Long term impacts after mastectomy

My partner had a double mastectomy 11 months ago. He has recovered fairly well, apart from a few issues after surgery... Seroma/blood clots etc. He is becoming quite obsessive with his body image constantly monitoring the way he looks attempting fad diets but almost not eating from day to day, I am worried that the surgery and the changes to his body have contributed to this. He is now talking about wanting to pay for private plastic surgery abroad, to reconstruct his breasts which is massive concern to me. As I am not allowed to be with him at his appointments (due to covid) , I do not know what his doctors are advising and I do not know what questions he is asking about the outlook. I personally think the surgeon has done an amazing job of his mastectomy and his chest is looking very much the same as it did prior to before the operation, given that he had a nipple sparing mastectomy. I really want to help him build a positive view of his body image, and support him as much as possible. However I am really concerned about the prospect of plastic surgery, and he seems quite adamant its something he wants to do and very convinced that his appearance has changed. I also wonder what the NHS could offer him at this point to help with this. 

  • Hello Anais0308,

    Thank you for getting in touch with us here on the Online Community. I’m sorry to hear of all you and your partner have been through over the last year or so, and the current struggles he is facing following surgery. Understandably this is made more difficult for you, being unable to attend appointments with him, hear what has been said, and also the lack of opportunity for you to ask your own questions.

    It sounds like you are very supportive, while he seems to be working through the emotional impact of the diagnosis and surgery, and the physical changes to his body. People can respond to these changes in different ways from a loss of confidence to feeling like they’ve actually lost a part of themselves. It may be that in dieting and looking at options for surgery, he is looking to take back control of his own body, having had the doctors calling the shots and making changes for him when he had the surgery.

    I wonder if you’ve been able to approach him with your concerns about how he is dealing with this and the prospect of plastic surgery? It may be that seeing a different perspective and point of view could help him to make the best decision for him, whatever that is. If nothing else, it could also just help to open up the conversation about the feelings behind his actions and plans. Does he talk about how he feels, Anais0308?

    Talking can really help us to work through challenging or overwhelming emotions, as we put the thoughts going around our heads into some sort of order, sometimes enabling us to think more clearly. Some people like to speak with someone who knows them very well who they can trust, but it can be equally as beneficial to discuss these things with someone we don’t know who is impartial, and has no pre-judgement of who we are and what we are like. He’d be welcome to talk this through with us, and we can also discuss other options for services such as counselling or coaching, where appropriate.

    Do you think your partner would be open t having some counselling prior to making a decision around surgery? It may be that a counsellor can help him to work through the emotional impact this has understandably had, to come to a conclusion on what to do next, and how to adapt to the change he has experienced. It would be worth asking his healthcare team, as at this point, they may be able to arrange for him to speak with the hospital psychological team, and look at options for counselling. The GP can also refer him to NHS counselling and talking therapies, but there can be a long waiting list. You can also search here to see if any of our local centres have counselling services near you, bearing in mind that this may be over the phone or videocall just now. You can contact the centres to find out more.

    You may also find it helpful to have a read through our booklet on Cancer and Body Image, which talks about how the impact of cancer treatment can affect different people, how your partner can get help with this, but also ways to help himself. It might help you to read through to help your partner to understand his options, and you could also pass it on to him.

    You wrote about being unsure of what questions he was asking and what the doctors were advising, and while it’s not the same as being there in the room with them, I wondered if you’d like to have a chat with our Information Nurses on the support line, to help you to get a better understanding of what his options may be, either on the NHS or privately, and what they might expect to be recommended to him at this time. You can call us on 0808 808 00 00, or use our online chat. We’re open 8am-8pm every day.

    Anais0308, you are very much going through this too, in a different way to your partner, and it sounds very difficult for you to support him in the best way, while being unsure that he is taking the best route. We’re also here to support you emotionally through this, if you ever just want to talk it through with someone outside of family and friends.

    I wonder if you’d like to talk a little more about how you are coping just now?

    Take care,

    Ruth, Information and Support Adviser

    Remember you can also speak with the Macmillan Support Line team of experts. Phone free on 0808 808 0000 (7 days a week, 8am-8pm) or by email.