Life after Cancer Editor, Jennifer Luce, comments on Lillie Shockney’s Female Sexuality Article
Lillie brings up a very important issue that is often swept under the carpet due to the general sensitivity around it – female sexuality. As a young adult ovarian cancer survivor of five years, sexuality and body image have been of focus to me not only due to my age, but because the psychological and hormonal effects were not something I expected, or felt comfortable talking about. If I had a better awareness about this prior to surgery or during treatment, I would have had a number of tools to utilize during the process.
Comments from Jennifer Luce, Living with Cancer
by Lillie D Shockney, RN., BS., MAS
Breast cancer remains the most feared disease of all women. There are perhaps many reasons for this however a compelling one is the fact that sexuality and body image are known to be psychologically connected to women’s breasts. Altering them by the required surgical interventions needed to treat breast cancer can cause tremendous anxiety and concern. Additionally, there are still women alive today who have endured a Halsted radical mastectomy, which was truly a debilitating and disfiguring surgical procedure for breast cancer treatment for more than a century. This procedure was commonly performed immediately following a surgical breast biopsy performed on the patient in the operating room with general anesthesia. The surgeon would send the biopsy specimen to pathology while the woman remained asleep. If it was positive for cancer then he would proceed in doing a Halsted radical mastectomy which included the removal of the entire breast, both pectoral major and minor muscles, scraping the ribs, and dissecting all of the lymph nodes in the armpit area, down to the lung cavity area. No reconstruction was performed. It was also common to need to take skin from her back or buttocks to be able to close the chest wound. The patient would awaken in the recovery room to then learn that she had breast cancer and that her breast and underlying anatomic tissues were gone.