Mastectomy: What To Bring, What To Buy, What To Wear, What to Do

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.

Things To Get:

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.

Button Down Shirt

Forever 21 even has some cute billowy tops in the event you feel like dressing up your post surgical “uniform.”

Easy Bottoms
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.

Body Pillow
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.

Dry Shampoo
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.

Natural Shampoo

Lip Balm
Your lips will get chapped at the hospital.  I love me some Burt’s Bees Lip Balm.

Natural Chapstick

Facial Spray
Feeling refreshed when you aren’t allowed to shower?  Yes please.

Electric Toothbrush
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.

Throat Lozenges
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.

 

Baby Wipes
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.

Natural Baby Wipes

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.

derma e Vitamin A Glycolic Cleanser

Surgical Bra
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 Teeccinojuices 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.

Books/Movies/TV Shows
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!

Wax
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)
  • Magazines/Movies/Books

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!

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49 Responses to Mastectomy: What To Bring, What To Buy, What To Wear, What to Do

  1. thechickadeefeeder says:

    So helpful, thanks so much!

  2. Carol Abercrombie Alston says:

    Dear Sara,
    I’m 56, married, with a 17 year old daughter, diagnosed on 5/15 and having a bilateral on Wednesday. I’m not a tech savvy gal and am not on any social media. But, I googled for help on what to take to the hospital and your site came up. I’ve read a lot of it over the last 3 days. Yesterday, I went to Target and got just about everything you mention above. My little bag is set. Thank you so much.
    I will get my BRCA results this week.
    I wish you only the best in your future. Please know that you are not only helping previvors, but also, survivors, and those of us who are just starting on this journey: Deer in the headlights, yes; but slightly less blinded with my hand held by a stranger. Thank you.
    Carol

    • sara says:

      Carol -

      I am so sorry to hear of your diagnosis and pending surgery. We may be strangers, but we are bonded by common experience.

      Best wishes for a speedy recovery and please don’t hesitate to email me if you need anything.

      Warmly,

      Sara

  3. K. Spadaro says:

    Sara, thank you for providing insight into your experience. I am trying to help my mom prepare for her surgery on Tuesday and I feel much better equipped to help her after reading your advice.

  4. Ann Hawkins says:

    Good Evening Sara, Thank goodness for your positive and upbeat approach. I’ve was told yesterday that I’m to have a mastectomy hopefully with reconstructive surgery. But I would never have thought of all the things that you had on your list, I would have just shut up and put up. Its such a blessing that I’ve come across your site. Both my children are pretty devastated but my daughter is much better when she feels shes in control soooo I can give her the list and she will be more than happy. I can then get my son to sort out some music for me as hes the techno guy. In one fail swoop I’ve got them feel that they are not left out. Thank you so much and I just hope you web-site grows, No depressive her I feel. Thanks

    • sara says:

      Ann – I am very sorry to hear about your upcoming surgery. It sounds like you have a great support system in place which is key when going through these surgeries. I wish you the best of luck and a speedy recovery. -Sara

  5. Ann Hawkins says:

    Good evening Sara, I have to wait until next Wednesday for the next chapter but I did have a bit of a brain-wave and thought I would print out some little four fold cards to send to my friends. The front says “Thought I would let you know” inside I will give the date that I’m due in hospital, what type of surgery, etc.

    I felt this would give them time to adjust and should they not feel comfortable to telephone they would be able to write a card. Some have busy lives with grandchildren and school runs that I thought it would be better and would not crash into their lives which a phone call would, also should they phone here and I’m in hospital my poor John would get the ear bashing. Thanks for being there, by the way where is there?

