Making Peace with Your Body Post Breast Cancer

laughing women wearing pink for breast cance

Regardless of the severity, breast cancer takes a toll on your body.

Between chemo, radiation, and surgeries, many women struggle with their physical appearances after they’ve won their battles.

In a study published in The European Journal of Breast Health, researchers found that many of the 20 study participants who went through breast cancer treatment held a belief that breasts symbolize femininity, beauty, and motherhood.

As a result, after mastectomies, some of the participants felt that half of themselves were missing, as individuals and women.

Fortunately, there are ways to rebuild your self-esteem and body image after surviving breast cancer.

Read on to discover five tips to make peace with your body post breast cancer…

#1: Surround yourself with supportive friends and family.

Supportive family


As the author S. Kelley Harrell writes, “we don’t heal in isolation, but in community.”

Without the support of our loved ones–whether they be friends or family–getting through rough periods in our lives may seem insurmountable.

Don’t be afraid to express your feelings of shame, self-doubt, insecurities, or beyond with those who love you and are there to support you.

Loved ones are necessary sources of warmth who will remind you of the wonderful qualities that make you who you truly are.

#2: Acknowledge that some of your body’s changes may only be temporary.

Another important point to keep in mind is that not all physical changes will be permanent.

For example, though you may gain or lose weight during treatment due to side effects of medication, you can instill changes to get back to your pre-treatment weight once your body is ready.

Of course, your body may not bounce back to “the way it used to be,” but remembering that some things will eventually return to normal is a healthy practice in positivity.

#3: Give yourself time to adjust and accept the new you.

With any physical change–even those unrelated to breast cancer–it can take time to accept and get accustomed to the change.

It’s not realistic to expect that you’ll be able to accept your new body right away.

Perhaps you used to pride yourself on certain physical characteristics that have changed considerably since you went through your breast cancer experience.

Give yourself the time to adjust your perspective on what beauty means to you.

Focus on finding new aspects of your appearance or personality that you want to emphasize or embrace–and let them shine!

#4: Eat healthy and exercise.

balanced health and diet


Although you may be used to hearing your doctor provide the following advice, we’ll chime in here for good measure:

If you want to maintain or improve your appearance to reflect one of improved health, follow a healthy diet and incorporate exercise into your weekly routine.

Eating well and exercising will not only make you feel good from the inside out, but will also help you regain strength in your recovery process.

#5: Consider reconstructive options.

As mentioned before, for many women, breasts symbolize femininity and other values that can be hard to let go of permanently.

Thanks to the miraculous nature of modern day surgery and medicine, reconstructive options for your breasts after a mastectomy are possible.

If what you truly desire is to bring back your shape, reconstructive breast surgery is always an option.

Talk to a doctor and see what your options are. If you’re interested in seeing what our options are, check out our website here.

As a breast cancer survivor, there is a lot to be proud of.

Though physical changes to your body can be incredibly difficult to experience and acknowledge, there are ways to make peace with the changes.

Keep these five tips in mind in your journey to living life with a new normal.

Have any additional suggestions for what you do to feel beautiful in the skin you’re in? Share them in the comments below!

Ask The Doctor-What are the Reconstruction Options for an Overweight Person Who Had Radiation

pink flowerThis week ,Richard M. Kline, Jr., MD , of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction answers your question.

Question: What are reconstruction options for me as an overweight person who had radiation?

Answer: Thanks for your question. Knowing only that you are overweight and have had radiation, I can only speak in generalities, but it may be of some interest to you.


Radiated patients are far less likely to tolerate implants than non-radiated patients, so that may mean that you could be better served by natural breast reconstruction with your own tissue. While it can be extraordinarily difficult (sometimes impossible, actually) to achieve a satisfactory delayed reconstruction with implants in a radiated patient, radiation commonly has almost no impact on our ability to reconstruct you with your own tissue, since we are bringing fresh non-radiated tissue to the area.


Additionally, implants are only commonly manufactured up to a volume of 800 cc. While this may seem like a lot (and actually is a lot, when used for cosmetic augmentation), it often falls far short of the volume requirements needed by a large patient for a complete reconstruction. Fortunately, there is no firm limit on how large a natural tissue flap can be transferred, except for how much tissue is available. We have in the past transferred flaps in the (1500 – 2000) cc range with success.

