{Breast Care}

Frequently Asked Questions About Breast Cancer

Why me? Why now?
There really are no good answers to these questions. But they are questions that each of us has contemplated and struggled with throughout our own recovery. There is never a “right time” to have breast cancer. However, finding the breast cancer now, as opposed to later on, may in fact save your life. Breast cancer is most easily treated when it is detected in its early stages.

Additionally, dramatic findings in breast cancer research and improvements in breast cancer imaging have tremendously increased your likelihood of recovering from breast cancer. Breast cancer does not necessarily mean the end of your life, but it may mark the beginning of a new life that brings a new perspective and a greater understanding of your own strength and determination.

How do I cope with knowing I may die?
Breast cancer is a very serious illness, and despite advances in medical technology, the reality is that some women do die from breast cancer. However, a large percentage of breast cancer patients – some with quite serious cases of breast cancer –have survived.

We encourage you to focus on your recovery rather than dwell on negative possibilities surrounding your illness. It is extremely important to keep a positive mental attitude so you can work with your doctor to fight this disease.

How can I help my children understand what is happening?
It is important to be as honest and as truthful about the situation as possible, without unnecessarily alarming your child. However, the way you approach your illness with your children may depend a lot on their age and maturity.

One approach may be to try and talk about breast cancer as a challenge that you must face, not unlike difficult challenges that must be faced throughout life. It is very important to reassure your children that you are being taken care of by highly qualified, skilled professionals who are doing everything they can to make you better.

It also is important to explain to younger children is that cancer is not a contagious disease, and that they cannot “catch” it from you – nor did you do anything to “catch” it yourself.

How do I help my family cope with what I am going through?
Communication can be a key ingredient to helping your family. As in most families, you are probably accustomed to providing emotional strength and reassurance for your family. However, during this confusing time, it may be difficult to continue in that role.

It is important that you and your family stay focused on your recovery and overcoming the challenges you are all facing. Additionally, you should encourage members of your family to talk about their fears, anger or other emotions they may be feeling. If they are not comfortable talking with you about their feelings, there are other resources they can turn to for support. The American Cancer Society provides information that may be helpful in this area.

Will my husband/partner find me unattractive after surgery?
We find that most spouses feel some anxiety after their partners have had breast surgery. However, this is generally because they don’t want you to feel uncomfortable with your body, or to feel uncomfortable in front of them – not because they are less attracted to you.

You need to share your feelings about this and other concerns with your partner. Open and honest communication is extremely important during this time. If you are concerned that your partner may be having problems adjusting, there are numerous resources you may draw from that can help. One good resource is the book “Man-to-Man” written by Andy Murcia, actress Anne Jillian’s husband, and Bob Stewart. Your doctor can recommend additional resources.

Do Surgical Associates doctors specialize in breast cancer surgery?
Yes, breast cancer has always been an important part of Surgical Associates. Nearly one-third of all visits to Surgical Associates are for breast evaluations resulting from abnormal screening or diagnostic mammograms, a clinical breast problem or consultation for previously biopsied breast cancer.

Is a lumpectomy a treatment I can consider?
In some cases, breast-conserving surgery, called a lumpectomy, may be an alternative to removing the breast, called a mastectomy. Your physician is the best resource for information regarding treatment options that are available to you.

What is reconstructive surgery?
Reconstructive surgery involves reconstructing a breast mound after the breast has been surgically removed. The reconstruction is done by a plastic surgeon who can use various procedures to reconstruct a breast. If you feel you are interested in reconstructive surgery, talk with your surgeon before your breast cancer surgery. Reconstructive surgery can sometimes be done during the breast cancer surgery or may be conducted anytime after your surgery.

How long will I be in the hospital?
The length of your hospital stay will vary depending on the type of surgery you have. The average hospital stay following a mastectomy is one to two days. You should discuss this with your doctor, who can give you a better idea of how long your hospital stay may be based on your individual needs and care required.

If I have to have a drainage tube, how do I take care of it?
If you are released from the hospital with the drainage tube from your incision still in place, your doctor will carefully explain how you need to care for it and any precautions you will need to take to avoid disturbing it.

Do I take my bra with me to the hospital? What do I wear home?
You will wear your bra to the hospital on the day of your surgery. However, you will not wear your bra when you go home. You may want to purchase a camisole-type garment that opens in the front and can be stepped into rather than pulled over the head to wear home. They are available at some of the specialty shops that have breast prosthetic products. It may also be necessary to wear a very loose blouse or top on the ride home that does not disturb your incision or bandaging.

Later in your recovery, your physician may prescribe a prosthetic bra that is specially fitted for you. Often these prostheses are covered by medical insurance. Talk with your physician and also with your insurance company to see if they will cover these special needs.

After surgery, will I need additional treatment for cancer?
Depending on your individual condition and the results of your surgery, you may need to receive additional cancer treatment. Many women receive chemotherapy and radiation therapy following their surgery, but every person is unique.

What is chemotherapy like?
There are many different kinds of chemotherapy, and different individuals will experience different side effects from different drugs. New chemotherapy drugs have made chemotherapy much more manageable than it was in the past. Your oncologist, part of your breast cancer treatment team, will be able to address your questions about the common side effects of specific drugs. He or she also can advise you on ways to help you cope with or reduce side effects throughout your own treatment.

Will I have burns or scarring from radiation treatments?
There are a number of variables that can influence the burning and scaring effects from radiation, including the type of radiation treatments you receive and what kind of skin you have. You should discuss your concerns with your oncology radiologist.

Will I lose my hair?
If you are having chemotherapy as part of your treatment, you may lose your hair. The extent of your hair lose will depend largely on the types of drugs you are receiving and your reaction to those drugs.

Will I be in pain during recovery?
The pain following surgery varies greatly with the individual, depending of several factors, including your tolerance for pain and the type of procedure that was performed. Most often, women refer to what they are feeling during recovery as discomfort, rather than pain.

When will I be able to use my arm?
Talk with your physician about specific recommendations for using your arm after surgery. Most often, he will encourage you to use your arm while you are still in the hospital, with some restrictions on lifting. Sometimes after breast cancer surgery, there will be numbness under your arm. The majority of women regain feeling in that area over time.

How will I know if something is wrong after the surgery and during recovery?
If you feel something that is happening during your recovery doesn’t seem normal, or if you are experiencing discomfort that is disruptive to sleep or other activities, you should call your doctor. One of the most common problems women experience after going home is an accumulation of fluid in the incision area, which may need to be drained by a doctor.

What about support after breast surgery?
We know that a breast cancer diagnosis and breast surgery are life-changing events. That’s why encouragement and support are so key to your complete recovery. Surgical Associates can help you identify support groups and other helpful resources in your community. Ask your physician or our front desk staff for more details.