It’s now been three years since my bilateral mastectomy. It still sometimes feels like a bad dream and seeing my own reflection in the mirror sometimes still startles me and always reminds me. Before my bilateral I felt very unprepared.
How does a woman prepare for a mastectomy anyway?
Is it even possible to prepare for such a thing?
Well, yes and no.
As with most things, even the awful stuff, it’s sometimes helpful to get the advice and perspectives from someone else who’s been there.
Despite the fact that this type of surgery is becoming more commonplace, it is major surgery and this fact should never be downplayed.
When a hospital chaplain popped into my room before my bilateral and asked hubby and me if we would like a prayer said, the seriousness of the situation really hit home. Interestingly, no chaplain showed up for any of my other surgeries.
Before my bilateral, I sometimes found it difficult to keep my imagination in check. I can honestly say, following my surgery I was somewhat pleasantly surprised, huge emphasis on the somewhat. I had expected things to look worse. That’s something we women are pretty darn good at doing, imaging the worst, so try not to do that. This is easier said than done I know.
Keep in mind my tips are for the individual who has already made the decision to have a mastectomy of any kind and due to any reason, prophylactic or otherwise. This list is certainly not all inclusive, but I’m hoping these tips help a little. Sometimes a little turns out to be a lot.
1. Once you’ve made the decision to have a mastectomy, you might next be asked to consider reconstruction options. It’s worth saying here that no woman should ever feel pressured to choose reconstruction. Some women choose it. Some do not. Some wait a while. Never choose it unless it’s something you truly want to do.
2. If you do choose reconstruction, be sure to research all options. Do not choose based on what the plastic surgeon sitting in front of you has experience doing. Your needs might be best met elsewhere. Get a second opinion if at all possible. And of course, ask questions over and over until you understand things.
3. Allow yourself time to grieve for your breasts. And yes, we can and do grieve for body parts we must give up, including breasts. Parting with them is a huge deal not only physically, but emotionally as well. So go ahead and have a good cry.
4. Stock your freezer and your pantry. No need to say more.
5. Clean your house before hand if you can and feel up to it. If cleaning your whole house feels too daunting, clean most thoroughly the rooms you will be resting/sleeping in most of the time. This way you won’t be as annoyed about all those dust bunnies and such while trying to rest.
6. Buy yourself an undergarment with pockets specially made to hold the infamous drain tubes. A prescription might be in order if you wish to have your insurance cover the cost, so be sure to ask for one. These garments are expensive, but well worth it. If you can sew (I cannot), you can possibly create your own.
7. Shop for a comfortable pillow as you’ll probably be sleeping on your back for quite some time. I splurged and bought a really pricey one, well, compared to what I was used to it was pricey.
8. While we’re on the topic of sleep, pick out an alternative spot where you think you might feel comfortable sleeping as your own bed might not work for a while. Having extra pillows on hand to support your arms/legs/whatever can help make you more comfortable.
9. While shopping also pick up some button down pjs plus, a few blouses/tops that will make dressing and undressing easier for a while. Also, some packaged cleansing towelettes are nice, especially the ones you can warm up in your microwave before using. Generally, no showering is allowed for the first week or two.
10. Take photos of your original breasts. This is one thing I do regret not doing. It’s nice to have a photo to look at later on just in case you might wish to. It helps with the grieving process. Also, on a practical note, a photo can help you pick out the best positioning for nipples and later on the best color for tattooing if you choose to do either of these things. My plastic surgeon took before and after photos, but so far I haven’t asked for them. Maybe someday I will. It’s just easier to take your own.
11. Obviously your body image is going to be drastically altered, so open communication is an absolute must. Communicate your true feelings/fears to your partner if you have one, but first admit them to yourself. Consider keeping a journal where you can really let it all out.
12. Seek some professional help if you think you need extra support and guidance. Online support from others who’ve been there is wonderful as well and is readily available.
Finally, it’s worth saying again that this is major surgery. The impact of it all probably won’t hit until sometime after it’s all over.
Remember physical healing takes time. Emotional healing takes even longer.
So be kind, patient and gentle with yourself.
You deserve nothing less, especially now.
Do you have suggestions (links welcome) to share about preparing for a mastectomy?
If your partner has had breast surgery of any kind, do you have tips that might help other partners?
If you are facing a mastectomy soon, what do you want to know?
Read more about preparing for your mastectomy in my ebook available only at Nancy’s Point.