Any type of surgery can cause anxiety, especially when the outcome causes a change in appearance. Many women faced with breast cancer surgery know that they are going to wake up without a breast or perhaps without both breasts. In addition to dealing with the physical struggles of recovery, women also experience deep emotional pain. Dr. Kristi Funk, a breast cancer expert who has helped thousands of women -- including celebrity Sheryl Crow -- through breast cancer treatments, knows all too well the physical and psychological trials women go through as they ready themselves for breast cancer surgery and life after treatment. She is a bright light for women facing a seemingly dark and terrifying ordeal.
SheKnows: When a woman gets breast cancer, what are the chances she doesn't have to have surgery -- or is surgery a standard procedure for treatment?
Dr. Funk: Having an operation to remove all of the cancer cells from the breast is necessary in every situation intended to cure. Only in stage IV disease, when cells have metastasized -- i.e., spread from the breast and past the armpit lymph nodes into organs such as liver, lung, brain and bone -- do we often choose not to operate on the breast.
SheKnows: Surgery of any type can be frightening, especially the removal of a woman's breasts. What steps can women take to prepare themselves mentally and physically for surgery?
Dr. Funk: There's no doubt about it -- breast cancer changes your life, and every woman handles it differently. I always encourage my patients to find balance in their lives -- mentally, physically and spiritually. Surround yourself with trusted friends and loving family members who care about you and create a strong support system. Eat a high-fiber, low-fat diet, loaded with fruits and veggies, adding lean meats for protein. Aim for three to four hours of moderate exercise weekly. Relax, take a deep breath, meditate or pray, and spend time knowing that you will survive -- you will travel this road and live for many years to come.
SheKnows: What are some of the physical struggles women will face after surgery?
Dr. Funk: Women simply need time to heal. Exactly how much time varies, and largely depends on the exact operation. Mastectomy –- removal of the entire breast –- is often followed by reconstruction, and women need about six to eight weeks to feel recovered. Additional procedures usually follow. Lumpectomy –- removal of the cancer with a small margin of healthy tissue surrounding it -– is much easier. Women can shower and drive the next day, and feel back to "normal" in about a week.
They also need to regain full range of motion in their affected arm where lymph nodes were removed -– this is more significant if all of the nodes were removed rather than just one or two (known as a sentinel node biopsy). When all the nodes are removed, I recommend seeing a physical therapist to maintain flexibility and to regain full function.
SheKnows: What psychological struggles do women tend to face post-surgery?
Dr. Funk: Mentally, women seem to struggle more with chemotherapy and radiation than with surgery, perhaps because [chemo and radiation] take a longer stretch of time and become rather draining. The one exception is mastectomy, because a woman needs to adjust her body image to accept a very different look and a lack of sensation.
SheKnows: What can women do post-surgery to ensure a successful and speedy recovery?
Dr. Funk: Maintaining a balanced lifestyle is always beneficial to your health, especially post-surgery. I tell patients to prioritize taking care of themselves physically and emotionally. What that means for your readers is get enough rest, eat lots of fruits and veggies, begin exercising when their doctors allow it – and lean on friends and family during down days when you need the love of uplifting people. I also advise acupuncture, meditation, and herbs for those interested in the recovery and restoration that Chinese medicine offers.
SheKnows: What suggestions do you have for breast cancer survivors going through treatment who need a boost in motivation to successfully recover and to help their self-esteem?
Dr. Funk: Join a support group and connect with other women going through similar experiences. Hearing from others who understand your struggles will help rebuild self-esteem after surgery. Talking about your fears with like-minded women who can relate to your situation will help you overcome and conquer those fears.
Whether you are a breast cancer survivor or someone who wants to support those who have been personally affected by the disease, Dr. Funk suggests getting involved in breast cancer walks or runs, like the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, to band together with other women and men who want to make a difference. You don't even need to walk or run to raise funds.
Dr. Funk says, "I personally love Yoplait's Save Lids to Save Lives campaign, because it makes it so easy to raise funds for the cause. For every pink Yoplait lid mailed in by December 31, Yoplait will donate 10 cents to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. You can visit www.YourLidMatters.com to learn more about the program and watch breast health videos."
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