How to Prepare for a Mastectomy

Leading up to my first Mastectomy, I was frantically searching the internet for packing lists and the best mastectomy recovery items to buy. I’d never broken a bone or had surgery before, so I was like a fish out of water. The doctors and nurses were able to provide expert medical advise, but, they were not able to give me the first hand insight I was looking for. Now, having gone through the mastectomy surgery twice, I have a much better idea of which items were essential, and which items I could do without. I hope you find the Top 10 Mastectomy Recovery Items,the Packing Lists and the Tips/Tricks helpful. If you’ve had a mastectomy or watched a loved one go through the process, I’d love to hear what other items you would recommend.

For more emotional insight on the mastectomy process, check out this post.

Image + Title below BFFL

1. Axilla-Pilla by BFFL. This pillow is amazing! I saw it recommended on another cancer blog, and I ordered my first one from Amazon. It came just in time for my first surgery. The pillow fits perfectly under your arm and relieves so much of the pain and discomfort during recovery. You can imagine my excitement, some of my friends in the cancer community sent me this recover care bag from BBFL, which included another Axilla-Pilla. Now I have one for each arm and they made my sleeping during recovery so much more comfortable. If you get one item, get this pillow!

2. Button Down PJs. I got two pairs of these PJs from Target and someone else bought me a third pair. They are SO soft and comfortable, and they are easy to get off and on with your drain(s) and bandages.  Get a few pairs. You will be living in PJs and loungewear for a while.

brobe

3. In addition to Button Down PJs, I lived in soft robes during recovery. Not only are they easy to get off and on, but the soft fabric is gentle on irritated and tender skin. When searching for robes for my second surgery, I found an item called the Recovery Brobe, which is designed for women undergoing any breast surgery. I love the look of this robe and the built in pockets for the drains on the inside. Go snag one as soon as you can.

Pink Pocket Image

4. Life after surgery will revolve around finding a comfortable way to sleep and managing your drains. Items that provide relief in either of these two areas, get an A+ in my book. I didn’t discover Pink Pockets until my second surgery, but I am so glad I found them. I was easily able to stick these pockets to the insides of my cozy, warm sweaters in order to conceal my drains during trips out of the house. The pockets are large enough for multiple drains (I had 3 total) and the stickiness is great. One order comes with 4 pairs of pockets and I am still reusing my first pair.

5. Seat Belt Cover – A soft seat belt cover is very helpful as your chest will be sore for many weeks. My seat belt sat right on my surgery site, so this provided me some protection while riding and driving. If you don’t want to spend the money on this item from Amazon, you could easily make your own with some soft fabric and Velcro.

6. Lanyards These are perfect for holding your drain(s) after surgery. You can hang the lanyard around your neck and hook the end around the drain tube. This prevents the tube from pulling on your drain insertion site while you are showering. Look at the dollar store or Walmart. You can cheaply pick up a pack of these for under $10.

7.  Microbead Tube Pillow  or a small comfortable pillow you can use in
the hospital bed. This helped me sleep a lot better, which in term speed up my recover. A well worn one is even better, because it will be less firm and can easily be shoved behind your neck with one arm.

8. Button down shirts – TONS of them!!! You will not be able to pull shirts over your head for quite a few weeks. I would suggest you go to Old Navy, Target or thrift stores and stock up on button down shirts 1-2 sizes larger than your normal shirt size. Aim for thicker fabrics that are not see through. You will want to hide your drain(s) and possibly a compression vest. I have linked a few ideas below.

9. Loose fitting comfortable bottoms (shorts, skirts or pants). You may have trouble buttoning your pants with one hand, so bottoms that pull on are easiest. Comfort will be key. Think loose fitting harem pants, sweat pants, or loose gym shorts. My compression vest went all the down to my waist, so jeans and shorts didn’t fit quite right for a couple of weeks. I have linked a few ideas below.

10. Face Wipes. These face wipes are my favorite and I brought them to both surgeries. Usually your won’t be able to shower for a few days or until your drains are removed. The wipes can be used to clean your face, armpits and any other areas that itch or smell.

Patient Packing List Subtitle

  • Microbead Tube Pillow
  • Axilla-Pilla
  • Seat Belt Cover  (place in the car for after surgery)
  • Chapstick for dry lips
  • Comfortable Button Up PJs or Robe
  • Underwear – you will be very excited to get out of the surgical underwear and into your own
  • Hat – after a long hospital stay and a lack of showering, I loved having a ball cap to wear on the way out of the hospital. If you are bald, you may want to warmth.
  • Headbands – these helps keep your hair out of your face while you’re sleeping and during surgery. Another plus, it they can easily be taken off and on by the person with you. You may not be able to reach up and fix your own hair.
  • Hairbrush – even though you won’t be able to brush your hair, it is a great item to have one on hand. My mom and husband brushed my hair and helped keep me from looking a hot mess.
  • Slip-On Shoes – You won’t want to worry about sneakers or shoes with laces when you are leaving the hospital. Bring something that is easier to slip on like like this pair or these.
  • Face Wipes
  • Toothbrush!
  • Water bottle or large tumbler for water. The hospital cups are SO small.
  • Book & Music – I enjoyed having my Kindle & meditation music to help me relax/sleep.
  • Spray deodorant Many doctors won’t allow any deodorant near the surgery site for a few weeks so check with your doctor before using

Caregiver packing list subtitle

Don’t forget about your spouse/caretaker when packing. Some hospitals will have a the room where your spouse/caretaker can stay. This was wonderful for me and very comforting to have my husband by my side during a traumatic time.

