Tackling the Psychological Effects of Breast Cancer

It is never easy to receive a cancer diagnosis. Everyone responds differently. Some treat it as a call to action, immediately scheduling and researching everything they possibly can. Others freeze for a moment, unable to fully process what just occurred. Regardless of the manner in which you respond to your cancer diagnosis, there is one consideration that is almost unique to breast cancer, the fact that your body will never look the same again. Breast cancer depression is very real, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps to counter it.

The Mastectomy

Almost everyone diagnosed with breast cancer will receive some form of mastectomy. Based on the stage of your cancer and the location of the tumor, you will have a few possible options. However, you will need to have breast tissue removed, and your oncologist is likely to suggest that more is often the safer option. Breast Health Institute Houston lists five primary forms that mastectomies take.

Radical Mastectomy

Almost unheard of today, the radical mastectomy was relatively common sixty years ago. Today, it is reserved for only the most severe cases, as it removes all of the skin, the lymph nodes in the armpit, and the pectoralis minor muscle.

Modified Radical Mastectomy

This version of the mastectomy was regularly performed up through the late 1990s. The entire mammary gland is removed along with most of the skin and associated lymph nodes. However, the pectoralis minor is spared and enough skin is left to close the wounds without skin grafts.

Simple/Total Mastectomy

A modern version of the modified radical mastectomy, the simple mastectomy aims to save more lymph nodes, preventing lymphedema and other possible complications.

Skin and Nipple Sparing Mastectomy

A skin and nipple sparing mastectomy is one of the most challenging forms of mastectomy. During the procedure, Dr. Darlene Miltenburg explains, that the surgeon has to make an incision along the bottom crease of the breast and work upwards to remove all mammary gland tissue all the way up to the inside of the nipple. The nipple can be very complex due to its close attachment to the milk ducts. Any leftover tissue could potentially become cancerous.

Skin Sparing Mastectomy

The SSM is a modern procedure intended to be immediately followed up by breast reconstruction. Although all of your mammary tissues and the nipple/areola complex will be removed, the skin is saved, allowing for a more natural-looking reconstruction, where scars can be more easily hidden.

Dealing with the Aftermath

Whether or not you opt for reconstruction after your mastectomy, your body will emerge from the process looking and feeling completely different. Even if others don’t notice, you may still feel like something is innately wrong. Shopping for clothes might be challenging, and you may even struggle maintaining a healthy sex life. If you begin to feel detached or depressed, the most important thing you can do is speak with your doctor. They may not be personally able to help you, but they will be able to help you connect with people who can.

Recognizing Breast Cancer Depression

Breast cancer depression is an all-too-common side effect of this diagnosis.

  • You may feel like you’ve lost control over your life.
  • You may be under increased financial strain.
  • It’s possible that you are totally exhausted by well-wishers and sympathizers.
  • Your medication will be making you sick and miserable.

With all of this going on, no one will blame you if you start to sink into a sense of powerlessness and detachment. Fortunately, the National Institute of Mental Health lists clear, recognizable signs of severe breast cancer depression that you can use to gauge your current state of mind and get the help you need.

  • A prolonged sense of anxiety or sadness
  • Irritability
  • A persistent feeling of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Drastic changes in sleeping patterns
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness and Difficulty Concentrating
  • Appetite or weight changes that don’t have a medical cause
  • Aches and pains without clear medical cause

However, remember that not everyone experiences breast cancer depression in the same way. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, discuss it with your doctor so that they can at least help you track your mental and emotional health. If you ever begin to question whether or not your friends or family would be better off without you, then call 1-800-273-8255 for immediate assistance.

Everyday Things to Help you Manage

If you’re struggling with your body image, your relationships, or your own happiness at any point, then you should talk to your doctor about therapy and the possibility of using anti-depressants depending on where you are in your treatment. However, there are other ways you can practice self-love to help get you through each day.


It can be as small as a window box, but it will give you the chance to watch something grow. During your cancer battle, life can seem bleak at times, so plant something vivacious and colorful that will bring you joy.

Bird Feeder or Bath

As with gardening, reminding yourself that life is beautiful on a daily basis is an important antidote to the darkness of depression. Take a few minutes each day to sip a cup of tea and just watch your local wildlife revel in your generosity. However, you should note that it might be several weeks before they discover your offering.

A Support Group

It really depends on your personality, but a support group can be helpful for a lot of people. Ask your doctor or therapist about local groups you might be able to join.


Not everyone is a writer, but it can be remarkably beneficial to take five minutes every day and just jot down every good thing that happened. It might be that your six-year-old didn’t draw on the walls today, but every positive thought counts.


You don’t have to be an artist to enjoy painting. Embrace abstract art and simply let color be your guide. You may use it to express your current mood or you can use it to push back against the hopelessness you feel. The choice is yours. Once you’re in remission, frame your favorite piece as a reminder of how strong you really are.

Breast Health Institute Houston

If you have further questions about emotionally coping with your breast cancer diagnosis. do not hesitate to reach out to Dr. Miltenburg. As a leading breast cancer surgeon in Houston, Dr. Miltenburg knows how to delicately help patients navigate the troubled waters of a devastating breast cancer diagnosis.

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