Of course, extra weight (also depending to some extent on how it is distributed) can bring additional risks. Extra weight brings an increased risk of blood clots (which can be fatal), and an increased risk of wound healing problems. As a very rough guideline, and, again, with the knowledge that how the fat is distributed makes some difference, we start to get concerned when the BMI exceeds 30 and approaches 35. This doesn’t necessarily mean that surgery can’t be done, just that all of an individual’s specific risk factors and options must be scrutinized very closely before making specific recommendations.


I hope this has been of some help. Please feel free to call or email if you would like more information.








Will Reconstruction Improve the Shape and Size After My Lumpectomy?

1426157_white_rose_1This week, Dr. Richard Kline of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction answers your questions.

Q: I had a lumpectomy and radiation in 2004. The defect in my breast is increasingly more noticeable (clothed) than in the past. Now, I’m interested in reconstruction to improve shape & size of my breast. Do you have any advice?

A: Lumpectomy defects can be challenging, for several reasons. Firstly, the tissue is radiated, which of course makes ANYTHING less likely to work. Secondly, there is no really satisfactory way to reliably replace the volume that was lost, precisely where you want it. Sometimes a small implant can be helpful, but not always. If the defect is large enough,  a microvascular flap of the type we do can be used, but often this seems like overkill for the size of the defect. Free fat grafting (sucking fat from elsewhere and injecting it into the breast) might be as close to an ideal solution as possible, and some surgeons do it currently, but it has not been established with certainty that this does not increase the chance of cancer recurrence, so we are holding off on that procedure until more evidence is in.

In many lumpectomy / radiation breasts the entire breast envelope, including the skin, has shrunken significantly. This often presents the option of re-arranging (with surgery) the remaining breast tissue to improve the shape, then subsequently lifting or reducing the other side to match as closely as possible.

Hope this helps. If you’d like to send pictures, I can possibly give you more specific suggestions. If you’d to speak with our nurse Chris or PA Kim to give them more information, they’d be happy to give you a call.

Dr. Richard Kline

Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction

Have a question about breast reconstruction or post-surgical care you’d like answered from our surgical team? Just ask us!

Does Radiation Affect My Options For Breast Reconstruction?

Dr. James Craigie

Dr. James Craigie

The question below is answered by Dr. James Craigie of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction.

I am not sure if I will need radiation after my mastectomy. What factors should I consider before going ahead with breast reconstruction?

Radiation therapy is part of the treatment for breast cancer for some but not all patients. To determine if it is necessary for any individual, the details of the cancer or the final path results must be known. The most common situation for radiation after mastectomy is based on the size of the cancer and the number of positive lymph nodes.

When a patient would benefit from radiation the treatment may affect the options for breast reconstruction as well as the timing of the reconstruction. There are several advantages to starting the breast reconstruction at the time of the mastectomy. These include: the breast surgeon can save more of the breast skin or even the nipple and this can set the stage for the best possible result, and avoiding an extra step and an extra recovery period.

If radiation will definitely be needed after mastectomy then I do not recommend immediate natural breast reconstruction because the radiation can possibly damage the new breast. In this situation the reconstruction would start approximately 6 months following radiation. These decisions are best made following the advice of your oncologist, breast surgeon, and plastic surgeon all working together. For this reason I am a strong advocate of the multi-specialty breast conference where each patient can be presented to all the specialists at once so they can share their opinions right away. Cooperation between experts can ensure better results and more options for each patient.

It is important to remember that if you need radiation for the treatment of breast cancer it does not mean you cannot have a very good result with natural breast reconstruction. It may however determine the order and timing of when the breast reconstruction should begin.

—James E. Craigie, MD


How Long Should I Wait to Have a DIEP Flap After Radiation?

Dr. James Craigie

The below question is answered by Dr. James Craigie of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction.

How long should I wait to have a DIEP flap after radiation?

Radiation therapy is part of the treatment of breast cancer and will affect the results of breast reconstruction. The treatments can miraculously kill some growing cancer cells but they also change the area of the body left behind after surgery.

All of the elements of the body can be affected: blood vessels, scarring, healing function, and appearance.  The effects of radiation occur in two phases. Short term occurs during and immediately after the treatments. Elective surgery at this time is not possible, for obvious reasons. The long term effects develop after the early “burn-like” injury “settles down.” The long term reaction occurs for approximately the first six months.

The experience can be widely different from one person to the next. We have experienced difficulties with the receiving blood vessels after radiation when we did not wait for the body to recover from both long and short term damage. These types of problems could possibly increase the chance for the new breast to fail. Avoiding these problems may be possible by waiting and that is why the long recovery is needed before reconstruction is started.

—Dr. James Craigie