Life After Mastectomy

Hello! And Welcome to Life After Mastectomy.

My name is Shona McKechnie.  I’ve undertaken this labor of love to create a helpful resource for women facing one of the most impactful experiences of their lives – breast cancer.

Breast CancerMy first experience with breast cancer was as a young teen of 14, when my mother was diagnosed.  Although she protected me from her deepest and darkest emotions, it’s not something you forget in a hurry.  When your mother faces a serious illness and considerable re-adjustment to life after the event, you feel it! I didn’t grow up with fear I would also succumb to breast cancer.  In fact, I thought it would bypass me.  Yet, it did actually catch up with me and I had to face my own breast cancer ‘journey’.

The Breast Cancer Journey

The word ‘journey’ can seem over-used these days, but the experience of breast cancer most certainly is that.  A journey is ‘an act of travelling from one place to another’ as defined by the online dictionary I consulted!  In fact, it’s not just a trip from one  place to another, the journey takes you

  • via valleys (of despair)
  • to hilltops (of elation and relief)
  • through forests (of tangled confusion) and
  • quagmires (of energy depleting physical symptoms),

all depending upon your own diagnosis, treatment plan and prognosis.

Finding Helpful Information

Over at My Story I will share what happened to me, alongside stories of other breast cancer survivors.  What I will say here that there were so many stages that I needed more information than I had.  Here’s the really interesting thing about that observation.  I live in a ‘first world country’ with excellent medical facilities and services and people helping me.  I was told facts and figures during appointments I attended.  Leaflets and reminders and texts and emails bombarded me.  But somehow (and have you found this?) when I was being talked to with critically important details, I wasn’t always in a frame of mind to absorb the aspects I needed to.  Through no fault of the specialist I was seeing, really, because they were just offering what they could when they could.

But in the same breath as we find out we have breast cancer, can we really take in all the details of the various options we have for treatment?  I don’t know about you, but my mind tended to race and go blank just when I needed it to help me out!  Such is the nature of panic!

So, in the time after all the dust has settled and my emergencies have passed, I wanted to sit down and order my thoughts.  Here I lay out all the questions I had, facts I needed, resources I looked up and helpful information I found that helped me with my many questions and fears at the time.  And there were some truly wonderful ones.

Those Shining Lights

One such helpful resource was a young lady in Texas USA who tracked her breast cancer journey in a series of YouTube videos.  Her series of videos had her sharing her experience of bilateral mastectomies and chemotherapy.  She shared the experience of then being fitted with tissue expanders several months later.  Then, finally, onto the exchange surgery to have her implants inserted.  It may be difficult to imagine how, but it was all done ever so tastefully and helpfully.   And, for the viewer going through pretty much the same thing, but not really knowing what to expect, it was tremendously helpful.   Don’t you think this was so giving of her?  One evening when I was in hospital recovering from my own double mastectomy and tissue expander insertion surgery was when I discovered her YouTube channel.

I went from feeling almost like I was the only one in the world going through this weird process to feeling like she, at least, had been here before me!  I found her contact details and sent a message of thanks – and received a speedy reply!  It made my day!

Recovery and Bras for Mastectomy Patients

During the process of my recovery, I encountered the challenge of finding comfortable mastectomy bras.  And not only comfortable – something that didn’t make me feel like I was in a straight jacket!  How I would have loved a mastectomy bra that didn’t reach almost up to my neck.   and show under all my summer clothing.  Then I discovered there were different bras needed for different phases.  There was the phase where I was to wear a post op compression bra.  That lasted a long time.  Then there was the phase when I no longer needed the bras for breast cancer patients.  I could start to wear a ‘normal’ bra.  Alas – what was 'normal' before breast cancer surgery was a completely different question from worked for a post breast cancer surgery bra.  Finding what post breast cancer surgery bras were available, comfortable, attractive and affordable is an ongoing challenge.

So, a big part of my mission with Life After Mastectomy is to narrow down the mesmerising array of types of mastectomy bras available on the market to a logical list to choose from.  I’ll be including my own experience in here.  In addition you'll see the findings of others who have faced the same dilemmas in choosing the best mastectomy bras.

A Plethora of Information on Breast Cancer and choosing Comfortable Mastectomy Bras

I love helpful information.  Researching as many available sources as I can to find the most trustworthy and up to date knowledge possible is a passion of mine.  I’ve spent literally hours looking for answers to all the questions I had about my own breast cancer journey.  And I've found all sorts of helpful answers.  But they were all in different places, different forms and often impossible to trace back when I wanted to revisit them!  So that’s another reason I decided to make Life After Mastectomy a central resource for women facing the same issues.

And, let’s face it, it seems to be an increasing number of us in certain societies succumbing to breast cancer.  My research even delves into that phenomenon.  I have some theories (based on scientific evidence) that I will share.  I have a ‘technical’ or ‘scientific’ trained background, so understand the importance of accurate information from appropriate sources.  So, you’ll always be able to sort the ‘opinion’ from ‘facts & figures’ when they are presented on these pages!

Similar Issues, Different Breast Cancer Experiences

What’s also apparent to me is that, although when we face a breast cancer diagnosis we’re all on a similar journey, our individual journeys can be quite different.  Our mindsets are different, our body images are different, our cultures are different.  The country we live in will largely dictate the available treatment options, as will our financial status within that society.  Medical systems vary greatly from country to country.  They can also differ from  region to region and state to state.  So, whilst we’re all facing the ‘same thing’, we’re all actually facing a ‘different thing’!  Hence, personal stories from the Life After Mastectomy community add a richness of caring and diversity of perspective that mere facts and figures can never offer alone.  Do you have a story you’d like to share?  We welcome you to contact us here: Share My Story.

Human Need to Connect

Nothing spoke more loudly to me recently than a lady I met (the mother of a school friend of my youngest so) honing in (like a guided missile) when I made an off-hand comment about a ‘flush’.  Due to surgical menopause I launched instantly into all the ‘joys’ of depleted oestrogen in my body, including the hot flushes.  I don’t recall what I said, but the lady seemed to intuitively know what I’d been through.  And, she was quick to offer that she had suffered breast cancer.  She'd had a mastectomy, significant lymph node removal, chemotherapy – and surgical menopause.  Her need to connect with a woman who ‘got it’ was palpable.  I haven’t been as open in sharing my story as she is.  But, I’m a compassionate caring person and was compelled to give and share anything I could that helped her deal with her challenges.  And dealing well with it she is!

It made me realise that it can be a lonely experience, this breast cancer assignment.  Consequently, any connection I can make for people, such as my new friend, myself and others wanting to feel less alone also became part of my mission!

A Life After Mastectomy Community

Hence, a website, rather than a book!  A living, breathing, growing community and resource, rather than a publication.  What do you think?  What would you add?  I do welcome you to reach out!