When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, there was a period of time where, immediately after diagnosis, there seemed to be a type of information vacuum, during which I knew nothing about what lay before meand what I was going to have to endure. Then, shortly after meeting with the surgeon, information seemed to come very quickly. I had to decide what type of surgery I was going to opt for, as well as if I wanted reconstruction, (which would add on more surgeries with the necessary recovery periods). While making decisions in this shock-induced haze, I had the support of my husband, who repeatedly told me that no matter what decision I made, he would be there for me and support me unconditionally.
I had a total of six breast surgeries. The mastectomy was definitely the worst. It was absolutely necessary, but I was unprepared for how debilitating it was going to be, and how much help I was really going to need to do very basic things, especially those first few weeks. I truly don’t know how I would have done it had my husband not been there to take care of me and help me every step of the way (sometimes quite literally) during that post-op period. In addition to supporting me in my surgical recovery, he also continued to be incredibly emotionally supportive and encouraging in the weeks and months (and years) that came afterwards. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I have come to learn how incredibly fortunate I was to have his support.
Since my own diagnosis, I have become quite active in the breast cancer support community, where I have met so many women whose stories are quite different from my own. Women who have told me that their spouses or partners did not provide the support that mine did, husbands who made comments indicating that they would never see their wives the same way again if they didn’t choose to reconstruct after a mastectomy. Having a body part literally amputated is an incredibly physically and emotionally traumatic experience, and what a woman absolutely does not need at a time like this is to be told that she won’t be viewed as feminine again if she doesn’t opt for the surgical choice that a partner would prefer, whether that is choosing a lumpectomy over a mastectomy (if that is even an option – for some people this isn’t, as it wasn’t for me), or whether that might be choosing to do additional surgeries for breast reconstruction after the initial surgical treatment phase. I have listened to the experiences of these women. Some of their stories have left me absolutely dumbfounded that anyone would say something like this to a wife who was sick and experiencing arguably one of the worst times of her life. It is inconceivable that a spouse or partner would think it appropriate to pressure her into a decision that they want her to make based on what their preferred physical appearance may be for her.
Perhaps my reaction means that I have been naïve. After all, society places an unacceptably high premium on the physical appearance of women. Maybe I should have expected that these stories would be more commonplace than I would have hoped. But I prefer to look at my reaction as the product of my experience of having exactly what anyone in my situation should have – the love and unconditional support of her partner.
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