  • Cash for vending machines/food.
  • Pillow/blanket from home
  • Change of clothes
  • Snacks
  • Toiletries
  • Phone chargers/Computer/Book
  • Notebook for tracking recovery vitals & details for doctors
  • Prescription Medications
  • Contact information for family & friends you want to provide with updates
  • Large bag for carrying caregiver and patient items


Tips and tricks subtitle

  • Shave your armpits and legs before surgery! You won’t be allowed to shave after the surgery because you’ll risk getting an infection in your surgical area. Bending down to shave your legs will also be difficult for a while.
  • Be selfish! I don’t like accepting help from others and I like to be the giver, so this was very hard for me. This is the one time in your life when you have to be selfish. If you need to sleep, sleep. If you need help ask. Don’t apologize, say ‘Thank You’ instead! Everyone around you wants to help and wants to do all they can for you. The more you focus on you and what your body needs, the faster you will heal. Think Netflix, good books/magazines and lots of sleep.
  • SLEEP! I didn’t do this enough after the first couple days out of the hospital and I wish I had. Your body is exerting a lot of energy to heal and the more sleep you get the faster your body can heal. Save your energy and sleep as much as possible.
  • Listen to your body! Your mind will recover quickly, but your body will take time. Pace yourself and listen to your body. Slow is fast and fast is slow.
  • Don’t pin the drains too high under your clothing! The tube is meant to drain liquid from your surgery site and if the tube gets twisted or kinked, suction will be stopped. This can result in swelling and fluid build up under the skin.
  • Use your arm(s) on your surgery side(s) as much as possible! Even though you will have weight limitations, usually 5 pounds, it is important to try to use your arm as much normal. No heavy lifting or repetitive motions, but simple everyday tasks like brushing your teeth, washing your face or brushing your hair are all good tasks to start with. It may be difficult at first but it will get easier with time. If you don’t use your arm(s), you may end up with more work in physical therapy later on.
  • Get pill bottles with the screw off lids! Your pectoral muscle will be in pain and opening the childproof medicine bottles will be very difficult.
  • Take pictures of your breasts before surgery!!! You will want to look at these later to remember and grieve. You will also want to reference this pictures later if you elect to have reconstructive surgery.
  • Seek professional mental support! Your mental health will be so important during your recovery and is many times over looked. You have gone through a traumatic event and there will be many emotions to process. Ask your doctor for a counselor recommendation prior to surgery. It will help to have someone who you have already developed a relationship with. Online and local support groups are another wonderful avenue for guidance & support.

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4 comments

  1. Mac says:

    I love your bullet on being selfish and not apologizing. As a caretaker [to you] the worst thing for me was to see you go-without because you were too afraid of being a “burden” and not asking for it. This is especially important to us men folk that typically like to have something physical to put our hands on in order to feel like we’re helping. We’re all there for you because we think you’ll need help and we want to repay you for all the deposits you’ve made into our emotional bank accounts. Without hearing you ask for help we think you need us to guess what you need. This leads to a lot of people asking the same question over and over and over… “Are you ok? Do you need anything? What can I do for you”

    The other part is equally important to us caretakers – don’t apologize. Apologizing marginalizes our efforts and make us feel like we’re not doing what you really need. It makes us feel like we’re not actually being helpful and what we are doing is not that important to you. It was much better to hear you saying thank you instead of “I’m sorry…”

    I love you so much and I love this blog. It’s so great to see you turning your pain and suffering into something positive and helpful to others.

    I’d sure love to see a post about the “Press Release” with a template that others can download and use. I think that was the single most important thing we did to limit the pre-treatment stress of dozens of phone calls and repeating the same information over and over for all the people we love and care about.

  2. Sang Henfling says:

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  3. Tara says:

    I’m going to surgery in the next few days and I honestly had no idea what I would need. Thank you so much❤️! I honestly was going to wait for my consultation (PAS) to ask them what I should get but it keep bugging me that I didn’t have the slightest idea so I googled it and your blog popped up. Not only did you provide good clear information and products (most pages I viewed didn’t explain how the items were used and where they could be purchased ) you also mentioned how they helped you and made your recovery process less stressful. This information was so helpful and truly gave me a sense of direction as to what I should expect during my recovery. With this battle you never know what to expect or how to prepare because this can change so quickly. Thank you.

    • Anna says:

      I am SO glad you found the post helpful. Your experience is the exact reason I decided to create the list and the suggestions. Before my surgery, I also searched for suggestions and guidance and all the pages didn’t fully cover what I was looking for. I hope your surgery goes well! I will be keeping you in my thoughts.

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