Now that I’m on recovery cruise control I thought I would share some really helpful information that I’ve learned along the way for any of you (or your friends) preparing to embark on this journey.
If your surgery date is set, CONGRATULATIONS, you’ve made it through the toughest part! Seriously, the decision (and waiting for the surgery) is honestly the hardest part. I couldn’t be more proud of all the women out there who are standing up to cancer and saying “NOPE!” by choosing a prophylactic double mastectomy. You are truly inspirational.
And for those of you who are preparing without the choice, I honestly don’t have the words to describe how incredibly strong and brave you are.
From my personal experience, I am going to share some advice, tips and items that have tremendously helped me through this journey…
THROW A BOOB-VOYAGE
First, I highly recommend celebrating your God-given tatas before they are removed. A few days before your surgery, go out to dinner with your best girl friends, have them over for a game night or throw a boob-voyage party!
Being surrounded by my best friends and their families days before my surgery really encouraged me and helped reduce my anxiety about the procedure. I also didn’t want anyone to feel awkward about my mastectomy (especially my friend’s husbands) so I invited kids and husbands to my party and everyone had a great time. Plus my amazing husband is on this journey with me and was very scared about my procedure so I wanted him to celebrate and let loose with the guys too. And now, when I see my friends I don’t feel like I have to whisper or feel awkward about my recovery around their husbands.
You won’t be cleared to cook for awhile (six weeks for me) so let a friend create a meal sign up for you and also stock your freezer ahead of time. Take Them A Meal is a great website for meal coordination and even offers the option to ship pre-made meals from friends and family who don’t live nearby. This was a wonderful surprise from my friends who live many miles away but still wanted to help. Also, for our meal sign-up site my friend posted a note notifying guests that we’d leave a cooler on the front porch for days that were particular hard and I could not visit. And trust me, there will be many of those days! But your friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. understand!
If you have kiddos (especially small kids) make sure you line up back-up help for school pick ups and drop offs in advance! Your primary support person will be taking care of you so you’ll need an extra set of hands for the kids.
I remember freaking out about a week before my surgery thinking “what do I need?!?!?” I was so worried about stocking my freezer and lining up so many things that I totally forgot to prepare for my recovery. I also frequently receive emails from readers asking what sort of gifts are really helpful during recovery so they can send something thoughtful and useful to a friend going through this procedure. So here are a few of my must haves for coming home from surgery. Remember, every woman is different so you may not need all of these. But I wanted to put together a the most comprehensive list possible! You can shop all of these items at the bottom of this post too.
1. Button Up Clothing: For at least the first 3 weeks, you will not be able to dress yourself. I lived in pajamas at home and leggings with cardigans when I left the house. These must be button up so you don’t have to lift your hands above your head to pull your shirt on or shimmy up your body (pulling up on clothes is very painful at first)! I recommend purchasing one size bigger than you’d normally wear.
2. Pillows, Pillows, Pillows: You will need tons of pillows of all shapes and sizes to get comfortable. I used a neck pillow, two heart pillows for under my arms during the day, a teeny little pillow for extra support in random places, several massive pillows for behind my back and a variety of thick and thin pillows surrounding me.
The Bed Wedge: Probably my #1 recommendation for recovery. Until your surgical drains are removed (for me that was three weeks post-op), I was instructed to sleep sitting up. We tried building a pillow fort which was never comfortable enough but then I found a bed wedge and it was a complete game changer. I was able to actually get a little sleep with the wedge pillow. Thank you to HMBL Home for offering my readers 15% off with promo code NCCHARM15.
3. Lip Balm, Hand lotion, Hair Ties, Headbands: There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to move that stray hair out of your face or off the back of your neck those first few days. I kept my hair in a pony tail (shout out to the husband for learning this) and used huge durable headbands to keep my hair from falling in my face and driving me nuts. Keep all of these things on the night stand next to the bed for easy access.
