So, I have listed the items I found invaluable. (This will come in handy if you are looking for yourself, too.)
In the interests of full disclosure - if you click the links in this page and buy any of these items I recommended, I get 4% in referral fees.
Hey, don't fault me, I have cancer, and I'm not working.
- Neck donut pillow. Whether she'll have expanders or not, she'll have to sleep sitting up for a bit. No matter how well she props herself up, that neck just seems to get strained, and this donut pillow will help. When she doesn't need it for her neck anymore, (I'm 17 days post-surgery and I still do) she can use it to prop her arm, especially if she'd had a sentinal node biopsy or axillary dissection. One day I wrapped it around my side so my arm wouldn't rest against the axillary incisions.
- General pillows, and lots of them, including a wedge one for stomach sleepers. (She can't really sleep on her stomach - give that one up - but eventually she'll want to support yourself in way that is not on her back - a wedge can help.) The first few days, she can barely move. She'll need pillows for under her knees, for her back, small ones for her armpit and back - oh, just pillows, pillows everywhere! Any place she needs to be, she'll need pillows. You can't have too many.
Here is a resource for breast cancer patients to get a free heart shaped pillow: www.fillaheart.org. They do good work.
- iPhone/iTouch (or MP3 player) Okay, I realize an iPhone isn't a "run to the store and grab it" item. But, it was essential for me. In the hospital I put in my headphones listened to my "Ambiance" app - I chose the Pacific Ocean, which drowned out the hospital noises, (including my roommates 24/7 Home Shopping addiction) and soothed me enough so I could sleep. I had rented a movie through iTunes to watch. I could email and facebook and surf the net without lifting anything heavy. Oh, and it's a phone, so I could call people. With the kindle app, I could read a book. If you are bringing it to the hospital, buy an extra charger as the cable won't be long enough to reach your bed.
If you don't have or want an iPhone, you can buy an inexpensive MP3 player. Listening to music or downloadable audiobooks can also be very relaxing. I also have a Sansa player and it would work fine for those purposes.
- Lip Balm. I'm not sure why - hospital air, medication or just not enough drinking - but lips get dry
- Men's Wife Beater shirts. You can step into them, they go over your bandages easily, and they are really handy for pinning drains to. And, who cares if you make holes? I lived in mine for a week.
- Kindle. Okay, this is another item you won't just grab and go. But, if your mastectomy candidate has been thinking about getting one, now is the best time. After surgery, and especially after reconstruction,, she can't do much but read or watch TV. We all know how I feel about daytime TV, so I won't be recommending it. With a kindle, you can read a book, download the next one in seconds, right from your pillow-laden bed. I love mine. I read three books the first two days. Took my mind off my discomfort and I never had to move. And, if she will be having chemo - that's going to be a lot of time in infusion rooms, and in bed. If she's having herceptin, that is a year of treatment. It will get some use. If a kindle isn't in the budget, a book might be welcome. Keep it light, and no breast cancer books! If she's a reader, she's read plenty about cancer. Recovering from surgery is the time to take your mind off it for a bit. I read Kathryn Stockett's, "The Help" and thought it was great.
- Food She won't be able to lift anything for a while. Months, if she had expanders placed. So, casseroles (in aluminum containers) will come in very handy. Glass is heavy, as I discovered. Who knew? Food is one of the things I appreciated most. My husband is a great guy, but lord, that man can't cook and you can only eat so much hamburger helper before you wish the cancer had actually killed you. Thank goodness for my coworkers who brought me real food.
- Thank you cards. People will send flowers and little gifts. It's nice to have some cards right there so she can address them and mail them quickly. I have some lovely ones. Haven't mailed any yet though. Maybe you should also offer to write them and mail them, if you have a well-intentioned but mail-phobic friend like me.
- Easy-on clothing. After surgery there is more swelling than you might think. Even my stomach was swollen and I'm not sure I want to know what they did to me to cause that. You can't put jeans on, and you can't button them if you did. PJs are great at home but you will have lots of doctors appointments and have to get dressed for them. While pajamas are now common in the grocery store, I've yet to see anybody wearing them to the plastic surgeon's office. I went to Nordstrom Rack and bought myself some Juicy Couture sweats. I'd always wanted some, and I figured, now is the time. They are soft, comfortable and don't shrink in the wash. Button/zip up shirts are the kind you'll need - baggy enough to hide drains (and lack of breasts).
- Spanx Bra-llelujah All Hosiery Bra. After the drains are out, after the bandages are off, before any reconstruction begins she'll need a soft bra, especially if she had a single mastectomy like me. I found that Spanx Bra-lleluja is exactly what the doctor ordered. I get support for my remaining side, I can pad the empty side, there are no closures so no reaching around - it's stretchy so you can step into it. It's not binding anywhere so it won't cause any discomfort on broken nerve endings. They also have enough flexibility so they can be worn during size changes during reconstruction. They should market these things to mastectomy patients, you hear me Sarah?
Other suggestions: Medication bottles need to be the non child-proof variety. I still can't open bottles almost 3 weeks out. You don't want to hand your young child your vicodin bottle and say, "Can you open this for Mommy?" so make sure you get easy-open ones. All those pillows I talked about? You'll need one in the car for the ride home. Ouch!
I hope this helps. A nice gift for somebody you are not close enough to buy a bra for, or if you aren't rich enough to buy a kindle for would be a little gift basket of snacks, a book, some lip balm, some wet wipes, (many doctors do not let you shower with drains in) and some dry shampoo, in case she can't wash her hair. Bring a chick flick DVD, a casserole and watch a movie with your friend.
Of course, the best gift you can give - is you.
Now, start shopping!