Read Denise’s latest update on her breast cancer journey below.
So here I am one week post mastectomy. My surgery consisted of Modified Radical Mastectomy of the left breast and lymph node dissection of 14 lymph nodes. One week post surgery I am feeling far better physically and emotionally than I ever dreamed I would!
I’ve had a lot of time to ponder all of this. The reason it has been far easier is the preparation I did before surgery. I suppose it depends on the person as well. Quiz time: are you a person who just jumps into the pool without even feeling the water temperature or do you put your toe in first and gradually, slowly and methodically get used to the water? It takes me about 15 minutes to finally get under in a pool or lake.
Moving toward Mastectomy has been like slowly getting into a frigid lake. And as a result of my planning and preparation, my physical recovery has been much faster because I was emotionally prepared and the frigid lake doesn’t feel quite so cold. My surgeon’s office offered me a surgery date 24 days sooner than the actual surgery date. When they called me about the hurried date, I immediately started to cry, my intuition yelled “NO” and I had the courage to say, “I am not ready yet.” The nurse scheduler wisely said, “Then wait. We treat your whole person, not just the tumor.” So I then took the later date and am so grateful I did. I am not recommending you put off surgery indefinitely. But if you have a choice, give yourself some time to grieve prior to mastectomy if your surgeon will allow it. I did alot of grieving and crying before surgery over the loss of my breast. I am grateful I had that time to grieve. It was a great gift to myself.
If you are one of the 78,000 women per year in the United States who needs a Mastectomy, it seems so overwhelming, you can’t imagine what to do first. I am going to give you some tips that will definitely help you.
1) Recuperation Clothing – Clothing is important to us women! Be prepared to have the right kind of clothing when you leave the hospital for recuperation purposes. My wisest purchase was a button up the front cotton tunic 2 sizes larger than I wear and very long. It also had a pleated front to cover bandages and compression bands. My lopsided breasts were not so apparent in this blouse. I’ve lived in this blouse between washings! I wish I would have purchased two of them.
2) Mastectomy Camisole – this has been so helpful as it gives you a place to hold the drains, it acts as a bra if you have a remaining breast, and comes with soft breast forms for either a single or bilateral mastectomy. The breast forms are so soft, they can be worn home from the hospital. Being able to insert your new “breast”, is a real comfort! Looking good is feeling good. Many hospitals provide these and insurance companies pay for them. Check before you purchase one.
3) Vest – I purchased a fleece vest in a size larger than I wear from K Mart for $11.99! This inexpensive purchase has been extremely useful as I placed it over my blouse or pajamas. It has inside and outside pockets to carry cell phones and other small items, and if you get visitors, it is a great shield. The vest makes you feel protected and less vulnerable. This vest has proven to be much better than a cumbersome robe!
4) Mastectomy Pictures – Look at pictures on the internet of mastectomies and reconstructive surgery to help mentally prepare. I could not do this alone. My sister and niece had to help me with this. Ask for help from a trusted friend or family member.
5) Recuperation and Healing Space – Prepare your recuperation space. For me, it has been a Recliner–waking, sleeping, and eating. It has been so much easier to sleep in the Recliner because of pain. Have what you need by your space before you leave for the hospital. Make it a pretty space, a healing space, a loving place with plenty of small tables around and places to grab things easily. If you share your home with family members, find a corner of your home just for your healing space.
6) Travel Pillows – Three or 4 travel pillows. I purchased mine at a discount store for $2.49 each. These have been an ENORMOUS help!! First, coming home from the hospital was an hour car ride. These smaller pillows can be placed over surgery area for seat belts, stuffed by your back, or held to comfort you. Since I had a lymph node dissection, I use these pillows to prop my arm and shoulder area, put them on my lap to rest my laptop on, and many other uses!!
7)Exercises – You will most likely be assigned post-surgery exercises to regain your mobility in your arm and shoulder areas. I asked a trusted friend who also is faithful to exercise, to assist me. She has been invaluable. There was so much information, I couldn’t handle one more thing. My friend came before surgery to review the exercises with me, then made an appointment with me the day after I got home from the hospital. This gave me a purpose to feel better and an incentive to do the exercises. She visited several more times until I got the routine on my own. It was like having a Physical Therapist!
8) Incision – A few hours after surgery, my surgeon came in to check the incisions. She asked me if I wanted to look. I did. I would encourage you to do so. It helps looking with your surgeon. Somehow I was able to separate from my missing breast and look at it as an incision I would have to care for and clean.
9) Mirrors – Before surgery, cover the bottom portion of your mirrors at home. I knew I would not be ready to look at a full frontal view of myself. Looking down is one thing. Looking in a mirror takes alot more courage. I taped fabric over all of my mirrors so I can only see my face. This has been an enormous help!! It gives you control. On my largest mirror, I left a space open off to the side so I could peak when I was ready.
I finally looked in the mirror briefly on Day 7 after surgery. It wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. God’s grace meets preparation. My soul feels the same. I’m still me. In fact, I think I am more beautiful now. Before, like most American women, I was always comparing my faults and how my body didn’t match up to the women in magazines and on television. Now that definition of beauty has been stripped from me. But there is a freedom in that difference.
10) Pain Medicine – I asked my surgeon’s office if they would give me my prescriptions a couple of days before surgery, which they did. This was so helpful as the pain meds were ready for me upon my arrival at home. I didn’t have to send someone to the pharmacy and wait for them to arrive. And speaking of pain medicine, take it! My surgeon explained to me if your body uses the energy to fight pain, it takes longer to heal. Once this was explained to me, it made sense and took away my fear of pain medicines . Also, be sure to purchase a stool softener like Collace or Dulcolax when you purchase the pain meds to avoid constipation. They really work! Also, have high fiber foods at home ready for you like oatmeal and granola.
These 10 things have made my recuperation and healing so much easier! It was a lot of work before surgery, but it kept my mind busy. Also, if you are having financial challenges as Breast Cancer is expensive, when one of your friends or family ask, “what can I do for you?”, tell them you need travel pillows, a cotton blouse, or a fleece vest. Your friends and family want to help. Why not ask them to purchase something you need that will assist you in your recovery?
Please feel free to contact me with any other questions! I will be happy to answer any questions and provide a listening ear.