It’s OK to Grieve the Loss of My Breasts to Cancer


It seems acceptable in our world to grieve the loss of a loved one, but unheard of to grieve the loss of body parts.

Six years have passed since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. During that time, I’ve finally realized it’s OK to grieve the loss of my breasts and all things pertaining to life before cancer.

Many people, upon hearing the word grief, immediately associate the emotion with bereavement. It seems acceptable in our world to grieve the loss of a loved one, but unheard of to grieve the loss of body parts.

Often, life changes can stimulate grieving. In my case, breast cancer was the ultimate life change.

At first, I didn’t realize I was grieving. I assumed those feelings of sadness were part of the journey. I didn’t associate those feelings with grief. It was not until I read about the range of emotions others with cancer faced that I understood it’s OK to grieve. Everything I read said grief was a natural part of the healing process.

In high school, one of our required assignments was to read “On Death and Dying” by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. In her research, Kübler-Ross identified five stages of grief that apply to any major loss in a person’s life:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Guilt or Depression
  • Acceptance

The first stage, denial, helped a person deal with emotional pain from big life changes. Like the valve on a pressure cooker, denial tempers emotions and prevents them from becoming overwhelming. Anger helped a person work through feelings by providing a form of emotional release. Bargaining came when someone tried to cope with a situation beyond their control and tried to find ways of handling feelings of helplessness. The next step, guilt or depression, came as a person began to understand the gravity of the situation and acceptance came when a person no longer resisted the inevitable.

However, the stages of grief don’t always come in order, especially with a disease like cancer. Often a person will jump from stage to stage and then back again. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time.A person may grieve for days, weeks or years. All of these are perfectly normal.

With breast cancer, waves of grief may come immediately after diagnosis, much later after surgery, or anytime in between.

To this day, I’ll look in the mirror at my scars. They remind me of all I’ve experienced over the past six years. At times, I feel like a strong survivor. Other times, I feel the heaviness of deep sorrow over losing parts of my body. When I feel that overpowering sense of grief, I remind myself it’s OK to grieve.

Death and dying are part of life. The Bible says, “It’s appointed unto man once to die…” Even if I’d never received a diagnosis of breast cancer, I’d eventually die from some malady. Thankfully, I’m still alive.

I like what Kübler-Ross says:

“It's only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on Earth - and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”

A cancer diagnosis isn’t always a death sentence even though that’s often the first thought of the one receiving the news. Facing the loss of body parts can often be easier to accept than losing faith in our body.

Coping with loss is challenging but hopefully, you’ll find a way to process your feelings and move on. There are several helpful ways to accomplish this:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings – Give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling. It’s a very personal experience.
  2. Give your feelings place – Honor your feelings. Accept them for what they are and be OK with experiencing them fully.
  3. Write it down – If you’re unable to verbally express your feelings, journaling may help.
  4. Get plenty of rest – Pay attention to your body. A well-rested body is less likely to become overly emotional.
  5. Pay attention to triggers – There are certain things that may trigger feelings of grief. Memories of cancer-related milestones can be among the most challenging.
  6. Accept your new normal – Be gentle with yourself and give yourself time to adapt to change.

Grief can be filled with ups and downs. It takes courage to work through the gamut of emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis.

“It has been said that time heals all wounds. The truth is that time does not heal anything. It merely passes. It is what we do during the passing of time that helps or hinders the healing process,” said Jay Marshall.

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