4. Dry Shampoo, Face Wipes & Facial Spray: You are not allowed to shower for several days after the surgery. Once you are cleared, taking a shower is a bit of a production the first few weeks and you definitely need assistance washing your hair. For the days I was too tired to shower, a spritz of dry shampoo and face wipes and facial spray helped me feel refreshed.
5. Pill Organizer Box: You will have so many pills to keep up with! And you will not be able to unscrew the top of your prescription bottles so having your pills pre-sorted by hour or day in a pill box is incredibly helpful! We crossed out the days of the week and wrote times instead on my box.
6. Throat Lozenges: After surgery I had a very dry, sore throat for several days and coughing hurts your chest so keep throat lozenges handy!
7. Electric Toothbrush: You will not be able to bend over the sink bowl to spit or wash your face so keep a cup nearby and some face wipes too!
8. Surgical Bra: Some hospitals will provide you with a surgical bra and some hospitals ask you to bring your own. Check with your doctor and hospital ahead of time! I really liked my Amoena Post-Surgical Bra with Drain Management (although Third Love has more recently launched a surgical recovery bra too!). Read more about drain wearing and surgical bras here.
9. Drain Camisole: A post-surgery pocketed camisole was my second choice of drain wearing. I loved my camisole because it was super soft and comfortable and I could easily throw a cardigan over it to hide the drains.
10. Lanyard: For clipping your drains to when you shower.
11. Drain Apron: I received the sweetest set of aprons made by the volunteers at the hospital. The apron was my preferred drain holder when I went out and about although I had to be careful with the drain cords under my shirt, especially when I had my little ones in tow! You can decorate your own canvas waist apron or purchase a black apron if you want to be more incognito.
12. Back Scratcher: No one warned me how itchy the pain meds would make me so I used a long plastic serving fork the first few weeks and eventually upgraded to a legit back scratcher.
13. Tumbler with Straw & Snacks: You will need water next to you at all times. Make sure you have lightweight cups with straws because the first few weeks you will want to limit the range of motion in your arms! Straws were a lifesaver. Also, keep snacks nearby for when you take your medications. The snack cup was a pretty amazing gift I received and highly recommend!
14. iPad, Magazines, etc.: Fill your Netflix que up…starting with Parenthood and Friday Night Lights.
15. Scar Cream: Once your wounds are healed your doctor will recommend that you start using scar cream. I used (and liked) Mederma. They will sell you an overpriced bottle at their office or you can purchase it from Amazon, Walmart or Target for much cheaper. Also, after awhile you can switch to Vitamin E oil which is much more affordable.
EXTRA SPECIAL GIFTS FOR YOUR FRIEND
Here are really great group gifts to go in on to surprise your friend.
Blow Dry Bar Gift Card: Unless the patient lives with a hair stylist, I highly recommend a blow out gift card. After four weeks of ponytails, my hair was an absolute mess. Matt did his best to help me wash and blow dry my hair, but after so many weeks you begin to crave feeling normal again. One of my girlfriends surprised me with a gift card to Blo (a blow dry bar) and I went at 3 weeks post op so I could attend a baby shower looking halfway decent. I was so thankful and happy to have my hair professionally washed and styled that the stylist washed my hair twice and I literally cried happy tears leaving the salon.
Pedicure Gift Card: Having a fresh pedicure to look at all day in bed helped me feel halfway decent, especially during those first few weeks of not being able to do my hair or makeup.
Housecleaning: Under no circumstance will you be allowed to do any sort of light housework including vacuuming, loading/unloading the dishwasher, etc. My mom surprised me with 6 weeks of housecleaning to ensure I didn’t do it myself and it was the best gift ever.
Send a Meal: Other great meal gifts we received were gift cards to local meal delivery services like Foodie Call and Postmates. Check your area to see what is offered there.
