Saturday, November 7, 2009

What to buy for the Mastectomy Patient

As much as I hate to be practical - and oh, I really, really do - I thought I'd do a sarcasm-free blog post. People are always asking what to give their loved one who is having a mastectomy.

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:  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!



  1. if you get sick of pinning your drains to your clothes, another trick I used and preferred was to get 2 ace bandages and wrap them around my waist - not too tight but just snug enough - and then I'd tuck the drains into the folds of the bandages - that way I could quickly and easily access them and drain them and put them back without worrying about poking myself with pins and could reposition them if I switched positions while sitting or laying down. :)

  2. It's been 10 years for me...yet, it seems like yesterday. Also, I'm a double (but separately). Anyway, whenever I hear of anyone in the same position, the very first item I recommend is get a hand-held shower nozzle. This will help for getting your hair washed (heaven) and general cleaning (you know what I mean). I had ten surgeries in a 2-year period (reconstructions failed) and that partial shower was wonderful. Second, keep telling yourself that it will get better, you don't know when, but it will. And, keep drinking that water (to flush out the anesthetics. Oh yea, try to get off the pain pills as soon as you can and stock up on stool softeners (my surgeon failed to tell me...what did I know? having never needed them). And sign up for Amoena (breast care site).

  3. Awesome AND practical! Great suggestions and have used most all of them! I'm a big fan of the 'Backrest' pillow myself. But the most helpful item for me immediately after surgery was a labor & delivery band to tuck those drains in for 2 wks! Highly recommend it!

  4. I am a double at sep times. The first I was home next day. Just one drain. I wore hubby's shirt inside out and put drain in the pocket.
    Second time round was a tram flap prophalala second mast. I was laid up in hosp for 6 days. Catheterized for many of them. Here are a couple of things that I needed on both occasions.
    While I couldn't get out of bed the second time those little crest wispy dingle use toothbrushes were invaluable. Also gum or mints. Your mouth tastes like butt after a while. When I came home here were things that eased my life:
    A cheapy battery toothbrush.
    Baby wipes for everywhere.
    Facial wet wipes.
    Good luck keep your chin up, that way you won't notice your weird body.
    Zombies are "in" so ladies, we have them all beat at halloween.

  5. The part about the medicine bottles is really important - drove me crazy! I could not have opened the damn things if my life depended on it...ha, ha :/
    Also, fruit of the loom has great 3-pack cotton sports bras with front closing @ $10-ish... No need to spend big money until you know what size you'll be at the "end" of all of this.
    Prepare for your surgery and keep things you use every day at an easy-to-get to place. Clothes, books, TV remote, phone, glasses... For the first few days or week, you can't open a heavy drawer or cupboard, you can't reach anywhere.

  6. Ha! Two weeks post bilateral mx, just yesterday asked my eight year old to open the bottle of pain meds.

  7. Just found out I will be having a double. Your hints are great. thanks so much, I hope I am as brave as you all sound.

  8. Had bilateral with reconstruction in Jan, currently still have expanders (yippee)...I found the good old fashioned sweat jackets served as a wonderful shirt for the six weeks that I had 4 drains in (good times)...they were easier to put on since i couldnt lift my arms over my head to put on a real shirt and warm and drains were able to rest on the inside of the jacket if i folded the bottom under:) Still wearing my postop surgical bras for support, they are way more comfortable than any sport bra or real bra right now while I still have my expanders in...PS--the hoods on the sweat jackets come in handy for bald heads when your hair falls out from chemo--im wig free!

  9. Your neck pillow thing saved me post-op (bilateral skin/nipple sparing mastectomy with direct to implant reconstruction/sentinel node biopsy). I recommend for your neck, one for each arm, they work weeks out for support between breasts when trying to learn to lay on your side again, as lap top props, etc.


    -the first bra I used/am using is a Coobie bra. Cheap (see Amazon), soft, not size specific and no irritating lace, etc. VERY lightly padded but felt like armor/safety

    -A water bottle that opens easily! Nalgene makes a one handed opening water bottle for climbers and now happily used by me. Great after my separate lymph node dissection.

    -hint: most pharmacies can give you a baggie of pop tops for replace your child proof bottles. WIsh I had seen THAT 7 year old, turns out, is great at opening childproof lids. Good to know.

    -If you have implants/TE placed under the muscle, ask for valium! It is fairly new, common practice at Yale, and decreases the need for narcotics a ton. It isn't to make you feel relaxed, it IS to relax your spasming chest muscles.

    -Flushable wipes for wiping oneself. Smidge tricky for a few days. Ahem.

    -A small table next to your bed at home with a little bowl on it: my babysitter of the moment (usually my mom) would put out my night meds, a small baggy of saltines, and my water bottle at bedtime. That way, if I woke up at 4 am with pain I could handle it myself, immediately. Also, we kept a pad of paper and a pen to record medication times since apparently they took out my brain cells for awhile with the breast tissue

    -a few small binder clips (office supply store). We used these to secure cords to in my phone charger to the hospital bed, Kindle charger, laptop cord at home...because if you lose a charger, there is no dangling over the edge to scoop it up

    -if you or someone you know loves to sew: a few of those wrap tops that are popular or even a hoodie and some knit material can make a comfy top if you sew in simple drain pockets. A smart and kind friend made me 2 cute tops form wraps at TJ Maxx and I used them when we went out to distract from my sexy pallor.

  10. I can't even begin to express how wonderful it was that my friends & family kept my kitchen full of groceries and warm and eat meals. I felt comforted by knowing my family was well fed and that my husband had one less chore.

  11. Wow, what enlightening posts; I am scheduled for a double, skin sparing, and sentinel node biopsy on the 14th of November, 2013. I think I have underestimated the post op experience. I would hate to have found out all of this the hard way! I never even thought about the med. bottle caps. I can't thank you all enough for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences.

  12. How are you all feeling friends rather brave mom is going to have dbl mas nect week...need to know how are you people feeling now?
    Much appreciated....informative blog!

  13. I'm a husband. My wife is about to have a double with reconstruction. Found this forum via Google search looking for a final list of things I need to make sure she has to be as comfortable as possible post-op. Want to thank you all for your sharing your personal experiences...will greatly help me as I (try) to help my wife through the next several months. May each of you feel God's healing power.

  14. Having double mastectomy April 10th, I took notes, lots of things I never thought of, very helpful hints!

  15. I couldn't wear the pyjamas I bought because of drains and catheters. The nurse cut a pretty hospital gown with scissors to give access to new breast. I found turning my beautiful new dressing gown inside out I could fit the 3 drains in the now inside pockets and carry the catheter bag to get to the toilets and washrooms.
    My list is
    Dressing gown
    Nightdress with front opening.
    Everythindg else was to hand in a basket by my bed.(Pain bread basket.)
    soap, flannel, deodorant
    dry shampoo
    hair brush
    dry skin cream
    Safety pins to hold cut nightie together.
    Ear plugs and sleep mask
    Hand wipes/ face wipes
    Light perfume/body spray
    Mints/breath freshener
    Bottled water if you don't want to drink hospital tap water
    Plenty of light reading books or kindle.
    Crossword/puzzle book & pens
    mobile phone and charger
    comfy outfit to go home in elasticated skirt or trousers zipped top or buttons.
    Big hold you in knickers for Diep Flap.
    Thank you card/biscuits/ chocolates for the nurses for when you go home ready to be brought in.

  16. This is surely a very good blog, thanks a lot for sharing such nice information here.Rory

  17. Oh wow reading this has just been amazing I now know what I need I'm having bilateral recon in Sept 2016 what a great site ������


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