A year ago, I never would have guessed that I’d be sitting in bed propped up with the largest amalgamation of pillows I’ve ever seen and attempting to write while on heavy-duty painkillers, but here I am post-mastectomy.
Of course, if you’d told me a year ago that I had breast cancer, I would have been even more shocked. But in late January 2023, I found the tumor, was quickly diagnosed, and I started chemotherapy within a month.
After 16 rounds of chemo and some time to heal, I had my double mastectomy surgery. I had the option to do a lumpectomy, but like most U.S. women, I decided to do a double mastectomy. Even though a recurrence in the breast is low, it is a slightly higher risk with a lumpectomy. Further, a recurrence would mean chemo again. I can’t control where it might spread, but I could at least control removing my breast tissue, so my decision was made.
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My family thought it was extreme. But other friends who had been through cancer or are going through cancer made the same decision as I.
Just one week from the surgery, I wanted to share some things that are useful to bring to the hospital and what’s useful to have ready at home.
Things to Bring to the Hospital
I was at Dallas Presbyterian and it provided what I “needed.” Here are some things that will help further:
Body wipes :: Showering can be a challenge post surgery. Cleaning yourself with body wipes can help you feel refreshed.
Comfortable pants :: Make sure they have a drawstring.
Face wipes and moisturizer :: You won’t have the energy or the ability yet to wash your face on your own, but someone can help you feel clean and refreshed with facial wipes.
Lip balm :: Truthfully, I’m addicted to lip balm at any time, but never more than when I don’t have it or can’t reach it. I recommend bringing a couple.
Mastectomy pillow :: You won’t want anything to touch your chest, but this pillow makes it soft and comfortable to wear in the car with a seatbelt. They are also great for wearing under your arms (some are heart-shaped) to help keep them propped up. There are lots of angels out there, and I was given one for free from an organization that works with Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas.
Neck pillow :: Since you can’t sleep on your side and leaning back can hurt too, this can help with sleep. And if you are doing chemo, this will be a great thing to have especially if you are cold-capping to support your neck.
Throat lozenges :: Post-surgery your throat will often feel sore. Mine was minimal. I didn’t feel like I needed these, but many people like having them.
Zipper or button-down shirt :: You won’t have full mobility in your arms for a while, and it’s particularly difficult to put on a shirt over your head. There are mastectomy shirts or jackets that have inside pockets, which are particularly useful for holding the drainage tubes and bulbs that you will have for the first two weeks.
Things to Have at Home
After I returned home, here’s what I found to be most helpful:
Abintra :: This is a powder pack that you add to water. It has special nutrients for wound healing. It was recommended by my plastic surgeon’s nurse. I sure hope it helps because it tastes terrible. I’m just going to assume it’s a miracle drink and move on.
Button down pajamas :: You’ll definitely want a few of these so you can change it up.
Drain belt :: I have one a friend let me borrow. We jokingly call a “holster.” It goes around your waist, attaches by hook and loop fasteners, and has four places to put your bulbs to hide your drain stuff. It works great.
Dry shampoo :: Raising your hands to wash your hair is difficult. Dry shampoo can increase the amount of time before you need to wash. By the end of the first week or start of the second, you’ll hopefully be able to do this on your own.
Handheld shower head :: My husband takes down the shower head for me, but it is great because I can control where the water goes. Some even have a button that turns off the water for sudsing, for example. Either way, you will want something handheld.
Hoodie with pockets on the inside for your drains :: We talked about this above, but this would be super useful if you plan to venture out during this time.
Loose shirts :: After a few days, you may be at a point where you can put shirts over your head. If you plan on going out, you’ll want a way to conceal your drains. A long, loose shirt can help with that.
Mastectomy bras or sports bras :: You want something that opens in the front. I bought a bunch but quickly realized that I prefer the one that the plastic surgeon put on me and so I’ve done very little rotation.
Nausea pills :: If you are prone to nausea, have some of these. The hospital will provide you with a patch for people that get seasick. They will also likely prescribe nausea medication. I have not felt nausea and have not personally needed any of these things, but you may want to get both for nausea and pain.
Protein shakes :: If you are anywhere in your cancer journey, you will likely have heard how important it is to have protein. The chocolate shakes, like Fairlife, are palatable.
Recliner, lots of pillows, OR this wedge set from Amazon :: I have the pillow wedge set and it’s perfect because there are so many configurations. At first, you really want to sleep mostly upright. Later, you can lower it. Personally, I like to sleep with my knees elevated and bent. The options are endless. Other people swear by a recliner. I can imagine that would be useful, but not mandatory.
Shower drain lanyard :: You’ll want to keep the drains lower than your chest at all times. For showering, there’s a netted bag that you can put the bulbs into and then it has long ties that you can wear around your neck like a long necklace. If you are wondering at this point, “Gracious, these drains really seem cumbersome.” You are right. They are terrible.
Shower stool :: This will help ensure that you don’t fall, and it makes it easier to shower.
You can see where some things overlap. I hope this helps you think of the important stuff. Remember, you can always hold off and get most of this stuff within a day or two of coming home if you aren’t sure.
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Don’t forget to do your exercises! Hide chocolate or something yummy somewhere in the house that motivates you to move — but somewhere your kids can’t find them!