FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

By Dr. Patricia K. Morgan, Psychologist

1. What prompted you to study the mastectomy experience of younger women?

A picture of a mastectomy survivor on the cover of the New Yorker sparked interest in studying how mastectomy survivors experienced life. Each year, 40,000 women die from breast cancer. That's 1 woman every 13 minutes.  One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and 2,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Breast cancer has a lasting affect on many more than those diagnosed with it. It affects those who love and know them -- which seems like it affects almost everyone. Most mastectomy-related research is about older women, and I realized the need for an in-depth exploration into the experiences of young mothers with children still in the home.

2. Why did you write this book?

The information gleaned from my research is important and felt I owed it to the courageous women who shared their heartwarming stories with me and gave so generously of their time, their emotions, and their hearts.  These inspiring stories are their legacies and are important to share with as many people as possible.My husband Don's belief in the value of this project, his encouragement and unfailing support were indispensable. I did the research and the writing, but without him, this book would not exist. He is an endless source of love and good humor, my intellectual companion, and my cheerleader.

4. What impact will your book have on other mastectomy survivors?

C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You, too? Thought I was the only one. By publishing these stories, I hope to contribute to building community among those touched by cancer – survivors as well as their families. Sharing is therapeutic.

5. Were there any discoveries in your research that surprised you?

Mastectomy phenomena involve much more than purely physical or purely psychological changes and can be more fully understood in a global framework. I used an existential-phenomenological approach, focusing on the world through the eyes of the women who lived the mastectomy experience.

  • The women described a change in the way they experienced TIME. Time slowed dramatically while they awaited biopsy results.
  • The women were not prepared for the severity of PAIN they experienced immediately following their surgeries and they were afraid to confront their altered bodies. They struggled with fear of rejection and they dreaded physical intimacy.
  • Friendships changed. Women felt an invisible wall separating them from others and they developed new friendships with other mastectomy survivors.
  • Fear of premature death was ever present. The fears they experienced at the initial diagnosis returned with every little ache and pain. They reevaluated their priorities and their actions became more congruent with their emotions as they lived each day more fully.
  • They became more assertive and used humor, faith, and prayer to cope with their new worlds of disease. Their goals became short-term and focused on their families. They wanted to fulfill their roles as mothers, and were determined to live to make life better for their children.

6. What was involved in making a doctoral thesis into a readable book?

I worked with Roxane Christ to edit my 637-page research report into a readable 364-page book.  Roxane also designed the cover and my husband Don gave the book its title. 

7.  Who are your intended readers? To whom were you writing ?

Reading the stories about the women's journeys from Devastation to Resilience will provide considerable insight into the mastectomy experience for Medical Professionals, Breast Cancer Patients, Family and Friends.  This book will be helpful to counselors and therapists as well as to all people in a helping relationship with cancer patients or with those close to cancer patients by giving a broader understanding of the mastectomy experience and of the needs of cancer patients and their family members.

8. What are the main things you hope your readers will get from reading your book?

The book portrays the desperation and utter devastation of women with breast cancer, and describes how important others are for women to develop the resiliency to recreate themselves. Mastectomy is different from other surgeries where a scar is the only lingering evidence. After mastectomy, life is never the same. The mastectomy experience is never ending. Women need help on several levels, and men need to verbalize their fears, feelings, and concerns. Support and reassurance are important.

Family members and friends play a vital role in the physical, mental, and social healing and in sustaining women’s lives. They need to be there with them, attend to them, discuss options with them, visit them, and show them love, support, and understanding.

By vicariously experiencing a taste of the turmoil and courage of these women, I hope the readers sense the world of the mastectomy survivor and gain a broader understanding of the Devastation imposed by Mastectomy. I hope this book will contribute to a greater understanding of the devastation of cancer in general, and the remarkable resilience of women, and I hope that it will help others to find greater meaning in their own lives.

9. How did you select the specific persons to be a part of your book?

I sent letters to medical doctors and cancer centers asking them to distribute information to mastectomy patients, and, I placed a notice in the Komen Foundation Newsletter. I confined my appeal to young mothers with children in their homes. Five of the Volunteers were from the Komen Newsletter and 2 were from letters mailed to medical practitioners. I worked with an editor who is an ovarian cancer survivor, and I included her story in the book.

10. Have you benefited personally from writing about Mastectomy?

As a psychologist I work with cancer survivors, and with the spouses and families of cancer patients. My research has given me a deeper understanding of their experiences and has contributed to positive therapeutic outcomes.

11. Have you or your family been touched by cancer?

On the day that I received a phone call from my first potential volunteer, I also received a phone call from my mother informing me that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was in her 70s. Although I am not a breast cancer survivor, my mother’s oldest sister had been a mastectomy patient and died from the spread of the disease. My mother-in-law had also been diagnosed with breast cancer when she was in her 80s.

12. How did you select the title for the book?

While working on the book, my husband Don and I conducted a corporate seminar on resiliency training. That is when it came to us that the book was about women's resiliency that followed their devastating breast cancer surgery.

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