• Tips for preparing for after surgery

    Asked by Mamabear894 on Wednesday, April 17, 2013

    Tips for preparing for after surgery

    I am heading in for a bi-lateral mastectomy next week and would like to ask for some help from this community. What types of items and tips do people have that would help me through the time immediately after surgery and the days following. I have been able to find a few things that others have done, such as bringing a pillow to put between the seatbelt and me for the trip home. Anything else would be a great help. I really want to be as prepared as I can be but I know that every eventuality cannot be covered. Thank you in advance.

    20 Answers from the Community

    20 answers
    • karen1956's Avatar

      Button or zip up tops, comfy bottoms, extra pillows to sleep on as you'll be sleeping on your back. treat yourself to getting your hair washed at a place like fantasatic sams...that was the nicest thing I did after my surgery....at the time my hair was long and hard to wash in the sink!!! After the surgical bra comes off, get a sports bra that does up in the front....when I had my bilat, walmart had an inexpensive front hook sports bra that was comfy...you will be restricted on lifting so get smaller containers of milk, orange juice or other things that you normally buy in gallon bottles, get in quart size...keep a water bottle by your bed and have things in easy reach.....Wishing you an easy time and easy recovery with your surgery.....

      over 4 years ago
    • Mamabear894's Avatar

      Thank you Karen1956 for all the tips. I had been concerned about my hair since it is mid back length and extremely curly. So having it washed for me is a great tip.

      over 4 years ago
    • AlizaMLS's Avatar

      Hi Mamabear,

      I'm Aliza, a BC patient and the site's unofficial resident Medical Librarian (I have my MLS). I offer advice usually no medical (Librarians get into hassles offering medical advice as it's practicing medicine sans license). But I offer referrals to doctors, hospitals/institutions, agencies, etc. I also research when required/requested. So I think I'm more valuable in my professional capacity than I would be as just another cancer patient (no offense to anyone-I think you all do a great job!)

      I look at questions a bit differently than other folks here because of my training, so I'll give you my take (I'm also a Mastectomy patient). The day you go home (usually the day post surgery), you'll be on painkillers, probably Vicodin (so that you'll be fairly or very comfortable [or at least I was]). The moment you begin to feel pain,(they last for 6-8 hours {please check with your treating physician}]), you can take another. You should expect to go home with a companion, You should expect to have a hands on caregiver (if at all possible) for several days to a week following surgery. Someone to help you empty the Jackson Pratt drains which will fill with bloody fluid. You'll need to walk to the bathroom to do this and you'll be a little woozy from the Vicodin or Percoset or whatever pain meds they give you. I'm very fortunate as I live in the house I inherited from my mother [the house I grew up in] and the bathroom is handicapped accessible in that the shower has bars in it that you can grab if necessary and I needed to do just that.

      I found that I needed my caregiver to stay in with me while I showered for a while because I felt weak. I could not shave my legs or go through that whole routine. It was enough to wash my hair. I didn't have the strength to blow dry it. You can always go once a week to a beauty salon and have your hair washed and blown dry. You'll of course not be shaving your underarms nor applying deodorant for a bit, so wear some nice perfume instead (don't spray it on your underarms, but on your shoulders!...;) If you don't have family, i.e., a husband, or sister or daughter or mom, who can serve as your caregiver, contact your insurance co. to see what entitlements you have from them in terms of a home health care aide. If you bet outside help, and I advise everyone of this, pack up valuable items where they cannot be taken and put your jewelry in a bank fault. There have been too many stories about theft out there, even if the person is "bonded". You can also ask the social worker at your treating hospital to look into this for you.

      You will want to rest- a lot! One thing I bought which I found very helpful was a kind of tubular pillow from Gaiam. www.gaiamdotcom. They're online. It helped make certain that my fiancé would not bump into me accidentally and that I wouldn't roll over onto my side-my "usual or "normal" way of sleeping. You're going to want to sleep on your back for a good while.

      I do not know if you are going to have lymphedema, I didn't so I cannot speak to you about that from personal experience. My sentinel node was clear. My cancer had not spread beyond that, so I'm not the person to address lymphedema from a personal perspective.

      You will be very tired. That's normal. You're going through major surgery. You may have phantom pain, feeling shooting pains in your nipples (though they are not there). This too is normal. It is the nerves firing, in the same way as an amputee still feels pain in the limb that was amputated, I t will stop eventually. It's a strange feeling. Note it and let it pass. Don't get caught up in the emotions of it. It won't help you.

