Preparing for a Mastectomy

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Preparing for a Mastectomy
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At age 21, I made the tough but wise decision to have a mastectomy. My experience taught me that smart preparation is vital to a successful recovery. I’ve compiled 14 tips for what to do and what to buy in the weeks leading up to your surgery, from important conversations to have with your doctors to small but helpful purchases. The more prepared you are, the easier the healing process will be for you! For more mastectomy preparation tips, visit my blog, Ticking Time Bombs, at www.tickingtimebombsblog.com.

Necessities to Buy: Mastectomy Bra
Rachel Horn

Necessities to Buy: Mastectomy Bra

A tight, soft bra that hooked in front was my best friend for the first few weeks following my mastectomy. If you have gauze or bandages over your surgery site, a mastectomy bra will help to keep it all in place. If you wish to use cotton or silicone breast forms, a mastectomy bra will have special pockets for those prosthetics. Many mastectomy bras are sold with drain pockets, and you can also find mastectomy camisoles if you prefer a longer style. Consider investing in two bras so you can switch off washing them.

Related: For more mastectomy preparation tips, visit Ticking Time Bombs.

Necessities to Buy: Drain Pockets and Safety Pins
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Necessities to Buy: Drain Pockets and Safety Pins

When you wake up from your mastectomy, you may have two or more drains to remove fluid build-up. Chances are you will have them for at least 10 days, so drain pockets (small fabric pouches with Velcro or hooks that attach to most bras and shirts) are a wise investment. You simply place the drain bulb into the pocket and go about your day without hassling with the drain. It’s also smart to keep large safety pins on hand, so you can pin your drains to the inside of your clothing.

Necessities to Buy: Button-Up Tops With Pockets
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Necessities to Buy: Button-Up Tops With Pockets

A mastectomy will temporarily reduce your range of motion, making it difficult to lift your arms over your head. To prevent embarrassing clothing situations, purchase button-up or zip-up shirts and jackets. A silk sleep shirt with buttons will slide on easily; a collared button-up is a good choice if you need to leave the house. Zip-up hoodies and pajamas robes are inexpensive and cozy, and you can use their pockets to hold your drains. Remember to buy tops in a larger size than usual to leave room for drains and possible swelling from the mastectomy.

Necessities to Buy: Wedge Pillow
Rachel Horn

Necessities to Buy: Wedge Pillow

Your first few nights home from the hospital may not be fun, so prepare for them by investing in a foam wedge pillow. After a mastectomy, you will have to sleep on your back, and getting up out of bed (even to shift your position) will be a challenge. A wedge pillow, especially one that comes in a set with a knee pillow and a head rest, will make sleeping and relaxing more comfortable. You’ll be able to sit up to read or watch TV, and the angle will make it easier for you to get out of bed.

It Would Be Nice to Have: Fuzzy Socks
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It Would Be Nice to Have: Fuzzy Socks

Hospital rooms are notoriously cold, and after your mastectomy, you might not be able to reach down to cover your tootsies with a blanket. Warm, fuzzy socks will keep your feet warm and if you find a pair in a bright color or pattern, they can add a bit of liveliness to an otherwise bland hospital room. Make sure you look for a pair (or two or three!) with non-slip grips on the bottom -- you don’t want to be slippin’ and slidin’ around the hospital!

It Would Be Nice to Have: Lip Balm
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It Would Be Nice to Have: Lip Balm

Your doctors will give you specific instructions for what to do the day before your mastectomy; chances are, you will be told not to eat or drink after midnight the night before surgery. When you wake up from your mastectomy, you may be thirsty and your lips may feel dry. It’s up to your doctors to determine when you’re ready for liquids, but a moisturizing lip balm will soothe those dry lips and help you feel more comfortable. Opt for a lip balm without a flavor, to avoid any possible nausea from scents.

