Helping my mum cope with mastectomy


My mum (66) was diagnosed with breast cancer last Thursday and is having a mastectomy this coming Friday. She seems to be coping quite well mentally.

I am going back to the UK to go to the hospital with her and be with her while she recovers from the operation. What I would like to know is any ways in which I can help her, aside from the obvious (cooking, helping out round the house, keeping her distracted and entertained, moral support etc). Also, is there anything unexpected I should be prepared for? I want to be a cheerful and upbeat presence and not add to her difficulties so if there might be aspects of her care, recovery or appearance that will shock me, I’d rather have some advance idea in order not to react badly at the time and get her down.

My mum is a very private person - she’s only telling a handful of close friends about her diagnosis - my dad died a few years ago and I’m an only child so the majority of any care-giving will fall to me (and my very supportive boyfriend who will be with me), so I don’t want to let my mum down.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

Hi Expat Daughter

Welcome to the Breast Cancer Care forum. It sounds like you’re doing all you can to be prepared. While you’re waiting for replies from other forum members, you might find it useful to read this booklet about breast operations and recovery. Although aimed at people who are having surgery themselves, it contains lots of information about what to expect, so it might be helpful to you too.

When you are back in the UK, if you find you (or your mum) needs to talk, our helpline is there for both of you - 0808 800 6000.

Hi there,
I’m a bit younger than your mum but i was devasted, I really thought myl life was over. However, we all deal with things differently. I couldn’t bear to face anyone because I didn’t think I could deal with their emotions. In the end I told people by a jokey email…testing the NHS, being spoiled a bit, having a remodelled body etc. Everyone was great to me. I didn’t want to be treated as a patient or a sick person, I wanted to have nice treats but be as normal as possible!

I think not dwelling on it as the be all and end all, but also give your mum space to grieve for her old self, be scared or be angry if she wants to. Mums often hide things so they don’t upset their children, but she may not want to be upbeat all the time, as it might be a pretence.

I’ve heard that a simple mx is a quick op in surgeons time, but you dnt say whether your mum has been offered a reconstruction now or later. It all seems to be happening very quickly. I do think there’s a tendency for women to be rushed thro without really being able to weight things up. My initial thought was just give me the easiest, quickest op…which would be a simple mx with no recon. However they wanted me to have more tests, so in the meantime I had time to get over the shock and move on to thinking about the future. I opted for the most intricate of recons, using fat from my tummy, but there are lots of other options. It’s easier to decide to have a reconstruction beforehand than later, as it affects the amount of skin if you know what I mean. At 66 your mum has a good few years to enjoy life, so I hope she was offered options. Some ladies don’t have any concerns about the need for losing a breast, so recon isn’t for everyone but if it is a choice then the results can be very good.

There are stages to all this, there’s the initial and post op emotional support part that you can offer. Then there’s the practical stuff of everyday living, transport to appointments, and household things, though actually i had a big recon op involving tummy surgery too, but I live alone and was on my own a few days after coming home, so those can be overcome with planning. There’s the personal side of it all,like finding bras that are comfy, which takes forever and changes as the wound changes and also depends on other treatement, so that takes you to whether your mum is offered radiation(unlikely after a mx) or chemo as that will require more support.

I hope she will find a way to tell people who are close to her and able to help, to invite her for tea, and to ensure she can get out and about back into her old life. Breast cancer changes you, but you are still the same person inside, with all the same needs and maybe more wishes!!

Happy to help in any other way,
Best wishes


Hi Leah and Nonsuch,

Thanks very much for your replies. The booklet is really helpful and it was very useful to read about your experiences, Nonsuch. I will bear in mind all your comments.

My mum didn’t say much about what options she’d been offered. I think she will probably want to undergo the minimum surgery necessary, so the reconstruction may not be for her, but I will discuss all this with her when I get home.

I will post again here to let you know how she is getting on. Thanks again.

Best wishes,

Expat Daughter