      I have a few more practical suggestions. Contact CancerCare if you haven't already. Their Social Workers are wonderful. It's great to be able to voice your concerns to someone in person. You also have the option of speaking to that person by phone. It's not like regular therapy. They're trained specifically to deal with the highly specialized needs of Cancer patients as well as their caregivers.

      Also contact The ACS. The phone number is on the right hand side of this page under the purple box. You should also click on the purple box for a listing of more resources that you might find helpful a this time.

      Another thought is if you're a member of a religious community to contact your clergyperson now. These communities often have "sunshine committees" which often through fellowship offer visits, make meals, etc. Your clergyperson too can visit from time to time as her/his schedule permits to offer comfort.

      If you have a large freezer or an extra one, it' a good idea to cook in advance and freeze some meals so your caregiver (if they're not a wiz in the kitchen) can just defrost and heat up something good). You can for example, make a macaroni and cheese casserole, bake it, cut it in squares and freeze these individually so they can be taken out unwrapped (if they[re in tin foil or plastic and nuked or heated in the oven.

      As long as you have faith in the surgeon you chose. your outcome should be good. You should check with your doctor about what Vitamins and Minerals to take afrter surgery, but one in particular, I'd recommend inquiring abou is CoQ10 (either a 100-200 mg dose daily). I take that. I'm not telling you to do that. I'm suggesting you ask your doctor about it. I started doing it recently and have noticed a huge difference in my energy level. I'm a Lupus patient as well as a BC patient.

      It's late and I must do some research of my own because I'll be seeing my oncologist tomorrow, but I hope I've helped you even a little. You'll be fine.

      A great book for you to read (what kind of Librarian would I be if I didn't recommend a book for you?!...;)) is one called "Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips by Kris Catt and Sheryl Crow. Kris Carr is an amazing young woman, an acress/writer who has the misfortune of being diagnosed with a slow growing stae IV cancer and must come to terms with living with cancer as a chronic illness. She's bright and vivacious and beautiful and all the thiings you don't associate with cancer patients and she surrounds herself with a cancer posse (other women in the same situation who also want to ive vivaciously). It's a remarkable book, and there's a sequel, but get it, a read it and let me know if you likred it (or not). I've been a public librarian of every stripe as well (a teacher too-every grade from K-college, so I have a knack for understanding people's interests).

      I wish you a safe surgery, a speedy recovery physically and emotionally-it's a big change you're going to go through, and that can't be discounted. I understand! If there's anything else that I can do for you now or after your surgery, please feel free to ask me by contacting me here or emailing me offsite.

      Warmest wishes,


      over 4 years ago
    • gwendolyn's Avatar

      Here's a post fom someone ho asked a I liar question a few months ago and she received a lot of practical tips:


      over 4 years ago
    • gwendolyn's Avatar

      Ugh. Autocorrect. Should say, "Here's a post from someone who asked a similar question..."

      over 4 years ago
    • Julie99's Avatar

      I'm glad Gwendolyn posted a link for when I asked this same question and I received SO many great answers that were really helpful. I had a water bottle with a built in straw and handle that I brought with me to the hospital with Powerade. It was really easy to just grab the bottle to get a drink. The pillow for the seatbelt is great too (sit in the back seat away from the airbag too!)

      I slept on a recliner for 2 weeks, arms propped up on pillows for the drainage, and had a small table next to me so anything I could want was right within easy reach.
      For the first few days, I slept ALL the time. I don't think I was awake for more than 2-3 hours at a time. My body was healing and it needed the rest.
      Karen's suggestions of smaller bottles is GREAT. Plus, think about keeping items on the counters. If plates or bowls are on a shelf, you'll need help EVERY time and that is frustrating.

      I knew I was going to need chemo too and that I would lose my hair with that. Because I could raise my arms to touch my head and needed help for everything, it was easier to cut my waist long hair before surgery. My boyfriend couldn't put it in a ponytail. I knew he couldn't take care of it for weeks for me. Cutting it short was SO hard, but I'm glad I did it before surgery. Then I colored it purple for me!

