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"If Ya Don't Know, Now Ya Know" - A Guide to What Is Needed Post-Mastectomy

Metastatic breast cancer patient, Andy Sealy

Andy Sealy was diagnosed with breast cancer on January 24, 2017. Here, she shares the list of items that got her through recovery after her surgical mastectomy and why they were so helpful. Andy includes links to many items; the specific brands and stores are ones of her choosing and are not endorsed by Penn Medicine.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had NO IDEA what I would be facing. Of course you hear “CANCER” and, at least for me, my mind just chose not to accept it. All I could think was "I'm going to beat this." But there is so much more that I did not know.

I quickly made the decision to have a double mastectomy. For me, it was a no-brainer. I wanted the invader, if you will, removed from my body. But then I began to think about all of the other details, like what would I need AFTER my surgery? I hadn't the faintest idea! So, like anyone these days, I googled. And what I discovered was there was no checklist for what you need to be prepared for post-surgery.

After my surgery, it was beautiful coming home and having flowers show up at my door. It made me feel surrounded by love, as did all of the inspiring words, gifts, etc. that friends and family so kindly gifted me.

However, I have one friend who knew exactly what I needed and literally purchased every item that I had NEVER even thought of. You see, she is the Director of Nursing for a plastic surgeon in Philadelphia, so she understood the effect that this surgery would have on daily tasks. I am so grateful to have her in my life. She came over the day before my surgery, along with many of my best friends and family, and told me that she was staying with me over the next four days.

It could be said of me that I am a very proud woman. I swore I wouldn't need much help and fought her support a bit, but she was adamant, as was everyone who pitched in to get me through post-surgery. She and my other friends and family did so much for me: They kept me company, showered me, cleared my drains, fed me, and more.

This all got me to thinking - What would I have done had I not had all of them in my life? Of course I would have managed, but why am I not sharing this priceless information with other women going through the same procedure? So...here it is! My personal list of items that I found most helpful after my mastectomy:

Most Important Items to Have Post-Mastectomy

  • Drain lanyard for shower - Once surgery is completed, you will most likely have drains that are coming out of your body and being held in place with stitches. You will need this lanyard to ensure that you can shower with less worry about the drains dangling.
  • Mastectomy pillow - THIS WAS MY FAVORITE ITEM! I cannot recommend this enough. It is a pillow that goes underneath the arms and over the breast area to protect your new incision(s), and it will make you feel more secure when hugging people. I purchased mine on Etsy and actually still use it, but now I keep it under my back at night.
  • Shower seat - I had no idea how weak I would be after surgery. Having the shower seat proved to be so helpful, so I could just sit in the shower and relax. I still use this as well (comes in handy sometimes).
  • Detachable shower head - Another item that I never thought of. Yes, I could have just used a regular shower head, but having this detachable one post-surgery definitely made a world of difference. I regained some independence after a few days, so I was able to sit and shower on my own since the shower head was left hanging down for me.
  • Front closure bra with wide compression - Having a compression bra was necessary, as it helps to reduce swelling. It can, however, become very tight, so follow your surgeon’s instructions for it.
  • Wedge pillow - I’m not sure about you, but I know that I love laying on my couch. Having a wedge pillow made propping up a bit easier (on the couch or even in bed). You have to remember - your chest will be very heavy once you begin your expansion process, so this item was clutch!
  • Mastectomy drain jacket - All I could think about was how I was going to hide my drains. I purchased large safety pins to attach them to the inside of my zip-up cotton jackets. That worked fine and is absolutely an option. But, finding a jacket with inside pockets was the way to go! I purchased one at a local store, but they can be found anywhere. I was also gifted a jacket that is fleece and has the inside pockets, as well as zippers for potential ports or IVs, so I will always stay warm.
  • Cotton camis - I wore a cami with a built-in bra EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I would step into it and then pull it up over my body, ensuring that I did not have to lift my arms.

Additional Post-Mastectomy Items

  • 4x4 gauze - You will need gauze to protect your scars and your drain areas, so buy some to have handy.
  • Drainage cups - Most likely your doctor will provide you with these. Having them made measuring my output that much easier. (You have to keep track of how much fluid is draining every few hours.)
  • Large safety pins - These are helpful if you decide you would rather pin your drains to your button-down shirts or jackets.

If sore throat occurs (due to the tube used to help you breathe during surgery):

  • Throat lozenges
  • Throat-numbing spray
  • Tea with honey
  • Popsicles

I encourage you to refer to this list if you have an upcoming surgery or if you have a friend or loved one that is about to go through a mastectomy. It is a daunting process, and my hope is to make things a little bit easier for at least one person.

Feel free to contact me if you would like more specific information on any of the products above. I can be reached at andreasealy24@gmail.com.

About This Blog

The Focus on Cancer blog discusses a variety of cancer-related topics, including treatment advances, research efforts and clinical trials, nutrition, support groups, survivorship and patient stories.

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