations for a while. Most surgeons use drain tubes, a small pencil width tube with a bulb attached to collect fluids the body makes to help with healing, that can be uncomfortable. Post-op camisoles are available that are designed for use after breast surgery for drain management. Most insurance companies will cover the cost of this garment. The camisole is available where you purchase your mastectomy needs. The drain tubes will limit the use of your arms for a bit while your body is healing. After having a bilateral mastectomy, you may have difficulty doing some of your routine hygiene activities like brushing your teeth, washing and combing your hair, using toilet paper and bathing because of the limited use of your arms. Within a couple of days, you will be able to do all of this and more. There usually are no lasting physical limitations following breast surgery.
What is lymphedema?
Lymphedema develops when the lymph pathways are unable to circulate the excess fluid due to inflammation or infection. Causes of lymphedema include lymph node removal or damage related to breast cancer surgery or another medical problem, or congenital deformity. Patients with lymphedema may experience a constant achy sensation because of swelling in the arms or legs. These symptoms may require specialized treatment by your physician. Not all breast cancer patients experience lymphedema.
Do I take anything special to the hospital with me for breast surgery?
Be sure to wear comfortable clothing that buttons or zips up the front. You will not want to pull anything over your head to come home. When choosing pajamas, think of this as well - opening in the front. The camisole for drain tube management certainly makes life easier. It provides pockets to hold the drain tubes and bulbs in place close to your body. You may be wearing the tubes for two weeks or more. Without using the camisole, try using safety pins to pin the bulbs to your clothing.