      Otherwise... think of things you do daily where you are reaching your arms or using your chest muscles. You won't be able to do that, so think about options. The first time I went shopping and opened my hatchback to put in bags, I stood in the parking lot and realized I couldn't reach up to close it! I had to ask a woman walking by in her 70's for help!! (she was so happy because she said she can never help anyone!)
      Even as stupid as the bathroom. Where is the toilet paper? Do you have to reach far? How low is the toilet? Do you use your arms to get up? (I bought the wipes which were SO much easier for me)
      Maybe practice getting up and down without pulling yourself, without using your arms or chest muscles.
      And the first time I was on the phone and just out of habit put it between my ear and went to lift my shoulder up to hold it... I SCREAMED out. WOW did that hurt! My shoulder didn't lift up like that.
      Also, the zip up tops from Karen... check out alittleeasierrecovery.org for what the Jacki Jackets look like. I don't sew but I wore the one I had out and needed to have more than one shirt. I went to Walmart, bought cheap flannel shirt, fabric and the iron on seam holder to make 2 more shirts with those pockets for the drains. I had 4 drains.
      OH! I got a hand held shower head too. I couldn't wait to shower. At least using the hand held, I felt like I could clean most of me, even when I wasn't allowed to go near the drains with water. There is no way I could have used a regular shower. And a bath? Moving was difficult and with the drains, I couldn't be helped or lifted with someone putting hands under my arms.

      Hope this helps! And BEST of luck. I got some much help on this site and I hope you do as well.

      over 4 years ago
    • Kossmore's Avatar

      Hi Momabear,

      So much good information already. Before the surgery, plan your drive home and take the smoothest roads. Pot holes mean either a bumby ride or swirving to avoid the wholes. You will need something to do while you heal, gather books, magazines or small movement crafts and have them close to you. Some people have brain fog when they start chemo or it can come because of the strong medicines. Keep a journal so you can write notes, appointments and anything else. You can use different colors of ink or highlighters for doctor appointments, treatments or any kind of reminders. To help fight brain fog you can take vitamin D-3, Omege 3, and also super B-complex vitamins. You should probably ask your doctor about these first before taking. Best wishes!

      over 4 years ago
    • Nonnie917's Avatar

      Have lots of pillows. I found that I could only sleep on my back so I had pillows for my knees to be comfortable there, pillows for my arms and a bed rest pillow (you can get at any medical supply place) this was helpful so I could sleep elevated because you will find it hard to lay flat to sleep. Hope this helps you? Oh and a round pillow to help support your neck. I would have never gotten comfortable without that. You can get the uncovered ones at Wal Mart and other stores will have them too. Good luck.

      over 4 years ago
    • GregP_WN's Avatar

      Here is a link to our guides page. you might find some helpful information there in the Lumpectomy/ Mastectomy page. http://bit.ly/10BQKCi

      over 4 years ago
    • Mel's Avatar

      Hi best of luck to you!!. :-)
      Yes pillow is good, alot of stretchy pants, button down or zip shirts/coats. If drains they gave me special bras my mom safety pin the drains to bottom of bra so they weren't dangling they were more beside me that was nice, um my mom also used Wet Ones when she drained me they say start at top and pull fluid down to the barrel part (lets say) it helped pull that through easilier. Put Wet One around top tube (next to skin) and just pull down made it more slicker than just using hand. Since I couldn't shower fully my mom took me to salon to get hair washed like every other day (hair was long and seemed get real greasy quick, maybe due to meds). I had to sleep on my couch cause I have one of those victorian high beds no way I could get up on that haa haa. Nice having a spill proof water bottle around also. And then it's just take it easy I got up to walk alot (not far) but not alot of lifting or anything that's for sure. Hmmm that's all I can think of right now....

      over 4 years ago
    • Ladykarla's Avatar

      I had a double mastectomy on February 25th. It lasted 5 1/2 hours. This is highly unusual by the way. I had four drains. I used five pillows packed around me to keep the drain tubes from moving. This helped me to sleep. Its likely you will not be allowed to raise your hands/arms above chest high and you will have a lifting restriction. Mine was a coke can's weight for a few weeks. My husband took a few vacation days to help me. Do not hesitate to ask for help from ANYBODY including the American Cancer Society. Complete strangers have come across my path and helped me. Right now this is about YOU. As always, as your doctors about what I have told you. Each of us is different. When you feel up to it, keep me posted. You go girl!!!

      over 4 years ago
    • HearMeRoar's Avatar

      Scarves - get them! There is a shower scarf you can put the drains in and one you can wear over your clothes - they were a life saver!! Not sure if you are getting tissue expanders or not. I found the genie bra from target to be really helpful to me as my boobs are rebuilt :)

      I had my bilat on 2-15. Was not nearly as bad as everyone made it out to be.