It Would Be Nice to Have: Bathing Wipes
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It Would Be Nice to Have: Bathing Wipes

To prevent a nasty infection from forming, your doctor will probably advise you against taking a shower for at least a few days after your mastectomy. In order to keep yourself feeling clean, looking fresh, and smelling good, purchase a few packs of bathing wipes. These thick, disposable towels are easy to use and can really clean thoroughly. If disposable bathing wipes are not available, baby wipes will work too. Just make sure you do not wipe too close to your surgical site.

Pre-Surgery To Do List: Talk to Your Doctors
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Pre-Surgery To Do List: Talk to Your Doctors

If you have any allergies or undesirable reactions to medications, as well as any specific requests regarding your medication, make sure you alert your medical team at least one day before surgery. Some people, for example, respond to anesthesia more dramatically than others; if you think you’ll experience nausea, request that anti-nausea medication be given to you. You might also talk to your doctor about your preferred type of pain medication, and if you should take stool softeners to prevent constipation as a result of medication build-up.

Pre-Surgery To Do List: Arrange Care at Home
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Pre-Surgery To Do List: Arrange Care at Home

The doctors and nurses at the hospital will take great care of you during your stay, but as soon as you’re discharged, your care is your responsibility. Make sure you have someone (a spouse, parent, adult child or close friend) who will stay with you at home for the first week after being released from the hospital. They’ll be able to help you move around the house, prepare meals, track medication and do the laundry while you’re recovering.

Pre-Surgery To Do List: Contact Friends and Family Nearby
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Pre-Surgery To Do List: Contact Friends and Family Nearby

It’s important to tell friends and family who live nearby about your surgery and the physical limitations that accompany it. You won’t be able to drive for at least 10 days after your mastectomy. (Some people wait over a month before getting behind the wheel.) You don’t want to be stranded alone at home when you really need something, such as a lift to your doctor’s office or help picking up a prescription at the pharmacy. Letting people know in advance will make it easier for them to help you if you’re in a tight spot.

Pre-Surgery To Do List: Rearrange Furniture
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Pre-Surgery To Do List: Rearrange Furniture

Even though you will spend a few days in the hospital after your mastectomy, once you return home your mobility will still be limited. It’s important to make your household easy to navigate in advance. Move a large nightstand or table next to your bed where any necessities (medication, phone, computer, books) can be easily reached and food and drinks can be placed. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other routine essentials should be relocated off of high shelves, and snacks, cups and plates should be easily accessible.

Pre-Surgery To Do List: Style Your Hair Properly
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Pre-Surgery To Do List: Style Your Hair Properly

The night before your mastectomy, take a long, hot shower and wash your hair well -- you won’t be able to do it yourself for a while! If your hair is long, put it into a fuss-free hairstyle, such as tight braids. Braids will keep your hair out of your face and they’ll remain in tact for at least a few days after your surgery. If you have shorter hair, invest in some fabric headbands -- just make sure they’re not too tight.

Pre-Surgery To Do List: Stay Hydrated
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Pre-Surgery To Do List: Stay Hydrated

In the days leading up to your mastectomy, follow your doctor's instructions regarding food and drink. Good hydration is essential for healing, and you don’t know how your body will feel after surgery: the anesthesia from surgery could leave you nauseous and unable to hold down liquids, or the pain medications could back up your digestive tract. Being well-hydrated from the start could help these issues.

Pre-Surgery To Do List: Have a Party!
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Pre-Surgery To Do List: Have a Party!

A mastectomy is a serious surgery that can bring about a lot of change and adjustment. Before your mastectomy, take the time to celebrate YOU. Whether you enjoy a more traditional dinner gathering or you prefer a wild fiesta, consider throwing a party a week or two before your surgery. It will give your friends a chance to spend quality time with you before you’re out of commission for a while, and you could be surprised at how much that support will help with the emotions you might be experiencing. Have fun, because you deserve it!

Related: For more mastectomy preparation tips, visit Ticking Time Bombs.

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