Friday, July 8, 2011


I've compiled some tips and strategies that worked for me as I was preparing for and going through my mastectomy surgery. (OK, there are way more than 10 tips here, but you get the idea!) Maybe this list will help you — or someone you love.
    1. CLEAN UP YOUR ACT  A clean house creates a calm and peaceful environment in which to heal. So get cleaning! (It will help take your mind off your upcoming surgery too.) If possible, arrange for someone to handle the cleaning and laundry for the first month after you're home. You won't be able to push or pull or lift anything over 5 pounds post-surgery, so housework is off-limits until your physician clears you for activity. And while you're cleaning house, free up some future brain cells by creating a list of all your logins and passwords for the many banks, credit cards, bill pay and other websites you frequent. Surgery + anesthesia = a recipe for confusion. The last thing you need to worry about is remembering all the important stuff that is currently in your head. Put it down on paper and keep it in a safe place. (Do not store it on a portable device!). I also made notes to myself about how specific bills were paid, just in case I forgot. (And I did!) 
    2. RESTOCK THE PANTRY  Load up with high-protein foods and snacks like organic cheese, nonfat Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, tuna fish and peanut butter. Protein promotes proper healing (100 grams a day is optimal) and is vital to your recovery, so don't skimp! Make and freeze meals ahead of time that are simple enough for a child or other family member to prepare. Take a multivitamin. Drink water. (Lots and lots of water.) Place plates, glasses and pantry staples within easy reach on the kitchen counter. Say YES to offers of food from friends or loved ones. Don't be shy about telling people what you prefer to eat (low fat, high protein, no soy, etc.) If you’re lucky enough to have friends and neighbors who want to feed you and your family for an extended period of time, put someone in charge of organizing these meal deliveries (but not you). and are free and help people organize meals for you and your family.
    3. GET STRAIGHT WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY Make sure you line up peeps to care for all the things you normally care for — your kids, pets, parents, plants, partner. If you live alone, ask a friend to stay with you for the first few days. Again, say YES when someone offers to help you — then assign them a task immediately. People always say "call me if you need anything," but as a patient, you will have more on your mind than finding a way for someone to help you. So here's my take on this sticky situation: If you really want to help, give me some options of what you are willing to do right now. Tell me you'll drop off dinner at 6PM on Tuesday. Tell me you'll take my kids to the movies. (And take my husband too!) Offer to clean my kitchen floor. Just don't ask me to call you from my recovery bed to ask for your help. Because I won't. 
    4. GEAR UP THE LOO  Install a handheld showerhead in your bath, and place shampoo, conditioner and liquid soap bottles on the shower floor (because you won't be able to reach anything above your head). Keep an inexpensive plastic shower bench there too. Anesthesia is constipating, as are pain meds; take your Colace morning and night; if all else fails, Dulcolax will save your day. Before surgery, wash and color your hair, paint your nails, shave your legs and underarms. Important note: Post-surgery, use an electric (not a straight) razor under your arms. You will be numb — you won't be able to feel it if you nick your skin. And you don't need to risk getting an infection.
    5. MAKE YOUR BOUDOIR COMFY Set up a bedside table with room for anything you could possibly need: drinks, eyeglasses, TV remote, meds, snacks, more meds, books, Kindle, notepad, pen, iPad, iPod, iTouch, cell phone, laptop (and chargers too). Some doctors suggest sleeping in a recliner after surgery. (Many people prefer it to sleeping in bed the first week or two.) Only you know yourself and what will make you comfortable; you may even consider renting a hospital bed. You'll find a neck pillow is handy to prop under your arms. A wedge pillow allows you to sleep on a slight incline (keeping your chest slightly elevated helps with lymphatic drainage) and makes it easier to get up and out of bed post-surgery. Find low-cost pillows like these at Bed Bath and Beyond.
    6. GET RETAIL THERAPY Purchase PJ's with button-down tops (and pockets if possible), zip-front hoodies (their interior pockets are the ideal size for drains) and slip-on yoga pants. Oh, and a cute, colorful, light-weight robe for quick coverups when visitors come a-callin'. Go through your closet and pull out all the button-down shirts you own. You're going to need them. You won't be able to reach over your head for a few weeks to put on anything tighter than a large T-Shirt. You may need to go shopping for a few items to get you through the post-surgery phase. I went pre-mastectomy shopping at Nordstrom Rack (read about that experience here) but was not prepared for the emotions that went along with that shopping trip! Yowza.
    7. SECURE SURGICAL STUFF Post-mastectomy, drains are put in your side(s) to allow your body to release extra fluid. These drains are thick — the size of a straw — and the part that hangs outside the body is more than a foot in length. At the end of each drain is a 4-inch x 2-inch bulb that excess body fluid drips into. If you are having a double mastectomy, that means you could have four of these drains dangling from your torso. You will have to pin them to your undergarments or tuck the bulbs and drains into something to keep them from hanging and being in the way. If you have a zip-front hoodie, check the inside lining — there are usually small pockets already sewn in that are perfect for drains! If it's too hot for a hoodie, consider buying a drain belt. I purchased one called the "Marsupial" at It's a terry cloth belt with big pouches for the drains. There are items called pocket panties at; and has camisoles with interior pockets. Worried about emptying drains yourself? Sometimes it’s not just a matter of squeamishness; it's painful to reach around and push the fluid down the tube. (The liquid must be measured and kept track of so your surgeon knows when to remove them.) Make sure someone shows you how to empty your drains before you are discharged! Get your prescriptions filled ahead of time (with easy-open lids — unless you have small children in the house). New Rx's that you may receive prior to your surgery include antibiotics, pain meds, and prescriptive antibiotic ointment. And while at the drug store, get a couple boxes of 4" x 4" gauze pads, alcohol and paper surgical tape. Be sure to save all your medical receipts for tax purposes. 