      Wishing you the best. - ROAR

      over 4 years ago
    • HearMeRoar's Avatar

      I never needed help to the bathroom or a "care giver" to do much for me. I just had to add that for some reason. Maybe it's because I don't like being taken care of - or because I'm proud that I didn't need help LOL. That's all.

      over 4 years ago
    • Grandy's Avatar

      Oo, oo, oo, I'm RIGHT behind you. Surgery is scheduled for May 3rd.

      Only things that have been suggested to me is to have a shower stool to sit on, and a handheld shower head. And different things we might use to hold the drainage thingies during the first bathing.

      AND to accept ANY help that others offer you.

      over 4 years ago
    • Julie99's Avatar

      I forgot to include one other thing. You won't be able to shave for a few weeks. I wish I had gone for a wax under my arms before my surgery.

      over 4 years ago
    • Bullhead12's Avatar

      I had my bilat15 months ago. I knew I had previously had a problem with the pain killers and so I asked for an anti-nausea medication. If you don't know if you have a problem, it might be best to have them on hand. Throwing up is not a pleasant experience at any time but would be horrific after a bilat. I was not allowed to shower at all, even with a hand held shower head for the 1st month until the drains were removed. I was only allowed sponge baths. You might want to check with your phy. before hand. I purchased white towels so they could be bleached. I spent alot of time in my recliner, including nights. Although I got up and tried to move around quite a bit, I developed painful muscle spasms in my back. PILLOWS ARE A MUST! I carried two in the car for months. As I had DCIS that was not invasive, I had implants placed immediately after surgery with the understanding that if my path report came back positive they would have to be removed to do radiation. Luckily, the path report was negative so I also didn't require radiation or chemo. Thus I was in a surgical bra when I came out of surgery. I used baby diaper pins to pin them to the bra to keep them from dangling. Make sure you get bras that hook in the front as it will be a while before you can hook them in the back. Button down shirts, nothing over the head. I bought PJ's that were two sizes larger than normal to give me room and to keep them from resting on my chest. Cooked food and froze ahead of time to make it easier. Soup for the first couple of days is my suggestion as you may not feel like eating much. Make sure you have plenty of liquids - don't get dehydrated. My husband, a cancer survivor himself, was my caregiver so I was lucky to have someone around 24/7 to help me. He washed my hair and helped me wash until I could do it myself. My surgery and recovery were not as difficult as I had been expecting. I won't say it was easy but I guess I was lucky and had no complications. I will tell you that it was almost a year before I could lift heavier items and not be sore for a few days. Wishing you luck with your surgery and a speedy recovery.

      over 4 years ago
    • MillieS's Avatar

      I would suggest logging on to TLC.com/breast cancer and ordering a post surgery belt with drain pockets. And if your surgeon would order you a post surgery compression bra it would be a lot easier than the elastic wraps. Be sure to journal daily, any changes and feelings, fears or symptoms take this with you every time to your Dr. Appointments. You will tend to forget things that you wanted to talk about. Go your drug store and buy disposable gloves and masks. You don't want to wait until someone in the household gets sick to worry about this. The gloves will be good for when you handle fresh produce and raw meat. Get a easy read digital thermometer to record your daily temperature. Most important, gather about you inspirational things that will give you the will to keep fighting. I had a bilateral so I know your journey. Stay strong , stay positive, and stay connected. We are all here for you. Hugs and prayers. Keep us informed.

      over 4 years ago
    • Mamabear894's Avatar

      Thank you to everyone for the great tips, ideas and sharing of your experiences. I feel alot more prepared and I know this weekend I will be busy preparing my house with all these great ideas.

      over 4 years ago
    • Benge's Avatar

      So sorry you have to go through this all too!!
      Everybody had great tips. The hardest thing for me as for a lot of us women, is ask for help. A nurse told me to ask, it actually makes your loved ones feel good to be able to do something for you.
      I bought button up shirts, but end up wearing my son's zip up hoodies because it was easier to zip up then button all the buttons. Soft fabrics like fleece and flannel was a lifesaver for me. I couldn't stand anything scratchy. Move things you need to eye level, you won't be able to reach up for a little while.
      I was able to shower myself and bought 2 of these belts, one for showering and one for during the day. I loved them.
      Best of luck and I sent a prayer for you!!

      over 4 years ago
    • Johnny13's Avatar

      The beat thing I did after my vi-lateral mastectomy was to get a referral to a physical therapist.

      over 4 years ago

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