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How to Prepare For Your Mastectomy – 12 Tips

How to prepare for your mastectomy — 12 tips.

It’s been over a decade 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 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 Dear Hubby and me if we would like a prayer said, the seriousness of the situation 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. 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.

How to Prepare for Your Mastectomy – 12 Tips

1.  Once you’ve made the decision to have a mastectomy, you might next be asked to consider reconstruction options.

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. This is about you.

 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 as much as possible.

 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; cry, scream. Repeat. Also, recognize this grieving doesn’t necessarily have an end date.

  4.  Stock your freezer and your pantry.

No need to say more, right?

 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.

For another option to manage the dreaded drains, you might want to read:  The Prody™ Drainage Bulb Holder II – the best solution for dealing with those dreaded post-surgery JP drains!

 7.  Pillow. Pillows. Pillows! 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. Having extra pillows on hand to support your arms/legs/whatever can help make you more comfortable.

 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.

I slept on my blue, leather sofa for weeks. And be prepared to give up your used-to-be favorite sleeping position, maybe even for good. My favorite sleeping position used to be on my stomach. Sadly, nights sleeping in that position are over.

 9.  When shopping, pick up some button-down pjs plus, a few blouses/tops that will make getting dressed and undressed easier for a while. If you prefer over-the-head tops, be sure to have some extra roomy ones on hand.

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 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 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.

It’s worth saying again, 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. Sometimes a lot longer.

So be kind, patient and gentle with yourself.

You deserve nothing less, especially now.

Finally, remember we all do what we must, and you will too.

You can do this. 

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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 in my memoir, Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person.

 

 

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Monica

Tuesday 8th of June 2021

I found a website that helped me a lot. Breastcancer.org. I also wasnt on the "Express Train" for my "Journey". Seems I was on the "Scenic Route" LOL! It took me almost 3 years til I was finished and got my Squishies.

One thing before surgery, if you have trouble using yourlegs, (i had very bad knees, and had planned on a long needed knee replacement when my cancer was found)try to practice getting out of your chair without using your arms. You are not supposed to use your arms to pull after surgery, so its a struggle. For the weeks I was on heavy pain pills, I found a cushioned dining chair was the most comfortable seat I could get up and out of by myself. Also, count me in as a recliner sleeper! I was always a side sleeper, but ut was a long time before I could go back to it. To those going through it now, many hugs, and fast healing, and a ride on the Express Train to wellness!

Nancy

Monday 14th of June 2021

Monica, Breastcancer.org was the fist website I turned to when my mother was diagnosed and then when I was as well. Your tip about working on getting your legs stronger before surgery is a really good one. I worked on this before my recent DIEP surgery and I think it really made a difference. And yes, sleeping in a recliner is something many recommend. Thank you for sharing your tip!

Carolina

Monday 3rd of December 2018

Thank you for writing this, Nancy ❤️ Thank you ❤️

Nancy

Tuesday 4th of December 2018

Carolina, You're very welcome.

Barb Urbank

Friday 10th of August 2018

I only had my left breast removed, and I had to have my chemo first, so I had about four months to think about it and come to terms. I just wanted it off my body, did not want reconstuction. I too had the dye for the sentinel nodes, that I didn't know about ahead of time. I was surprised I felt as good as I did after the surgery, believe it or not! One thing about drain tubes and those little bottles, I didn't like pinning and unpinning them every time I used the bathroom so I crocheted a little pouch with soft yarn and a long strap I hung over my left shoulder. I found wearing a snug undershirt or cami helped hold it in place against my body. I had to wear one tube three weeks so it made it easier.

Nancy

Thursday 16th of August 2018

Barb, Interesting that you said you "only" had your left breast removed. That's hard enough! I like how you came up with your own solution for the drains. Of course, it helps that you crochet! Thank you for sharing.

Mary

Wednesday 27th of December 2017

I am scheduled for bilateral mast. Jan. 15TH. I have low stage DCIS, have a sister who had breast cancer with chemo and mast. and now have a daughter with stage 2 BC. They did not find my DCIS with a mammogram, ultra sound or MRI. I had a discharge and asked for a biopsy due to the family history. There is no genetic link.

I also have severe allergies to chemicals (chemically sensitive) and I decided not to do radiation on the left breast and did not want to take the anti hormone drug. I am 70 yrs. old, high energy and feel young and am looking at quality of life. That is why I am opting for the bi lateral. Very anxious about this, I love pretty clothes and just hate the thought of what I will look like after this. I am not going to have reconstruction because of my chemical allergies. I have read and read, and hope i am making the right decision.

Denise Butler

Thursday 17th of August 2017

My Name is Denise. I am diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. I have decided to have a mastectomy. I need to do genetic testing first because if the results states that I have the cancer gene, both of my breast will be removed but if no cancer gene, in getting one breast removed. In anxious nervous and exited but I am definitely motivated to fight this cancer out of my body.

Nancy

Thursday 17th of August 2017

Denise, You are facing a lot right now and will be making some huge decisions. At times it can be quite overwhelming, so of course, you're feeling anxious and nervous. Who wouldn't be? Take time to think things over carefully, ask tons of questions and make decisions you feel are best for you. You're not alone. My best to you.

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