The loss of any major body part is emotionally traumatic, but for many women the breast is a major source of self-esteem. For years breasts have symbolized femininity and desirability in advertisements, movies, and other media. It is no wonder that many women suffer anger or depression, often severe enough to jeopardize their physical recovery, after mastectomy.
The depression may take many forms: crying spells, feelings of worthlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, disinterest in sex or other activities. Such reactions are normal for a while, but they should not become permanent conditions. Fears of being shunned by the sexual partner, the family, or others may haunt the patient.
The best therapy is to talk about these feelings. The physician can help by discussing the problems faced by women with breast cancer both before and after treatment. Many hospitals have support programs built around nurses, social service workers, and members of the psychiatry department. In the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program, volunteers each one a woman who has had breast cancer who has undergone special training visit the patients. Reach to Recovery now has volunteers who have undergone all types of treatment mastectomy, lumpectomy, or other surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and reconstruction.