    • sara says:

      Those cards are a really smart idea! It has a personal touch but is emotionally much easier than a phone call. I am originally from New York, but as of January I now call Los Angeles home :)

  6. Vera says:

    Hi Ann and Sara. I just had a left mastectomy on July 16th.And now I am looking for some outfit that would cover my desfomity because it is realy shoking and scary for my love one to see me in this shape. I am recovering and adjusting well. But noticed that people around me stresed more than I am. I want them to fee eel comfortable around me
    . I checked few websites , thjngs are expensive and there is nothing that I am looking for.Do u mind to posted websites for my problem.
    And I would like to say few words to Sara. I know you are scared to death but there are a lots of us with this scary diagnoses and there is also a hope and a lots
    of support that u will encounterd through your journey.
    GOODLUCK next week. Vera

  7. mbalcozer says:

    Sara,

    I am so happy to find your site. I was diagnosed on July 2 while at a softball tournament with my teenage daughter. My family and I are doing well with it all right now as I have tried to stay as calm and in control as I possibly can. My surgery is not scheduled until August 21, when my surgeon returns from doing surgeries in Peru. That sounds like a long time in between diagnosis and surgery date, but actually I am comfortable with it. You see it gives me time to get “things” done that I need to get done before surgery. I am a teacher and mother of 3 so there are so many “things” to get ready and organize before school starts since I will not be there at the start. I have spent the last two weeks seeings doctors and doing preop “stuff” that I feel like I can now do what I need to be organized before my down time. You see, I like to “plan” and your list has just given me another organizational tool that I do not have to try to create blindly. Thank you so much.

    Rebecca

    • sara says:

      Hi Rebecca-

      I am so sorry to hear of your diagnosis. You seem like an incredibly resilient and dedicated woman and I wish you all the best for a speedy recovery.

  8. Ann Hawkins says:

    My surgery is booked in for 12th August. Have discussed my options with the surgeon and have settled on an implant which will be done at the same time. My other options were to take a muscle from the back or to do a tummy tuck, which would have been great to get rid of that, but my thinking was, why have two lots of surgery when I will only have to worry about one. Will bring you up to date after the surgery as I’ve now lots of things to organize. Hopefully, looking forward with the news of the out come and positive update.
    Regards Ann

  9. Amy says:

    Thank you so very much!! This is beyond helpful!! I was diagnosed in April, very aggressive cancer and have been getting chemo prior to my surgery. My last chemo treatment is Monday, and I will be undergoing bilateral masectomy with reconstruction the first part of September. Aside from not having to worry about shaving or not being able to wash my hair (chemo baldness finally comes in handy!), your list is perfect for me to prepare!! Thank you again, and wish you all the best, God bless!!!

  10. Linda Glickstein says:

    I am so grateful for this!! I am having a bilateral mastectomy this Friday, which was moved up a week. I feel so unprepared, even though it has been almost 3 months since my diagnosis of IDC. I know that I will be receiving chemo as the cancer is in my lymph nodes, but do not know as yet if I will need radiation until surgery when they find out how many lymph nodes are affected. Right now I suddenly feel very attached to my breasts, and very profoundly sad, and your list makes it much easier to do the psychical preparation. Thank you so very much. Sincerely, Linda

    • sara says:

      Hi Linda – I’m so sorry to hear of your diagnosis. Mastectomy is not an easy experience and each woman has to face a series of physical and emotional challenges but I hope you take some comfort in knowing that you aren’t alone. Best wishes for your treatment and recovery.

  11. Rachel says:

    What a wonderful list, thank you so much. One of my very dear friends, Sara, is having a double mastectomy as I write this and I’m taking a bag to her husband tonight at the hospital – now I know what to put in it.

    To all the ladies who have commented, I have prayed for each of you and wish you the best in your recovery!

