Undergoing a mastectomy can be daunting, and many women are unsure what to expect post-surgery, so we’ve put together this guide of mastectomy recovery must-haves.
From patience and positivity to underarm pillows and reclining chairs - read on, for our extensive list of everything you’ll need to recuperate and recover from breast surgery.
How to Prepare For Your Mastectomy Recovery
It’s a great idea to start preparing for your post-mastectomy recovery before you leave home for the hospital and there are several things you can do to make your homecoming easier.
Move Things Within Reach
Mastectomy patients are advised not to raise their arms for several weeks after surgery, so it is essential to have household items that you’ll need post-surgery within reach. You can prep for this by being mindful of things you reach up for in the 3-4 days before your operation, placing them on counter tops or table tops instead for easy access.
Find a Reclining Chair
Because laying down to sleep, and getting back up, can be quite painful for a few days after a mastectomy, previous breast surgery patients recommended using a reclining chair for sleep for about a week. If you don’t have one, it might be a good idea to borrow one and arrange to have it delivered before you leave for the hospital.
Invest in a Wedge Pillow
Another useful tool to have at home after a mastectomy is a wedge pillow. While you might feel more comfortable sleeping in a reclining chair for the first week, you’ll want to get back into your bed at some stage.
A wedge pillow is perfect to slip under your mattress and raise the upper back area to a medically recommended angle that will make it easier for you to lay down, sleep, and get back up.
Front Button Clothing
Because mastectomy patients are advised not to raise their arms for several weeks, it helps to be organized with a few front-button pajamas or loose-fitting shirts for easier dressing. These, as well as loose-fitting pants, will be your go-to clothing for 6-8 weeks, so make sure you have a few.
Underarm & Seatbelt Pillow
Special underarm & seatbelt pillows are now available for mastectomy patients to protect sensitive wounds and provide comfort to the surgical sites. Women’s health experts, Intimate Rose, sell the perfect Mastectomy Seatbelt Pillow with adjustable velcro straps and a special pocket for a gel pack to provide either hot or cold therapy.
Dry Shampoo & Body Wipes
Depending on the extent of your mastectomy, your surgeon might recommend refraining from showering for the first day or two. Having some hygiene products like body wipes and dry shampoo on hand will help you to freshen up until you can return to the shower.
Be Shower Ready
Many women underestimate how frail they will feel after a mastectomy, even to the point of standing alone in the shower up to 3 weeks afterward. Having a simple shower seat to sit on while washing will allow you to relax on your own in the shower rather than needing support from a loved one or carer. Ensuring you have a detachable shower head also makes it much easier to wash while sitting.
Purchase a Drain Lanyard
After surgery, mastectomy patients usually have surgical drains coming out of the incisions to allow fluid to drain from the surgical sites for 6-8 weeks. When showering, it’s helpful to have a drain lanyard that holds your surgical drains and prevents them from dangling and pulling on the incisions.
To protect your incisions and drain areas, you might need to change your dressings if they become loose from showering, so it’s smart to be prepared with some 4x4 gauze and medical adhesive tape. Drainage cups are also essential to measure how much fluid is draining each day, and although they are usually supplied by your doctor, it's a good idea to have some extra at home in case you run out.
During surgery, a tube is placed down the throat to help patients breathe while under anestethic and it can leave some suffering from a sore throat. Have some throat lozenges or honey tea on hand to help soothe it.
This one can be a lifesaver when you can’t raise your arms to tend to an itch on your back.
A Jacket with Pockets for Surgical Drains
While most mastectomy patients live with surgical drains for 6-8 weeks after surgery, by then you will also feel more mobile and happy to leave the house for short walks and fresh air. Having a jacket on hand that has inside pockets to hold the surgical drains means they are not only safe from dangling but also hidden from prying eyes that might make you feel self-conscious.
Get Help with Food
Ask friends and family to keep you in mind food-wise during your recovery stage. Post-surgery patients have little to no energy for making meals so it can be incredibly comforting to have healthy and nutritious food delivered while you recover.
A Positive & Patient Attitude
Last but not least, be positive about the choice you’ve made for your overall health and wellness and allow yourself to be patient during recovery. Forget about chores, cooking, cleaning, and any sort of strenuous exercise until you feel recovered enough to re-engage.
Post-Mastectomy: What You’ll Need for the Hospital
Once you’ve gathered all the mastectomy recovery must-haves before your surgery, make sure your bag is prepared for the hospital. After the procedure, most mastectomy patients remain in the hospital for 1-3 days for observation. While you stay, it helps to have the following with you:
- Dry shampoo & body wipes to freshen up post-operation.
- Drain lanyard to hold your surgical drains when you feel like a shower.
- Front button pajamas or loose-fitting men’s button-up shirts are ideal comfort clothing when you are not permitted to raise your arms.
- Underarm support pillow for extra comfort.
- Slip-on shoes or slippers that do not require bending over to tie them.
- Pen & notebook to write down questions for your doctor.
- Snacks & Water
- A tablet (& charger) to watch your favorite movies or a book to pass the time.
Being prepared with mastectomy recovery must-have items before you leave for the hospital will allow you to heal and recuperate in a far more comfortable way. However, it is important to realize that items alone will not suffice in supporting you through your recuperation.
Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for that all-important emotional support, encouragement, and hope, as well as any heavy lifting.
Should you have any further questions as a patient, or a loved one, don’t hesitate to contact the National Breast Cancer Foundation for support.
National Breast Cancer Foundation – Checklist for Recovery after Mastectomy - https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/blog/checklist-for-recovery-after-mastectomy/
Cancer.Org – Mastectomy: What to Expect - https://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/surgery/mastectomy/expectations
What Happens After Breast Surgery - https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/breast-cancer/treatment/surgery/after-surgery/what-happens-after-surgery