WHAT TO PACK IN YOUR HOSPITAL BAG
You may be in the hospital for 1-2 nights. Leave your valuables at home to keep them safe! Here is what I packed (and used):
- Mini Pillow
- Button Up Pajamas
- Flip Flops & Slippers
- Hand Lotion
- Surgical Bra & Drain Belt
- Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste)
- Throat Lozenges
- iPad & Charger
- Hair Ties, Bobby Pins & Headband
- Face Wipes, Face Spray & Dry Shampoo
And that’s a wrap! I will continue to update this post as I receive questions from readers!
Simply LKJ says
You are amazing girl! And, while I hope to not have to see a friend go through this anytime soon, I thank you for posting what worked for you as when someone we love is in need it helps to have advice from someone whose been there!!
I love that you included a gift list! I would totally want to send or bring something to celebrate a friend going through it too
Jessica (The Newly) says
Christina, these posts are so incredibly helpful – both to women who are/will go through this, as well as to the people in these women's lives. Your candor and openness are just amazing, and I applaud you for being so strong and open with you story! Much love! xoxo
Thanks for sharing this with us. I can't believe how much there is to think about and prepare for. This will be so helpful for so many people.
What a preparation!! My prayers go out to you and I wish you strength on this journey! =)
You are so brave! Thank you for sharing so others can benefit!
What an amazing post for someone to be able to read as they may be preparing for the same surgery! You've truly blessed others by sharing your journey!!
Sue Jones says
What is that big pillow you have on your bed? Then tan one? I would love one of those!!
Carolina Charm says
It's the Bed Wedge System! Check out my pillow recommendations above for more information on the pillow. It was seriously a life saver and I'm planning to use it again after my reconstruction surgery!
Lindsay at Lindsay'sSweetWorld says
You are just incredible! I'm praying that I never need this information, but it's good to know that it's here if I ever do. I'm so glad to hear that you're doing well!
Yolanda Bailey says
Thank You for Sharing!
Christina, I wish I could put into words what your blog means to me. After being diagnosed with stage 0 breast cancer and having two surgeries that did not provide clean margins, I am preparing for a double mastectomy on May 24 – three days after my wedding. I am currently trying to accept that this is real life and where I will be in lieu of our Hawaiian honeymoon. Your blog has nearly moved me to tears. I am relieved to find another young woman who is telling me what this will really be like – in North Carolina no less (I am in Raleigh). I have felt called to start a blog about this journey and just haven't really had a second to get rolling but I am now following yours closely. And reading and rereading your posts about this journey. Oh and shopping this entire post. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for documenting this process. You have given me so much by being so honest.
Thank you for all your advice. I really needed to find your post. I will be having a double mastectomy in the next 3 weeks.
Lauren OHara says
My mom is getting a double mastectomy on June 15 and this list will really help me take care of her thank you !
I have mine on Friday and I was trying to find out what I would need. Thank you for the advice.
I felt so overwhelmed about I needed for my mastectomy before I read this! Thank you for easing my mind!
Thank you for your blog- I am having surgery tomorrow and would have been ready without your posts. My Dr's weren't very good about sharing some of the things I might need. Thank you so much for sharing!
Jan, OT says
Great ideas…I used several of them when I had my recent bilateral mastectomy. Here's a couple others that might help someone. The button-up PJs in the larger size were great…I sewed pockets on the inside to house the drains, and it was much easier than trying to stuff them back in the tight pockets they give you to attach to the bra. A padded wrap for the seatbelt is a must…I still use it when I drive as the belt directly crosses the port used for chemo. I too, used a wedge pillow…the best! Because I work in a hospital, I was able to purchase two abductor wedge pillows that are used for post-hip surgeries, and used them on their sides as armrests in bed, didn't slide or topple like pillows. And the best memory, was the 'Send off to Surgery" get together my co workers gave, families included, probably 50 people. They served my favorite meal, a full Thanksgiving dinner on the deck in July, and I named the Party.."Ta Ta TaTas!" But the BEST way to get through all these chapters, for me, is to rely on God. All the friends, family and support systems are invaluable, but God is ALWAYS there, and if you really believe, no matter what happens, it will be OK. He'll see you through.
