A lot of these tips especially in the surgery section are directed to Breast Cancer patients who are planning mastectomies. But I think they could be valuable to patients with other types of cancers, as they may help you think of questions to ask your surgeon or to become a better advocate for yourself.
- Ask your plastic surgeon when deciding on reconstruction options if you can see pictures of “after” photos of their work. Have your spouse or partner see them as well- so they know what to expect. Ask the surgeon if you can speak with a former patient who is similar in age and had the same surgery you are considering.
- Ask women in your support group or former patients if they are willing to show you their reconstruction. A lot of flashing has been going on in women’s restrooms in the Boston area. They have been where you are, and are most likely willing to help. This is SO helpful- even if it’s a little weird.
- Ask your surgeon if you’re going to have drains, how many and where will they be? As my plastic surgeon’s secretary said, “ they’re gonna be your best friends….”
What is a drain? A surgical drain is plastic tubing that comes out of your incision area that is connected to a plastic bulb (sort of like the bulb end of a turkey baster) that collects fluids after surgery. And the doctor will instruct you on how to measure this fluid every day to determine when the drains can be removed. They are a pain in the rear- but more of a nuisance than painful.
- Plan what you’re going to DO with those drains BEFORE you have surgery. Buy yourself some Pink Pockets, or a mastectomy shirt, find a lanyard or a long shoelace to tie around yourself to hang them from when you take a sponge bath or buy a Shower Shirt.
- You’re going to be tired after surgery- it may be nice to sit in the shower. Think about a shower seat or having a sturdy plastic lawn chair in the shower. Make sure your shower/tub floor is not slippery- you’re not going to be able to catch yourself! Remember your arms are not going to have the same mobility for a while.
- Be prepared with lots of very soft, front opening shirts (either with snaps or buttons) and with loose fitting sleeves for after surgery. It will be hard to move your arms above your head, let alone move them at all.
- Get yourself a “breakfast in bed” tray
- Get some pillows that will be comfortable to prop yourself up with in bed or on the couch. Or consider as one survivor did, renting a hospital bed for your recuperation.
- Ask your surgeon for a “skin marker” during your pre-op appointment and mark the spot /side area on the morning of your surgery. General surgeons do not mark you in pre-op, but most plastic surgeons do mark out where they will be cutting in pre-op. But, better to be safe than sorry!
- Mark any arm you may have with lymphedema with a note “Do NOT use this Arm” Even though I had a bracelet on that said “Not this arm” the nurses still reached for it when I was going under anesthesia.
- While you’re still in the hospital, ask the nurse or surgeon for extra surgical compression bras (or whatever item they put you in) BEFORE you leave the hospital after a mastectomy, so you have something to change into when washing the original.
- Use alcohol wipes or a wet cotton swap between your fingers to help “milk” your drains. Otherwise your fingers get kind of stuck as they go down the drain tubing. Ouch! Be gentle!
- Don’t safety pin your drains to your pajama bottoms and then forget they are there when you go to the bathroom- ouch!
- Vitamin E oil can be used on scars after you are all healed and the doctor says it’s ok. But basically, time is a great healer for all scars. Don’t drive yourself crazy about them, try to ignore them or embrace them as a veteran of a war you just fought. You have earned the right to be called Survivor, and these are your battle scars. I have a big red scar high on my chest that only annoys me when I want to wear a fancy dress. So I look for one shoulder dresses to hide it.
- Have a natural stool softener on hand just in case, for after surgery. Pain medications can really make you constipated and it doesn’t matter how regular you have always been, the medication really slows your system down. And you won’t have the strength or energy to push. (my nurses recommended Senokot-S because it’s gentle)
- Any kind of surgery like a lumpectomy or mastectomy may leave you with some numbness, tightness or shoots of nerve pain, this is normal- but let your Doctor know. Most survivors find that it improves over time.
Reconstruction and the truth about Nipples- stuff that no one will talk about
- No one really mentions that during a mastectomy you’re going to lose your nipple. We thought here at CancerVictory we’ll just tell you the truth and talk about it. Maybe the surgeons think it’s no big deal? Maybe they think it shouldn’t be, because after all they are saving your life? But it is a big deal and we miss our original nipples! But like everything else, we adjust and move on.
- There are ways to reconstruct the nipple. The surgeon can create one for you after you have healed from your mastectomy surgery. And then they can tattoo the aureola around the reconstructed nipple. You can also get a really good tattoo artist to do the aureola or tattoo the whole thing. It’s an extremely personal question whether or not you want to recreate your nipple. Ask your plastic surgeon if he can show you pictures of his work, ask survivors that you know if you can see their “new” nipples and ask if anyone has tattooed nipples they think turned out really well.
- Did you know most regular bras are manufactured with a space for your nipple? And if you don’t have nipples, the fabric sort of creates an empty pocket- that can be bunchy and show through your blouse. Even though I have implants, I still have to buy mastectomy bras because they don’t have that area for the nipple so the bra fits me better. The sides of a mastectomy bra tend to be fat (2”+) and that can be more comfortable as well for breast reconstruction patients.
CanverVictory.com shares the things that survivors, including myself, learned while being treated for cancer. We are not medical professionals and everyone is different, so please consult your physician about anything you read on this site or on any other site. Your health is important and you should make all medical decisions in consultation with your doctor.