“What do you see when you look in the mirror?” That was the question I asked women who had breast reconstruction after breast cancer. I, like many other breast cancer survivors/thrivers, finally mustered the courage to look at myself in the mirror, a few days after getting home from the hospital.

 

After surgery, many of us initially saw scars, tubing and drains coming out of our bodies. On top of that, we didn’t have a lot of energy to do anything. “Yep, we were not happy campers!”

 

I wondered, “What can I do to ease this situation?” “Did others feel like I did and how did they get through it?”

 

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

The women in my study told me, and wanted to let others know that there’s hope! It begins when you first look in the mirror.

 

The overwhelming answer to the initial ‘Mirror’ question was “scars” and most of the women (60%) had a “Negative view of their Breast”. However, surprisingly, 40% had a “Positive view of Self”. Adjusting to the ‘new normal’ does take time and those negative feelings don’t leave by just wishing them away.

 

 

Things Change
Fast-forward at least 2 years, these same women (100%) had a positive view of their bodies and themselves. For that, we are all thankful! They were beyond where they were with that 1st look in the mirror!

 

So, “How did they make the leap of going beyond what they initially saw in the mirror to having a positive image of themselves?”

 

What changed your thinking?

The chart reflects the themes (Acceptance, Completion, and Disappointment) participants indicated helped change their view to a more positive one.

Some of the actual responses were: “So many woman are living and not enjoying life”,  “l am not my body”, “Even though the curves aren’t real, they are pretty” and “…to be whole again”. 

 

I can still look at my body and see what one of my CROSS members (cancer survivors & caregivers group) called “a jigsaw puzzle” and be okay with it. I feel so much better than I did with that initial mirror assessment.

 

There are some large and small things that aren’t the same as they were before my cancer journey. For example, off the shoulder dresses are not easily worn, running around the house without a bra occurs infrequently and I always wear one when going outside. I almost always remember to fill in my sparse eyebrows before going out and I make sure everything is in place before leaving the house. Yes, I have forgotten my prosthesis. (Albeitonly once!)

 

 

A Positive View
Two years later 100% of the women interviewed had a positive view of their breasts and themselves. Additionally, here are some of the responses regarding their body image after 2 years: “I look like me”, “I’m okay with where I am”, and “A work in progress”.

 

Two years may seem like a long time to make peace with your body. As my mother would say, “Just keep living.”  

 

We have to take things day by day. Don’t rush it. You’ll feel better starting out at a slower pace and you’ll be surprised how quickly time passes.

 

 

What Counts?
You do! Be ye survivor, thriver, care-giver, friend, or family. Be encouraging & encouraged!

 

It is not always about what we say. It can be about how we help. This can be done by being silent or listening or not treating the person as though they were fragile and could break at any moment. We must continue to be supportive without asking incessantly, “Are you okay?” Ease up and become an “undercover cheer leader”.

 

Remember, “Natural beauty takes at least two hours in front of a mirror.” Pamela Anderson

 

Dr. Harriette

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