    - Rachel

  12. Enjoyed reading your thoughts and ideas. I had bi lateral 11 years ago and I know this will help many women.
    Wanted to let you know that since that time ,my best friend and i started Still You Inc. I hope that you will take the time to look at our website http://www.StillYou.com , I think that we make some great comfortable products that all have bi lateral pockets and you can step into. The Illusion breast form is pretty great too. Let me know what you think and I will be glad to send you a sample if you like.
    Hope that you are doing well.
    Heather

  13. Julie says:

    Hi , thank you soo much. I have been racking my brain to think of what I will need and have done research this by far is the best advice I have come across. I am 35 and a single mom of my 16 year old daughter . My surgery is oct.8/13 and I am having a double mestectomy with reconstruction , also they think the cancer has spread to my lymph nodes so they will be taken , after more tests come back maybe chemo and or radiation also …. Crazy I had a hysterectomy when I was 30 cuz of cervical cancer .
    This is my journey , I’m scared but I will fight !!!
    My thoughts go out to those diagnosed and we will fight and we will win !!!

    Thank you so much again
    Julie

  14. Gaetana says:

    I found out a week ago that I have IDC. Tomorrow is my surgery. I am having a mastectomy on the right. I have gotten everything on your list and thank God it was there and came up so quickly. I have had very little time to adjust to the news and I had no clue what to do or get. Thank you so very much.

  15. carol says:

    This list is awesome! I have a mastectomy surgery for my left breast in about a month and I’ve been scouring the web for tips and tricks. Thanks so much for the list and I really appreciate the direct links to the items. I’m adding to my checklist now. The tips on the cough drops, wipes, and face spray were great.

    Thanks!

    Carol

    • sara says:

      Hi Carol – I’m so glad you found it helpful. I was in your shoes 2 years ago and put together a list that was pretty much a combination of a bunch of stuff on the net. My goal was to try and make it as comprehensive as possible! Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

  16. Thank you so much for this! Exactly what I was looking for.

  17. Fita Bauer says:

    I have just begun this journey and see a breast surgeon Monday. I’m a pretty organized person having taught for 36 years. Gathering information and doing research has made me feel more prepared for what I’m facing. Thank you

  18. Bonnie says:

    Hi my friend, PBM is today… I’m as prepared as one can be. Thank you for all the advice! See you on the other side.

  19. Stacie Murphy says:

    Thank you so much for this. I have a friend having surgery Tuesday and I have put together a full care package for her!

  20. Jen says:

    I’m preparing for my moms surgery on Thursday. I found this so helpful. Thank you so much.

  21. Tara B says:

    Hi Sara…Got the BRCA1 diagnosis from my genetic counselor late in the summer and spent months trying to digest it and go through all of the oncologists they sent me to. Had my ovarian surgery 8 weeks ago and my PBM (with tissue expanders for reconstruction) is scheduled for next week. I still have a teen at home and I just couldn’t take the risk given family history. Your suggestions are a big help and so many of the women on this page have given me more ideas. I will be shopping in the next few days to make sure I have everything. I keep being reminded about the arm limitations for the first couple months so I want to be prepared. Also..I have to say it was refreshing to hear you say that you are happy with the cosmetic appearance of your implants. I am worried about that but decided that was the easiest option for me. I preferred the diep flap but couldn’t swing the amount of down time and would have still required implants anyway. I am confident in my surgeon and the reconstruction photos I have seen from him. It is a big step. I wish all of you with CA or BRCA1/2 diagnosis the best. I hope to be doing all of this as a previvor. Prayers for everyone out there! It is a frightening road and support from people like all of you is what gets you through.

  22. Michelle Zymowski says:

    Dear Sara, my sister had her mastectomy on 2/3/14. I found your site while trying to see what I could do to make things easier/more comfortable for her. Your information was spot on. The things she thought she didn’t need like the camisole, the facial spray where huge for her. We got everything you suggested. She is recuperating and taking it day by day. Thank you!!!!!!!

  23. Jennifer Noel says:

    Sara,
    Thanks so much my double masectomy is the 11th of march and had no idea on what to take and was worried about forgetting something but with your site I was able to make a check list and has relieved some stress off me thank you so much.
    Jennifer, 32 of age have triple negative breast cancer.

  24. abrazelin says:

    Your list was a wake up call 2 days before my surgery. Despite ample web research, I couldn’t find a list as concise and pertinent–thank you so much!

