A preliminary study into women's experiences of undergoing reconstructive surgery after breast cancer.
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.