The practical bits
I don’t think there is a whole lot someone can tell you to do to help you mentally prepare yourself for a mastectomy. Like I said in my last post, until you have actually been through the experience you will never know what it’s like, how it makes you feel or what it will take for you to be able to come to terms with it and accept it.
That being said, there are a few things that you will need following your surgery, and some things you can do to help make your recovery a bit easier. It is worth noting here that I didn’t have drains after my mastectomy whereas I know a lot of people do… my recommendations are based on my own surgery.
THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOUR OP
Clear out your wardrobe! Sounds a bit superficial, but it really helped me. I went through absolutely everything and made 2 piles - things that I knew I would never want to wear again due to scarring etc (low cut, low sides etc), things that I knew I wouldn’t be able to wear after my op but that I thought I would want to wear after my reconstruction down the line (like backless dresses, tight fitting tops, cami tops, v-necks etc) and things that I knew I would feel comfortable in for the foreseeable (loose fitting clothes, shirts, high necks etc) I kept. The stuff I was getting rid off went in bags for a clothes swap I did to raise money for Weston Park, and the bits I thought I would wear again post reconstruction went in the loft.
Cleaning - give your house a deep clean, and organise help with your cleaning for the next few weeks. You will be sore and tired, the last thing you will feel up to doing is hoovering.
Batch cook - Fill your freezer with easy, healthy and nutritious meals so you can just grab something quick when you don’t feel like preparing anything. I made an amazing immune boosting chicken noodle soup, there was so much that I filled about 10 tuppawares - I’ll share the recipe in another post.
Organise care - my family and friends were amazing. I had someone with me nearly all day every day for the first week after surgery which was a massive help. Fetching me drinks, food, keeping the house tidy etc (make sure you ask the right people - if you won’t feel comfortable napping while they are there, ask someone else, you will need to sleep)
If you live alone or have no family and friend close by to help you out, move everyday items to waist height before you go in to hospital. Things like cups, plates, clothes etc.
Shave! - You won’t be able to shave under your arm(s) for a while due to range of movement and also infection risk. In fact if you are having your lymph nodes removed you won’t actually be able to use a blade razor again due to infection risk if you cut yourself so it’s probably worth investing in a decent electric razor. Also, shaving your legs before surgery is a good idea as you will struggle to reach a bit in the weeks after.
WHAT TO PACK IN YOUR HOSPITAL BAG -
Hand sanitiser & face masks - for obvious reasons
Pyjamas - something with a button down top like THESE are beautiful! A nice set of pj's will make you feel a whole lot better about the world
Snacks and comfort food for after anaesthetic - (I took chocolate digestive biscuits and salt and vinegar crisps!)
Lip balm - your lips will be super dry after surgery
Underwear - it will feel like heaven putting a pair of your own pants on after the surgical ones
Deodorant/ deodorant wipes - I wanted to freshen up before leaving. Check with your surgeon before using deodorant straight away as some advise against it.
Slip on shoes - you won’t want to pull anything too hard or have to reach down to do your laces!
Something comfy and loose to wear home - I didn’t want to mess about changing so I travelled home in my pjs but if you’re not comfortable doing that, take a pair of really comfy bottoms (I love THESE and lived in very similar ones after my op) and a button down top, or something very loose fitting that someone will be able to help pull over your head
Face wipes (I took baby wipes as well in case I wanted to freshen up)
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Bottles of water - take lots with you if you’re not a fan of room temperature tap water!
Chewing gum - especially useful if the anaesthetic makes you barf.
Phone charger - you probably won’t feel like using your phone much but it’s handy to keep it charges up just in case you need to call family etc or if you want to listen to music
Extension cable - to plug your phone charger in so you can reach it!
Pen and paper - helpful if you want to scribble down any advice from the care team that you don’t want to forget!
I packed an extra bag just in case I had to stay the night (I didn't) and left it in the car -
Flip flops for shower
Kindle (or a book, magazine, etc)
I also packed an extra small bag for Matthew -
Cash for food/ parking
Snacks (he isn’t great on an empty stomach!)
THINGS YOU WILL NEED AFTER SURGERY -
Post surgery bra - (the hospital should give you a softie to wear until you get a proper prosthetic) I bought THIS one after trying a couple of others that I didn't get on with. I found the Theya bra so comfortable.
Comfy clothes - you will have limited movement so things like loose fitting tops, and button down shirts are great. Cardigans are great for layers, you don’t want to be pulling tops on and off over your head. Joggers and other comfy trousers or skirts (nothing that you are going to have to use strength to pull up and down or fiddly fasteners etc, I bought some cashmere loungewear from the White Company which I practically lived in for weeks, it was so comfy)
Pyjamas - you will spend a lot of time curled up on the sofa for the first few days so you might as well make the most of it in your pjs! I love THESE Desmond and Dempsey are definitely an investment but in my opinion worth every penny. I love mine so much, and the button down top will come in handy those first few weeks. Size up for a looser, comfier fit!
THINGS YOU WILL NEED TO DO AFTER SURGERY -
Sleep - your body heals when you’re asleep and you will have just gone through a massive physical challenge, you need to rest to recover
Be selfish - accept help where you need it and from the people who you know will not be offended if you just want to rest and sleep while they are there
Move - use your arm(s) as much as possible. Do your exercises (you should get a leaflet from your care team) and make sure you are trying to use your arms as much as possible to reduce the risk of further complications down the line. Get out for a walk as soon as you can, I went every day from the day after surgery to get some fresh air and keep moving. It is scientifically proven that even the most gentle form of exercise helps recovery!
If you’re struggling coming to terms with everything, ask for help. Your consultant or breast nurse should offer you access to mental health support if you want it.