When I was getting ready for my mastectomy surgery, I did LOTS of research before the actual event. I looked up other women’s experiences, videos, blogs, etc trying to find advice to help with my surgery and recovery. I didn’t want to wait until I needed something to go out and get it – I wanted to be prepared. The preparation I did helped me tremendously in getting through the tough weeks that followed surgery.
Some things I learned along the way, and some I found out through the lovely ladies in my support group. Thank you Jesus for the experiences of others, because those ladies helped me get prepared! Overall, I had a difficult time finding information online, and I’m hoping that some of the ways I prepared for my double mastectomy will help you, too!
I didn’t take pictures during my mastectomies, but lucky me (not!) I’m having a LAT Flap reconstruction in late July or early August this year, so I have a second chance to get pics. I’ll update this post after my next surgery so you can see what I’m talking about with some of this stuff.
How to Prepare for Mastectomy Surgery
I know – this sounds easier than it actually is. I panicked as I was getting ready for my double mastectomies, and I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that thousands of women had gone before me into surgery. The doctors know what they’re doing, and they don’t butcher women like they did 30 years ago. I had seen the results of the surgery from another patient that was secure enough to show me her mastectomy scars. I was at peace with the decision after I saw her. Ask your surgeon to provide you with examples of how you’ll look after surgery. It really helped me to know what to expect.
Buy Frozen Meals
You won’t want to cook after your surgery. What’s more, neither will your family. My family was utterly exhausted trying to help me with my recovery. Having some frozen meals they could just pop into the oven was a life-saver! Not just for me, but for them as well. Get some that are tasty, and your caregiver will thank you!
Get Fitted for a Lymphedema Sleeve BEFORE Surgery
This was probably the smartest thing I did. I went in and got fitted about a month before I knew I was having surgery. The week after my surgery, even while I was still sore, I had my sister pull that sucker onto my arm. It hurt, believe me, but I think that’s what helped fend off lymphedema in my arm in the months that followed. While it hurt going on, the throbbing made it clear my arm was already swollen. I slept in that sleeve for weeks after my surgery because it made my arm feel better (once the initial throbbing had ceased 😊).
Have a Way to Prop Yourself Up
Every woman I know who went through mastectomy surgery says one thing: “Get yourself a recliner!” This advice isn’t to be taken lightly. You learn real quick that more muscles are affected by this type of surgery than you realize. It was absolutely painful to get up out of bed – having a recliner really saved my sanity. It allowed me to sleep and made me feel safe. The chair envelopes you and restricts your movements, which sounds uncomfortable until you have drains coming out of your chest. I didn’t want to sleep in bed because I didn’t want to roll over and rip something out. Sleeping in a recliner, I was eventually able to swing my legs and use momentum to get myself up on my own without my family having to hoist me up.
Get a recliner if you can. Borrow one or buy one – make sure it’s comfortable, because I literally slept in mine for 8 weeks. Some women use it for less time, and others use it longer. If you can’t afford a chair or can’t borrow one, go to Walmart and get yourself lots of firm pillows so that you can prop yourself up to 90° when sitting. When laying down try to stay at, roughly, a 145° angle. I know that sounds strange, and you might lose sleep a couple days while you get used to it, but you’ll be much more comfortable. I didn’t believe it either until I tried to lay flat two weeks out. IT HURT – and my drains filled up super fast!
Get Comfortable Clothing
I had my surgery in the middle of a hot and sweaty summer, so I decided I didn’t want to be stylish, I wanted to be comfortable! I would recommend getting a night gown or an extra long shirt. Comfortable, cotton panties. Super soft socks if it’s cold. Frankly, I hated wearing underwear because it aggravated my muscles trying to pull it back up after using the restroom. You’re going to be in some amount of pain from surgery, so wear something at home (and even home from the hospital) will make you more comfortable.
