A mastectomy is a major surgery performed to treat breast cancer and it involves removing all the breast tissue from the breast. Having a mastectomy can be challenging on your body and your mind, and it can take time to not only recover from surgery but also adjust to your new body.
To find out a little more about recovering from a mastectomy, we asked author and comedian Emma Markezic, who had her first mastectomy at age 34 and her second at 35 with reconstructive surgery, for her most useful recovery tips (the ones you might not find in the brochures).
1. Take a photo of your pre-surgery chest
“You mightn’t think you’ll want to look back on pictures of yourself naked, but you will. I have but a single photo and I wish I’d taken more.”
2. Buy a really long extension cord
“Having power within your reach in hospital and at home is truly a luxury during recovery. No getting up to plug in your phone and no waiting around for a nurse to come in so they can pass it to you. Look for a 10-metre cord!”
3. You’ll never get used to tissue expanders
“There’s no getting around it. Having them filled with saline is even more peculiar. I would take chewing gum to the doctor’s so I could bite down on it when my doctor came in with the syringe.”
4. Invest in lots of pillows for your bed
“I used a travel pillow to support my head and once I could take the pressure, also a weighted blanket to really ensure a sweet night’s sleep. You absolutely cannot have too many pillows going at once. I was using eight at one point. Just getting out of bed may be a challenge at first, to make it easier hug a pillow as you sit or stand. It’s amazing the difference it makes in those first few days.”
5. Sneeze standing up!
“I found sneezing really weird until I realised that it was easier and felt better when I was standing up.”
6. Wax your armpits pre-surgery
“It’s a curious byproduct, but your armpits will actually change shape after a mastectomy. My doctor confirmed it. They become more cavernous and far harder to shave. Stock up on deodorant wipes, because you’re not going to be able to get in there for a while.”
7. By dry shampoo (even if you’ve never used it).
“Dry shampoo is a lifesaver for when you can’t make it to the shower. When it does come time to wash your hair, let someone else do it for you if they offer. You can manage it one-handed but it’s a lot harder.”
8. Download the Medisafe app
“You’ll be given a lot of extra meds to take: and it can be hard to get it all right when you’re recovering. I used the Medisafe app to keep track of my pills and it even reminded me when my drainage bags needed emptying. If you can, ask a friend to open all the medication containers for you (and any tight jars around the house you might need), as opening them will be a lot harder for a while.”
9. Borrow a men’s jacket (to hide your drains)
“I had a love/ hate relationship with those drains (which are literally sewn into you). My advice is make sure you take the right amount of pain medication and even though the hospital gives you cloth bags for your drains, the easiest way to keep the drainage tubes hidden (if you want to go out for a walk) is with a casual men’s jacket with large interior pockets.”
10. Don’t drive until you get the okay
“Driving will be difficult for a little while so it’s best to catch taxis, public transport or ask friends for lifts. If nothing else, you likely won’t be covered by your insurance if you do drive.”
11. Avoid baths or pools
“For six months after your surgery, you’ll need to avoid baths or swimming pools or sensory deprivation tanks or submerging in any bodies of water of any kind. I didn’t know this and it ruined my post-op tropical holiday!”
12. Cut your schedule in half (at least)
“Doctors just performed open chest surgery on you – don’t expect to be back to your regularl schedule within a week or so. You’ll likely only be able to commit to half of what you want to do. Give yourself a break if you can.”
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