    Three things I would add to the list:
    –Waterpik water flosser–I am a dedicated flosser, and the waterpik gently removes food particles between my teeth just as well and with much less arm involvement.

    –No rinse body wash or baby wash–they had this in the hospital, and I wish I had thought about it before surgery so I could have some at home when I was discharged. The body wash foams up in a tub of water and can be wiped on with a washcloth. It feels cleaner than water alone, and is easier than the 2-step process of soaping with a washcloth then rinsing off.

    –For anybody who has somebody around to help with hair washing, a removable shower head also is great.

    My surgery was on Tuesday the 29th, and I spent 2 nights at the hospital. I do not have BRCA+, but a strong family history, one of which is a male relative. I was diagnosed with DCiS IIA on the left (breast and lymph node). Due to family history, I had a double mastectomy.

    Thank you again for your input!

  25. Sandra Kean says:

    I’m happy to see your suggestions for what my daughter in law will need. She asked me to come and be with her during her recovery. I feel so inadequate and I don’t want to ask too many questions. I know she is having a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy because of the BRCA gene and her niece and sister have recent diagnosis of cancer.. She says she does not have cancer and this is preventative. But I’m sure this will be tough to go through. I want to bring some gifts to her that you have listed. I’m thinking that any fabrics must be very soft against the skin. Thanks for any more info necessary. Nana In Law

  26. Sandy says:

    Dear Sara,
    Thank you so much for this helpful list! I have surgery on July 14 and I am feeling good about it! Hope you continue to do well – blessings to you and thanks again! Sandy

  27. Edith says:

    Hi Sara,

    Really helpful blog post! One of my friend’s mom made this pillow, specifically designed to help patients recovering from mastectomy surgery. Having lost her mom to breast cancer, and discovering her dear friend had been diagnosed for a second time, she designed this pillow to help patients sleep upright in the most comfortable way possible. It has straps for your arms and waist, and even pockets to hold your phone, book or remote control!

    Anyways, to anyone reading this- it really is a great and helpful pillow. She hopes to reach the point in which she can give a pillow away for every pillow bought. It’s called My Recovery Pal. She’s the most genuine person I know and I’m just trying to spread the word.

    Thanks again! God bless!

  28. Layne says:

    OMG, What a plethora of valuable information!! My surgery is Thursday and I’ve been on the puter all day searching for post surgical items for bilateral mastectomy. My surgery is in staging, so it’s hard enough figuring what I need for each part, lol. First the mastectomy, then radiation, then DIEP flap surgery, and then contouring surgery (tweaking). I am and have been extremely optimistic through everything so far.

    Well while exploring site to site, I found yours. And what a loaded list of things I hadn’t even thought about. I never realized it would be hard to brush my teeth, and an electric toothbrush makes so much sense. Also the idea of the pillow for car travel, is such a huge help as now when I’m a passenger in a car, I’m constantly holding the seat belt away from my chest, as it tends to lie on my port. YAY, a solution. And your advice about no lace, yes definately!

    I’m sorry you had to go through what you did, and I’m going through what I am, but the greatest thing I’ve learned from my experience is to pay it forward, which is what you’ve done here with your knowledge. I’ll tell anyone and everyone who’ll listen about the importance of yearly mammograms. I was getting my yearly, and that’s how my breast cancer was discovered. It’s scary stats to know that 1-8 woman will experience breast cancer in their lifetime!! That’s crazy!! Well You and I as well as all the others here, are the stats. We are also bonded in a way, that no one can understand…..

    Well thanks again for sharing this info, and sorry for the novel I wrote….LOL…
    Best of wishes to you, and to all the woman who read this…
    Smiles,
    Layne

  29. Cynthia says:

    Sara,

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!! Just diagnosed, awaiting BRCA results and trying to plan. This is extremely helpful. Your kind thought of documenting based on your personal experience is much appreciated.

    Wishing you health and happiness,
    Cynthia

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