    8. ORDER BRAS NOW Ask your surgeon what type of garment you will be going home in and/or need to wear once back home. Some docs prefer surgical bras or vests; others are fine with soft camisoles and sports bras; still others may want you in a compression garment. Each surgeon (and surgery) is different, so ask these questions well before your surgery date and make purchases ahead of time so you will have the garments at home, washed and ready to wear when you need them. Oh, and order two of everything: One to wear; one for the wash. My surgeon sent me home in a very plain, utilitarian (read: ugly!) white compression vest, so I bought a "fancier" beige vest online at It's lacy and cut slightly lower in front so allowed me to wear a larger variety of shirts. As for regular sports bras which close in the front, the following are popular: Hanes Zip Front Sports Bra and Under Armour Endure Zip Front Sports Bra. I have both the Danskin Now High Impact Zip Sport Bra and the Fruit of the Loom Front Close Sport Bra but they no longer seem to be available — which is too bad because both were very inexpensive. You can find a ton of front-closure sports bra options at nextag.
    9. TAKE THIS TO THE HOSPITAL Type up a list of all the medications you currently take, print out two copies, keep one with you  and give the other to a friend or family member. You'll be asked the same Rx questions repeatedly during hospital admission, and this will save you from trying to remember everything. Suntan lotion is great for masking the unpleasant odors that will waft from your body as you recover. (And waft they will; you cannot shower for upwards of a week post surgery.) Plus, suntan lotion will make you think you're at the beach. (Well, almost.) Pack an inexpensive eye mask to dim the bright lights of the big city hospital, and disposable ear plugs to help you catch a wink or three. And whenever someone brings you something to drink, ask them to open it (even if you're not ready to enjoy it yet)! Trust me, you won't be able to open it yourself. Nor will you be able to adjust your pillow or skootch yourself up, down or around in your hospital bed. So basically, anytime anyone is visiting you (nurse, friend, husband, whomever), think of things they can help you with. Important note: Consider asking someone to stay with you overnight during your hospital stay (at least the first night). I didn't do this and wish I had. When no nurses can be found and your pillow has slipped under your bum instead of your head (remember, you can't use your arms after a mastectomy), someone being there to help you whenever you need it can make all the difference in the world to your comfort level. If you are worried about feeling nauseous post surgery, talk to your anesthesiologist. (You'll have ample time to do this while they are prepping you.) He/she can take the necessary steps medication wise to help prevent nausea. Be very specific about your sensitivity to any medications (both Rx and OTC) and be firm about your desire to not feel sick! The meds exist to help you. (You don't have to suffer like I did here.) 
    10. GO PHYSICAL, THEN MENTAL Reduce anxiety before surgery by taking a walk, a hike, a jog. Hit the gym and work those soon-to-be traumatized pectoral muscles. Do bench presses and lat pull downs. Try to do 100 pushups. You won't be doing any of these things again for a long while (and in the case of working your pecs, your doc may never want you to work them the same way again). Lastly, imagine a place you absolutely love and focus on being there as you are getting prepped in the hospital for your surgery. Incorporate all of your senses: Imagine the fragrance of the flowers or ocean, imagine hearing the birds or rustling of the trees, imagine feeling the wind on your face, imagine the flavor of your favorite food. And then imagine all the very capable doctors and nurses doing their absolute best in the operating room to rid your body of cancer and start you on a perfect path of healing. Before you know it, you'll be imagining a nurse calling your name — and your surgery will magically be over. Once you go home (after 2-3 days generally), remember to rest. You can't lift or reach or push or pull, so read, write, talk or watch TV instead. Take a nap every day. You'll recover quicker if you do. 


    1. I just realized why I see visitors from your blog. I am touched that you listed me as a favorite. Thank you so much!

      I don't know what day your surgery was scheduled for, but I am praying peace and comfort for you tonight.

    2. Thanks so much, MARIKO!

      BAREFOOT: I stumbled upon your blog (I can't remember where!) and loved it, so wanted to share it with visitors here. Everyone can use some good recipes! Thanks for the good wishes. ;-)

    3. Great info Reno !!!!
      Been sick with a migraine for a few days, so I have some catching up to do on your posts :)

    4. Happened upon this during Google search for "drain" belts...thank you for valuable information. I am 5 weeks away from bilateral with deep flap surgery and you brought up some things I had not even considered.


      1. Glad it helped, Kerri! There was so much I didn't know at the time. Let us know how you fared!

    5. Replies
      1. Happy to help, Sharon! Thank you for stopping by. I wish you good health!


    Your comments are encouraging — and encouraged!