After being diagnosed with breast cancer, and choosing bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction as your first course of action, many thoughts will race through your mind as you prepare for surgery and aftercare. The following tips come from women who have undergone what you are about to experience. These tips will help you prepare for your recovery at home.
Your schedule is going to be filled with medical appointments from at least three physicians – your oncologist, mastectomy surgeon, and pla
Keeping a calendar will help you stay organized, and be a reference point when reviewing your progress.
Jot down appointments along with a brief description of their purpose, e.g., saline fills and quantity, date when JP drains are removed, etc. Also, note when lab and other test results came in. You will thank yourself later.
This is very important! You will need to keep track of when you have taken your medications, as well as volume and frequency of draining your JP Drains.
Make blank spreadsheets ahead of time, you will thank yourself later.
Not sure how to set up your spreadsheet? Just search the internet. Many women have found that blogging about their breast cancer journey helped with keeping track of everything and have generously shared their calendars and spreadsheets.
Make use of their knowledge.
Many doctors will give their patients prescriptions prior to surgery specifically, so the patient has the medications already on hand when they return home from the hospital.
Be certain to ask your doctor if this is possible in your situation, especially if you do not have another licensed driver in your home.
Yet, even in you do have another driver, this is one less thing to worry about if you can accomplish this ahead of your surgery and return home.
An Extra Support Bra
At the initial surgery, bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, the plastic surgeon will supply one or two support bras; one will be put on your body while in the surgery room and one to accompany your trip home.
Cleanliness is especially important during recovery and having one clean support bra at all times will make life a little easier.
Many women invest in a third support bra just to be certain to always have a clean one. Don’t forget to check with your insurance company, as they may cover this cost for you.
You will be instructed to wear clothing that
The hospital typically sends women home with refillable ice packs to help diminish swelling during your recovery. You will find it helpful to have extra, small ice packs ready at all times.
If you have the means, cook your favorite foods ahead of time and freeze them either in individual serving size containers or a full-meal container.
If there are other members in your household, assign them meal-time chores ahead of time.
Your physically restricted activities are temporary, do not push your limits or your recovery period will take longer. Let others help.
Dishwasher and Paper Plates
You will be instructed not to lift anything over ten pounds, this includes unloading the dishwasher. Paper plates are a convenient alternative to dishes. Cleanup is minimal as they can be tossed into the trash container without heavy exertion.
Place items on your kitchen counter that you know you will be using on a daily basis, such as your coffee cup and other items stored in an upper cabinet. You will not be allowed to reach the higher cabinets without endangering your incisions.
Whether you do it yourself, have a family member or paid service do it, make sure your home is clean, organized and tidy before you go in for surgery. You will find recovery much easier if you are surrounded by organized cleanliness.
A Comfortable Recliner
After surgery, you will not be able to lay in bed and pull/push/lift yourself out of it. Many bilateral mastectomy survivors endorse the use of a recliner, for daytime use as well as night time sleeping for the first while.
Many stomach sleepers find this is the only way to comfortably survive sleeping at night and spending days recuperating.
Stocked Side Table
A freshly filled water jug with a removable lid and straw will be a real life saver during early recovery.
Having supplies within your reach will help promote your healing by not disturbing your incisions with unnecessary movement.
Take the water jug you used at the hospital home with you. Usually, they are of higher quality than you can buy at a store, and you are billed for it anyway, it is yours. Keep it filled with fresh water and on your side table.
Make sure your batteries are fresh! You may find yourself binge-watching movies, documentaries or TV series through a streaming movie service. Even though you will be in and out of consciousness the first few days of recovery due to pain medications, it will be very nice to have a distraction.
Magazines, Reading Material, Laptop
While under the influence of pain medications, especially during the first few days, it will be nice to have a choice of entertainment during lucid moments.
On your side table, have a stack of gossip papers, women’s magazines, puzzle books, an electronic reading device loaded with books. Don’t forget your laptop, keeping it within easy reach, and, of course, your
Don’t forget your laptop, keeping it within easy reach, and, of course, your
Tissues, Lozenges, & Snacks
Any other incidentals you may want or need should also be placed strategically upon your side table. We are all different and require different items; think ahead of your surgery and you will thank yourself later.
The Back Scratcher
This tip comes from many women’s experiences. Whether you are sitting in your recliner to watch television or read, your back will itch and you will not be able to scratch it. Your movement will be restricted while you maintain the T-rex position for recovery.
The back scratcher will be your hero! Find one that is extendable with a metal, not plastic or wood, claw. They are available online, at dollar and big box stores, typically costing only a couple of dollars. You will not regret this purchase! And, it will come in handy for years after your recovery.
Lanyard, Shoe String or Velcro
When you are given the go-ahead to take your first shower, you will need something on your body to hang your JP Drains, they cannot simply hang from the holes in your body or you will painfully tear them out.
Some women have used a long shoestring, fashioned it into a “necklace,” hung it around their neck and pinned the JP Drains onto it.
Again, scour through breast cancer survivors’ blogs, they are a part of the sisterhood to which you now belong and they are candidly helpful.
It will only be a matter of days before you are allowed to take a shower. Your doctor will let you know when you are cleared for showering. Meanwhile, think about having dry-shampoo on hand for your hair.
You may be tempted to wash your hair in the kitchen sink; this is not advisable since losing your balance could cause a fall.
If you absolutely insist on shampooing, do not do it alone. Enlist someone to do it for you, limiting your participation to only leaning over a sink. Clean skin is invigorating. Baby wipes and sink-sponge-baths are a way to freshen up. When you are able to shower, prepare ahead of time if you feel you will need a shower stool to sit upon.
Make sure you are stocked up with food and medications, if need be, for your pets. If your pets have any special needs, enlist the help of a family member or friend to help during your recovery. Do not pick up bags of pet food, litter, or any other heavy pet-item.
By no means give in to your desire to pick up and cuddle a pet who is over ten pounds.
Remember, what you are about to experience is temporary; your strength and regular activities will resume. Do not rush your recovery, remain patient and positive. Stay in touch with family and friends, especially if you are feeling depressed.
Above all else, ask for help when you need it. This is the absolute, number one thing all breast cancer survivors have attested to – you will have to learn how to ask for help. Your independence will be temporarily interrupted; it is part of the journey to a new “you.”
In hopes that your recovery will be successful, these tips are intended to reduce stress, so you can focus on what should be your main concern: recuperation.
Frequently Asked Questions
This blog is for informational purposes and is not to be taken as medical advice. Seek advice from your physician.
How Long Does the Surgery Take
The surgery generally takes 6-12 Hours with reconstruction.
How Long Will I Be In the Hospital
You will probably remain in the hospital a couple of days.
Will I Need Chemotherapy
There will be many factors that determine this and only your doctor can advise. Some do, yes.
How Long Will the Drain Stay In?
You’ll probably have a drain until you see the doctor post surgery: Probably a week, sometimes 2.
What Can I Eat After A Mastectomy?
It’s best to focus on lean proteins after your surgery.
- Low-fat dairy
How Long Will It Take To Recover
You’ll find yourself recovering for about 4-6 weeks.