Doreen Arteaga says
Great post! I hope you are well on your way to healing. A double mastectomy was also the hardest decision I ever had to make! It is posts like yours that better equip us to face that decision. I created my blog to share my journey. I hope you will come visit http://www.bloggingtheroadnottaken.com. Blessings!
Thank you ❤ Surgery date is March 19th.
Prayers for you Diana. My surgery date is May 29.
Thanks so much for posting the list of must-haves. My sister just had her surgery April 25th and is doing great! You never know who will benefit from your experience. Hang in there!
God bless you for all this info!
My double mastectomy is May 7th, 21 years exactly after my wide-excision lumpectomy/radiation/chemo. Not my first rodeo, but this is altogether different.
Thank you for sharing! I just got diagnosed with breast cancer couple days ago. I am scare but ready to fight it! I have 3 young kids and I am not ready to go down. Hopefully I will know the plan from my doctor next week.
Thank you for this info. My mother is having a mastectomy tomorrow and this list has been great for me and also friends who are asking what they can help out with. (Greensboro NC)
Hi. I wish I had seen this before my surgery (I had a bilateral mastectomy on 7/7/17). I will say that this is an awesome list and having gone through this myself, I find you are spot on!! Button up clothing is a MUST!
I wore my hubby’s shirts for weeks!! I was given a sort of lanyard for my drains that was incredibly helpful. After my drains came out, I used it for my cell phone at night because my hubby slept on the sofa so could have the “whole bed” for my pillows, etc…and since I couldn’t sit up on my own, my cell was right there so I could text him to come help me get up to use the bathroom, etc. I did not (& am not going to) have reconstruction so the bras wouldn’t be for me but excellent for one who does. Your article was great and also congrats to you. You are a strong woman. I am told that all the time but sometimes I dont feel like it. 😉 BTW, I had IDC & DCIS.
Your blog has been invaluable ! I am having a preventative removal of my ovaries and fallopian tubes next week as I have the BRCA2 gene I am also going to have a preventative double mastectomy in the near future. Five years ago I had a lumpectomy on my left breast (with chemotherapy and radiation following) and have been clear ever since However after talking with my Oncologist and Gynecologist I have decided I don’t want this hanging over my head for the rest of my life (chemo is no joke) By the way I am almost 70 years old and some people feel why bother to have surgeries at this stage of my life but I tell them I’ve got a lot more living to do !
My sister just got diagnosed and we are waiting on her surgery date… I live across the country and luckily my boss has given me her full blessing to book a one way ticket and work from there if and when my sister wants me (lets me) come help. She is still in shock and super independent (we both are), but she doesn’t seem to think she will need a lot of help! This article helped me know the full extent to be prepared for when she gives me permission to help her. I am a highly sensitive person and on some levels an empath, so this is hitting me hard (not to sound selfish). She is my best friend and this is all so scary, so I am thankful for personal stories like yours to help me feel some sense of control. Thank you.
Cheryl Cleveland says
Thanks for the suggestions and ideas. It helps a lot. I have a double mastectomy coming up August 6th and this really helps.
I know this is from several years ago, but I just found your article on Pinterest and I’m so glad I did. I was diagnosed last week and meet with the surgeon on Monday for what we assume will be a complete mastectomy. This is soooo helpful! Thank you!
Hello! I see this was originally posted in Feb. 2016. This is a wonderfully informative piece for anyone who is facing a mastectomy and also for those who’s loved ones are. If you don’t mind me asking, did you undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatments?
Timothy vonBecker says
Thank you for helping me to help.
My wife is the most amazing person I have ever met and I need to do everything I can to help her through this, thank you again.
And YOU are an amazing husband. What a great team!
Gearing up for my bilat mastectomy for DCIS in two weeks!!! Came across this post recently on Pinterest and am so so thankful for it! I have honestly been panicking about everything pre-surgery besides planning my recovery!!! Sounds so silly but it’s true! Just ordered the wedge you recommended and can’t wait for it to arrive! Thank you again!!! <3
Dgs health says
I think it is a good idea for most of ladies