Updated: Jul 21
Scheduling the date of your surgery can be daunting. Depending on your treatment plan, you may have surgery before chemo, in other cases, you may have started out with neoadjuvant chemo and you are now entering the next phase, surgery. Either way, the surgery day is going to be a great day! It is the day the doctors literally remove the cancer from your body! This mindset put me at ease, my fear subsided and I was ready to get the cancerous tumor out of my body!
There are a lot of steps leading up to surgery that I am not going to get into today (future blog post coming) like choosing your surgeons, plastic surgeons, the type of reconstruction you will have if you choose to have reconstruction.... so stay tuned.
With surgery dates coming up for many in our community, I wanted to be sure to share some personal tips that I found helpful immediately following surgery.
I am sharing this from personal experiences and of course it should not be a substitute for professional medical advice.
As a reference point, I had a bilateral partial mastectomy, a full auxiliary node dissection on a Friday, I spent one night in the hospital, left with 3 drains (see video on how to clean drains) that Saturday, and by Sunday, I met my family for brunch in South Boston and was able to walk 5 miles.
(You know I wasn’t going to compromise my 10,000 step/day goal just because of a little cancer now did you?!)
What made the surgery experiment so pleasant?
Here are my tips:
1. Tons of Pillows! It was hard for me to sit up after lying down so I was sleeping in almost a reclined position as I didn’t have the chest muscle strength to get up. I splurged and got several of those pillows that are made from the beanbag material as they conform to the body and are very comfortable. I know Bed Bath and Beyond carry them along with Amazon etc. These pillows were also very comfortable to prop up between my arm and my side (kind of tucked in under the armpit area) as it was very sore for me to hold my arms directly by my side. These pillows were also a God-send any time I had to get in the car and travel to the doctors. Place it between the seatbelt and your chest so that the seatbelt doesn’t irritate the surgical sites.
2. Side note on Driving: The drive home from the hospital was terrible! Remind the person driving you home to drive slowly and avoid as many bumps and pot holes as possible! For me at least, the bumps and fast turns exaggerated any pain I was in day 1 leaving the hospital.
3. Pain management: I found it helpful to alternate between the oxycodone medicine the doctor prescribed and extra strength Tylenol. Each would last about 4 hours, so I would alternate between the two every two hours so that there was overlap and I wasn’t in strong discomfort in 4 hours when one med wore out. I even set an alarm in the middle of the night the first few nights so that the pain wouldn’t wake me up and I could try and rest as much as possible. This process worked well for me. Over the course of a week, I was no longer on the stronger pain meds and relying on Tylenol. However, if you are still in a lot of discomfort, don’t be shy to speak with your care team about how to manage your pain.
Another option that works well was the use of Ice Packs! Cold cooling compresses every 20 mins were very comforting. (A frozen bag of peas work great!)
4. Random Materials: Here’s a link to the shirts with Velcro!
They were amazing! You may not be able to raise your arms over your head and getting dressed may pose difficult. Therefore, investing in zip up shirts, button up shirts, or Velcro makes a world of difference.
I also love the below velcro shirts and apron from Heal 'n Comfort! I used the apron to hold my drains at night while I slept which gave me peace of mind that I wouldn't accidentally roll over onto one and have it's contents splatter everywhere. They were nice and safe in the pouch!
I recommend moving some of your clothes to a lower shelf in your closet so you won't have to reach high to get dressed in the morning. Same thing with the kitchen cabinets- I’m a huge coffee lover so I wanted to be sure I could still make coffee in the mornings and reach my favorite coffee mugs. Of course you can always ask a caregiver to reach and get things for you but I found that preparing in this way helped me feel independent and I’m sure helped with my healing (i.e, I was not hopeless, I could still do some normal daily activities which was important to me.
Before you leave the hospital, ask the doctors if they can give you a second (or third) Surgical Medical Bra just to have on hand. These medical bras tend to be pretty expensive so if the hospital can give you any extras, definitely be sure to ask!
If you end up having drains, I found that looping them onto a Lanyard string while showering was the easiest for me so the drains are not randomly hanging or tugging at the skin.
Lastly, the caregiving and support from family and friends was measurable and meant a lot. Let people know if you would like visitors or not. I know it was hard for me to tell people “no” so my caregiver played a huge role in this regard managing when people would visit, send flowers, or be the “bad cop” letting family and friends know they cannot visit today because I wasn’t feeling well and I needed to rest.
Your body has just undergone a major trauma and needs time to heal! Honor that process and thank your body for what it is able to do!
It is just over 1 year since my surgery and I continue to be amazed with how much flexibility and mobility I have. I continue to work on strength and every day I’m feeling better and better. We celebrate life after cancer!
For more motivation and inspiration on surviving breast cancer follow my IG @survivingbreastcancerorg and tag us in your photos so we can see how far you have come!