Having completed 3 surgeries, 1 hospital stay, and one bout with post anesthesia nausea, I consider myself an old pro. I do remember freaking out before my mastectomy thinking: What do I need? What should I bring? What can I do that will make my life easier as I recuperate?
I scoured the internet for answers and tried to think about every possible outcome. I came up with this list which is a combination of things I actually did and bought to prepare, as well as stuff I wished I had thought of. Remember that each woman is different with different needs. You may not need all of the things on this list, which I’ve tried to make as comprehensive as possible.
Button Front Pajamas
I was out of work for 3 weeks, and I regained full use of my arms about 6-8 weeks after surgery. I lived in these pajamas from Target. They are comfy, inexpensive, and easy to put on. The perfect post mastectomy lounge wear. I still wear them today!
Oversized Button Down Shirts
I switched off between Steve’s shirts and some button downs I got from Forever 21 . I knew I’d be wearing them a lot and probably would never want to see them again, so I wanted to get ones that weren’t too expensive (and that I could give away to another mastectomy patient after I was recovered). I ordered one size up from my normal size to account for the drains, and difficulty moving my arms.
Forever 21 even has some cute billowy tops in the event you feel like dressing up your post surgical “uniform.”
I switched off between lounge pants, legging, and shorts. The key is to have something that is super easy to put on given the limited range of arm motion. These lounge pants from Old Navy were perfect.
It’s incredibly difficult to sleep after having a mastectomy. I’m a side/stomach sleeper and that can be really painful while your chest is healing. Some of my fellow BRCA sisters rave about using the Leachco body pillow to aid with their post surgical sleep but I didn’t find a body pillow super helpful. Stacking 3-4 pillows on top of each other (so I slept almost sitting up) worked the best for me.
I wasn’t allowed to shower for a week and it was as gross as it sounds. My hair can get pretty nasty and oily, and I found solace in using a dry shampoo. I really like Acure Dry Shampoo, the ingredients are natural, it smells nice, and they are a corporate sponsor of Bright Pink, a non-profit organization focusing on the prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women while providing support for high-risk individuals. Win.
Your lips will get chapped at the hospital. I love me some Burt’s Bees Lip Balm.
Feeling refreshed when you aren’t allowed to shower? Yes please.
Brushing my teeth was one of the only things I could do with my limited arm motion. I used a Sonicare toothbrush which did all of the work (instead of my arms) and was long enough to reach the back of my mouth.
It’s common to have a dry and sore throat after surgery. And coughing hurts your chest (most things will at that point actually). I have yet to find throat drops that are free of sugar or sugar replacements but these drops from Burt’s Bees seemed to be the least offensive of the offerings when I had my surgery.
These are helpful to clean areas of your body that are away from the surgical site. When I was feeling particularly gross, baby wipes helped me feel semi normal.
Face Wash or Facial Cleansing Wipes
Steve and I had a system where he would spread face wash on my face and then give me a damp paper towel and a dry paper towel so I could finish the job myself. As I’ve mentioned before, I love derma e facewash.
I was provided with a few surgical bras at the hospital, but each doctor and hospital operates differently. Your doctor may ask you to purchase a surgical bra for your surgery. I don’t have any recommendations of which bra to get, but I can tell you which one NOT to get. Mine had lace on it (explain that to me) which was itchy, uncomfortable, and the bra had tiny bows on it that belong on ballerina undershirt for little girls. It itched so badly that I would wake up in the middle of the night having ripped it open (it velcroed in the front). I’m just guessing, but I have to believe this was not designed by a woman. At least one that actually had to wear it for a week straight.
Adult Sippy Cup
I was not allowed to lift more than 5 pounds for 6 weeks after my surgery. I used these cups all the time for drinking because they are lighter than glasses, and if I dropped it, the spill was fairly small. I still use these all the time for Teeccino, juices and smoothies on the go!
Slip On Shoes With Good Treads
I wore flip-flops after my surgery which was not the smartest choice. I should have worn comfortable slip on shoes that had the proper support.
I was so glad that Amazon and Netflix had Friday Night Lights available for watching online when I was recovering. There are 5 seasons which got me through the worst of the days. If you haven’t seen the show, I highly recommend it (and no, I don’t like football). It’s that good. If FLN is not your thing, make sure to have a stack of books and movies you’ve been meaning to watch.
Things To Do
Clean Your House
The best gift my husband gave me before surgery was having our apartment cleaned the day before my surgery. It really makes a difference to come back to a clean and well-organized home. One less thing to worry about when you’re busy recovering!
I did a leg, underarm, and bikini wax a few days before my surgery and boy was I glad that I did. I had my mastectomy in July and it was great not having to think about shaving while recovering. If you’ve never waxed before, I wouldn’t make your pre-surgery wax your first time in case your skin has a bad reaction.
Put Anything You Need On The Counter
Not being able to raise your arms makes it very challenging to get things out of high places! I put plates, glasses, toothpaste, face wash, everything I could think of on the counter. I had some help while I was recovering but I’m a very independent person and I liked not having to ask people to get things for me.
Pack a Hospital Bag:
I was in the hospital for 2 nights. Make sure to give any valuables to the person who takes you to your surgery as things can go “missing” in hospitals. When you’re recovering, ask your friend/family member/spouse to bring you the good stuff.
- Lip balm
- Facial spray
- Long Toothbrush & toothpaste
- Throat lozenges
- Pillow ( to put in between your chest and seat belt on the way home)
- Cell phone & charger
- Hair band
- Glasses (if you wear them)
- Surgical Bra (as advised by your doctor)
- Baby wipes
- Face wash
- iPod/iPad/laptop & charger(s)
Lay Out Your Hospital Outfit
I wore the same thing to and from the hospital. A button down shirt, underwear, shorts, and shoes. The hospital puts your clothing in a garment bag and gives it back to you when you go home.
Organize Family Scheduling
Someone needs to take the kids to school and activities while you rest. Schedule those people in advance so you won’t have to worry about it while you’re recuperating!
Being organized about your surgery before it happens means you can focus on what’s most important while you’re recovering. You!