Hey breastie! So you’re about to undergo a mastectomy? First things first, I’m here to remind you that you’re not alone. There have been many before you and until we find a cure there will be warriors after us, but medicine is miraculous and community is everything. So, here are 13 things to know before undergoing a double mastectomy.
13 Things to Know Before Undergoing a Double Mastectomy
1. Before surgery day, invest in oversized button-down shirts and button-down PJs.
Why button-downs? You won’t be able to raise your arms after surgery, so being able to slip into a shirt is key. While cozy button-down PJs will make you as comfortable as possible in the days post-surgery, button-downs will be functional, too. Bonus points for silk PJs as many people have said they help you slip out of bed easier. My first outing after surgery was 7 days later, and I wore a giant button-down to cover the apron carrying my drains.
2. Getting in and out of bed is a challenge for the first week after surgery.
You will find it very difficult to lift your upper body in order to get out of bed, and you may even find that it’s necessary for someone to help lift you up the first few times. Don’t get discouraged – it’ll get easier, but you and your abs will become great friends throughout this process. You may even want to carve out some time weeks before surgery to join me on LimitLes Movement for some 8 minute abs!
3. If the hospital doesn’t give you a waist apron post-surgery, buy one.
I know some people like to pin their drains onto their shirt or even buy the robes with drain belts, but I went old school and got the apron. I only ever took it off to shower.
4. Everyone experiences pain differently, and pain pills have a different effect on everyone.
They made me nauseous after about 5 days, so I then switched to alternating Tylenol and Advil. Valium helped to relax my muscles. While we’re on the subject of pills: If you have allergies and your surgery is around springtime like mine, get some Zyrtec or allergy relief because sneezing HURTS. Make sure you can mix with other pills before using.
5. Your appetite will most likely be affected from ingesting the pain pills.
And it’s so important to keep up with protein and vitamin C consumption for a better healing process. My mom made protein smoothies with protein powder and fruits when eggs just didn’t sound appetizing. They were so yummy alongside lots of water and vitamin C supplements such as my beloved Sambucus gummies.
6. Hygiene is hard.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. This is when you need a true friend who will lather you up in soap and wash your oily hair (Living proof dry shampoo AND Simple Facial Wipes for easy cleaning have been lifesavers throughout this whole process). I didn’t shower every day (or even every other day oops) the first week because I was in pain, I couldn’t lift my arms, and it just wasn’t necessary in my eyes.
If you have a removable shower head and ledge/stool/seat inside, this makes showering easier since you can set both drains on either side of you. Baths aren’t permitted throughout this process since doctors don’t want you sitting in water that could potentially carry bacteria and cause infection. I dreamt about the day I could take my beloved baths again! One more thing – an electric toothbrush is so much easier than a normal toothbrush after surgery!
7. Bolster Pillows
One of the most functional gifts I’ve received are two little pink bolster pillows to go under my arms. Because you can only sleep on your back propped up on pillows, you’ll need something to support your arms at night. Many thanks to my friend Catherine Lowe for hooking a girl up.
8. Invest in a heating pad if you don’t already have one around the house.
I’m a stomach and side sleeper, so sleeping on my back every night has been very hard to get used to. A heating pad relieves my back muscles from their stagnant position, but remember to never place anything hot (or cold!) on your chest.
9. Some people choose to go to the great lengths of renting a recliner after breast surgery.
I’m sure it helps in getting a good night’s sleep, but I found that even micro-turning my hips at night and elevating my knees helps to relieve some back tension. This pillow with straps looks like it could be helpful for daytime comfort and night time too.
Speaking of sleep, this washable silk sleep mask is DECADENT.
10. I was told to wear a compression bra a little over a week out from surgery.
This helps with support and to cut down on fluid output (and helps get those pesky drains out sooner!). Some surgeons recommend a sports bra or a non-underwire bra with a hook and eye front closure, rather than a pullover style or back closure. Check out the best double mastectomy bras to wear after surgery.
If you’re feeling frumpy from all the messy hair, PJ wearing days, buy yourself (gift-givers listen up!) this Ana Ono beauty. This bra isn’t compression, but I was able to wear it a few months out from surgery and adore the buttery softness!
Remember to “redecorate” in the days leading up to surgery, whether that be moving coffee mugs or cooking supplies to a lower shelf. You won’t be able to raise your arms, so be weary of where everything is in your house.
12. Unscrew prescription bottles and vitamin supplements before surgery, and put them in a safe place.
It blew my mind that I couldn’t even open a simple pill bottle a few days after surgery, but it’s important to remember that restrictive movements like this are short-term as it’s easy to get frustrated. Be sure to place the open bottles on a safe counter space and learn from my mistake. I left an Advil bottle open on my bedside table one night and then next day, my parent’s tiny poodle ingested about 20 of them. I stayed with her all day as she continued to throw up the reddish-pink liquid. It wasn’t until I walked into my room that evening to see the overturned empty Advil bottle…and then it hit me. I’m not entirely sure how the six pound dog lived to see another day, but I’m so glad she did!
13. My final advice would be to throw any and all alarms out the window.
Your body needs time to heal, so take advantage of sleeping in, Netflix and chill, and find peace in the stillness. Zzzzzzzzz.
If you have any tips of your own, please leave them in the comments below! Note: This post was published in April 2017 and updated in September 2023.