It’s breast cancer awareness month.
Today, I sat down with my colleague, Dr. Grace Gibbs who is an Ob/Gyn, to talk about her recent fight with breast cancer and her journey through the breast reconstruction process.
“My personal journey has allowed me to finally get it,” says Dr. Gibbs, “I now have a better understanding and perspective on what my patients were/are going through when they are diagnosed with breast cancer”. Before my own experience, they would tell me things like ’how they felt mutilated and how they they felt they had lost a part of themselves.’ While I listened to what they were saying and I was sympathetic, I never truly appreciated their journey until now.
She goes on to say that “most women (including myself ) don’t realize that the skin and nipples (if you were lucky enough to have nipple sparing procedure ) become numb, and you lose all sensation once the breast tissue is removed.” This obviously has an impact on how one views their breasts, as an integral part of their body and how losing this sensation affects things like sexual arousal.”
We have made valiant strides in the medical fight against breast cancer. But there are also psychological stressors on the patient and family that most of us, even providers, overlook. Breast cancer and the treatments associated with it can have a large impact on everyone involved in the family unit.
“I also never realized the impact that my breast cancer would have on my husband, says Dr. Gibbs. “He became quite isolated/introverted during the process, trying to be the rock and foundation for me but struggling with his own feelings. His friends would ask how he was doing and his response would always be “it’s not about me.” To this day I still have not heard him say to anyone, my wife had breast cancer. The way my diagnosis affected him was really eye-opening for me. Not only do I have a better perspective on my patients views on breast cancer, I also realize how it affects their families.
During the month of October as we reflect on breast cancer, we should be very proud on how far we have come on awareness, screening and the reconstruction process.
In closing , we should always remember to be empathetic to those who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer. And just as importantly we should also support the spouses and family members of these patients.