Quality of Life After Postmastectomy Breast Reconstruction

Mary Jo Nissen

Karen K. Swenson

Elizabeth A. Kind

ONF 2002, 29(3), 547-553. DOI: 10.1188/02.ONF.547-553

Purpose/Objectives: To explore women's expectations about postmastectomy reconstruction and factors affecting their quality of life after reconstruction.

Design: Qualitative focus group study.

Setting: Integrated healthcare system in a midwestern suburban community.

Sample: 17 women who had undergone mastectomies with immediate reconstruction between 1.4 and 5 years previously and had participated in a study of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer.

Methods: An experienced focus group moderator conducted two focus group sessions. Comments from the sessions were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. The sessions involved semistructured, open-ended questions about perceptions of preparation, experience, and satisfaction regarding postmastectomy reconstruction. Thematic content analysis began with open coding at the level of individual comments and proceeded through two levels of higher-order categorization.

Findings: Although women felt well informed about breast surgery, they wished they had been more informed about some issues. Ratings of satisfaction generally were high despite some concerns about cosmetic outcome and persistent anxiety about recurrence.

Conclusions: Reconstruction allows women to feel comfortable in clothing, but recovery can be difficult, and reconstruction does not neutralize the biggest emotional challenge of breast cancer: fear of recurrence.

Implications for Practice: Women appreciate thorough information to prepare them for reconstruction and recovery. For aspects of recovery in which substantial variation exists, the range of experiences should be provided.

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