Melissa’s Rap: On March 30th of this year, I had a preventative mastectomy. So far, my recovery has been better than I expected. To date, I have not had any complications. Since I have chosen to do reconstruction, I still have two more surgeries to go.
In preparation for my mastectomy, I researched the experience and recommendations of others and it was a tremendous help. The preparation helped me physically prepare, but also mentally. I have had many surgeries in my life, but I felt this one I needed input on from those who had been through it.
A friend encouraged me to do a wish list for some items I would need for recovery. It is difficult to ask for help, but with the other costs I incurred for the surgeons, surgery center, lab work and so on, I was grateful for the assistance with the other items. You can also just pick up these items yourself, if you prefer.
Here are some items I utilized the most and why I recommend them:
This could really be any half apron with pockets, but this is the apron I added and a friend gifted to me. It was great! When I came out of surgery, I had one drain on each side to relieve some of the fluid accumulation. The surgeon had attached them with safety pins to the bra they had put me in. That was fine, but I didn’t especially enjoy the feeling of warm plastic bags of blood and fluid resting on my abdomen. So, as soon as I got home, the apron went on and it stayed on (with the exception of when it was in the washing machine). I even slept in it – I just pinned the drains into it for sleeping.
Button-Up Shirts and Comfortable Easy-On Pants
I did not have my lymph nodes removed, so I was told I didn’t necessarily need button-up shirts, but I added a couple of comfortable button-ups just in case and I was glad I did. One friend got me a soft flannel that I would put on every time it came out of the dryer. While I was able to reach my hands over my head (and needed to in order to keep the muscles stretched), it was nice to have the option not to – especially those first few days. If you don’t have any comfortable pants you can pull on and off without much effort, I recommend investing in a couple pairs.
Things to Watch, Read and Do
Besides walking every hour to prevent blood clots, you’ll be resting a lot. While it is fun to watch some of your favorites (and Netflix is a good source of movies), you may want to pick up a movie you’ve always wanted to watch or a boxed set of a show you can’t watch anywhere online. A friend bought me a compilation of comedy romances that were a nice escape from reality those first few weeks. Perhaps add a couple books you’ve been wanting to read. If you like crosswords or doing art, you may want to get a few things (or pull out what you have at home so it is handy.)
Paper plates, plastic utensils
I rarely buy paper plates because I know how bad it is for our environment. But, prior to my surgery, my therapist suggested I use them, at least for a short time, to give me one less thing to “do” each day. I picked up a pack of each of these items and I must say, it did help. There are just some days during recovery where dishes are just a lot to manage.
A not-so-pleasant side effect of anesthesia is constipation. I picked up some Colace ahead of time, but it didn’t seem to help. The nurse who did home visits that first week recommended warm prune juice. I know…ew. But, it worked. Trust me, have some on hand. You can thank me later.
Book for Children
If you have children, they will be going through this with you. This book was a great help to my kids and I as we prepared for surgery. They remembered it well after the surgery and referenced it in the two weeks post-op. I highly recommend it.
I picked up the following items, which came in helpful that first week:
-Abdominal Pads: these were inside the bra against the incision
-Alcohol Swabs: it is important to clean the spout of the drain after you empty them.
-Gloves: we used these any time we needed to work with the drains or replace the abdominal pads.
-Hand Sanitizer: Pick up a few bottles of these, one for each sink and another to have near your medical supplies to sanitize before and during dressing changes, drain clearing, etc.
Now that you have your list, here are some other things to consider prior to surgery:
Your doctor should give you a chart where you can track the output of your drains. They will request this on the first appointment, so be sure to track the output each time you empty them. If you don’t get one, or misplace it, this is a good one to use.
Walk and Stretch
While you may not feel up to it, especially those first few days, you need to stay active to prevent clots and to keep the skin and muscles stretched out. Walking every waking hour is important. Windmilling the arms and stretching them and your chest wall will help the muscles relax as they adjust to their new normal. (Be sure to confirm this prior to surgery with your own physician).
You will need to sleep upright, at least for the first couple weeks. As a side sleeper, this one was tough for me. If you google Mastectomy sleeping positions, you will see several versions of a pillow armchair. Unless you have an actual armchair, this is the next best thing. My doctor wanted me sleeping at at least a 35° angle. Hopefully this is less challenging for you than it was for me. Either way, it is just a couple of weeks and it will be over before you know it.
Seatbelts and Being a Side Seat Driver
One thing I didn’t consider was putting a seatbelt on in the car to get to appointments and the like. It was pretty nerve-wracking, as was having someone drive you around. The fear of the driver stopping suddenly and the seatbelt tightening against the incisions was a bit too much that first week. My patient mother took my side seat driving in stride and we arrived safely and without incident to each destination. Some bloggers did use padding around their seatbelts I noticed, so that is an option to consider.
This is a tough surgery physically, but I would venture to say it is even more challenging to endure mentally and emotionally. Looking in the mirror post-op was shocking and somewhat disturbing. Going from a size I’d been for decades to being flat-chested, albeit temporarily, was tough.
Losing my nipples was even harder to take. Even as I grew during the reconstruction process, I couldn’t help but feel like the Bride of Frankenstein. All that remained on each of my new and unusually high breasts was an incision running from one side to the other. I am still in the middle of the reconstruction process and eventually will have “nipples” again. But, for now, I am just sitting with this new body of mine and embracing it, with all of its scars – old and new. I have no doubt I did the right thing.
I will adjust to the sight of myself in the mirror and I am already learning to love my body again, because of the scars, not in spite of them. As Anaïs Nin wrote: “The scar meant that I was stronger than what had tried to hurt me.” I am stronger and more whole after a surgery that has taken me on quite a journey. If you are struggling with an impending mastectomy or are already post-op, take the time you need to grieve in your own way. And then, pick yourself up and move forward, because you are so strong, my friend. You can and will do amazing things. Count on it. Plan for it. Make it happen. Your life stretches before you. Allow this surgery to propel you head first into your goals and the life you’ve dreamed of – one day at a time.
Have you had a mastectomy? How was your experience? What products would you recommend to others? Comment below or message us at firstname.lastname@example.org.