Buy a Mastectomy Shirt
This is the exact shirt I used. I couldn’t find shirts anywhere for mastectomies that were less than $65 until I landed on Etsy. This shirt doesn’t have drains so I used an apron instead, which I’ll get to next. This shirt has Velcro on the shoulders so you can put on the shirt without contorting your arms. I loved it, and so did my doctor, who could just undo the Velcro and slide the shirt down to examine my incisions. It was the most comfortable thing I wore post-surgery. I slept in it and lived in it. When I had to undo my compression bandage to deep breathe for four hours a day, I washed it and re-wore it. My apron fit great underneath it and you couldn’t even tell I had drains. I loved this shirt!
I did buy shirts that had snaps down the front and pockets for drains, but they were horrible! My drains felt like they were bunched up against my chest, the shirt wasn’t long enough to allow them to hang comfortably, and I had to contort my arms into the shirt to get it on. It also was tighter on my chest that I’d hoped for. The drains bulged out from the shirt. I felt like I may as well have walked down the street telling everyone I had drains. Now, that may be fine for a woman who only has a single mastectomy and can contort her good arm, but for a double I wouldn’t recommend it. Even though I had my cancer on my left side, my right side still suffered the effects of a mastectomy, including numbness, stiffness, and pain. Contortion, even on my right side, hurt.
Get Your Drain Apron
They gave me an apron kit in the hospital. I wore it the second I ended up in my hospital room, and all through the night. I also slept in it when I got home. The kit came with an apron that could hold multiple drains, and two little pillows that I could put under my armpits. Oh my gosh, this was an absolute lifesaver!!! What I found out, though, is that not every woman gets this little package in the hospital. If you want to make sure you have an apron and pillows ready to go, get in touch with Bag and Boob Babes. They will send you an apron ahead of your surgery so you can be ready.
I’ve also heard, for those not having expanders placed, that the “Knitted Knockers” really help give shape to a newly flat and very sore chest while being extremely light weight. They won’t weigh you down like a bra with prosthesis, and are a good option when you’re fresh out of surgery.
Pillows, Pillows, PILLOWS!!!
I cannot explain how important these are. Small pillows that can go under your arms and prevent your arms from resting directly on your drains will help you be much more comfortable. A longer pillow that can go under your seat belt on the way home from the hospital, or when you’re riding in the car, will keep the belt from digging into your newly bruised and hurting chest. Small pillows can come with your apron, but make sure you get something for your seat belt!
Get Extra Medical Supplies
The supplies they gave us at the hospital were a joke. At least they gave me measuring cups so I could measure the fluid that ended up in my drains (keep a log of fluid from each drain). But I didn’t get nearly enough alcohol pads or gloves to help me strip my drains or change my bandages. Get extra of these before you need them. Walmart has them for super cheap. You can rinse out the measuring cups and keep reusing them (the fluid gets dumped and flushed down the toilet), but you’ll need those extra alcohol pads. Stripping drains without them is quite a pain, literally and figuratively.
Slather on the Lidocaine Cream
Okay, this is one I didn’t have to deal with personally, but I’ve heard stories so I’m including it. I had a lymph node biopsy right before I started chemo. Since the doctors already knew I had cancer in my lymph nodes, they didn’t have to administer a contrast dye before surgery to check. If your doctors are planning on doing a lymph node biopsy before your mastectomies, get your lidocaine cream or lidocaine patches from Walmart and apply at least 2-4 hours before you get your dye injections.
The dye gets injected into your nipples at 12 o’clock, 3, 6, and 9, respectively. That’s four injections per nipple, and I’ve heard it’s quite painful. Since you haven’t had your mastectomies yet, you will still have nerves that will be firing off. Whether you’re using lidocaine cream or the patches, make sure you cover your whole nipple and at least 1/2 inch past it.
ASK FOR HELP!!!
You’ll need help for things, that’s a given. No matter how stupid you think something is, if it’s painful ask for help. My sister tore toilet paper for me and laid it on the sink next to the toilet, because I couldn’t extend my arms enough to rip it off the role myself. Tearing it takes muscle, too, by the way. I needed help getting up out of my recliner, pouring milk into a glass, and getting in and out of the car, just to name a few.
If you liked this post, check out Chemo, Mastectomies, & Radiation Therapy: Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me for other tidbits of advice on mastectomies.
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