When you go to summer camp, you are given a list of things to bring to camp. For the first day of school, each student is sent a supplies list. Even Santa has a list. If you have a mastectomy, you are sent home from the hosptial with a handful of prescriptions, that's all.
Why does no one give women undergoing surgery for breast cancer a list of supplies that would be useful when they get home from surgery? This list belongs inside the cancer binder that all surgeons should give to their patients. Following is my supplies list that I would pass on to others. (This list is specifically for someone that had a single mastectomy, lymph nodes removed, and a tram flap reconstruction.) It would be easy to modify it for other types of breast cancer surgery.
1. Pillows - lots of pillows. Because of the stomach surgery, I sleep with two pillows under my knees. I sleep with my head propped up on 2-3 pillows. It is most comfortable for my stomach incision to sleep in a V position. I also sleep with a pillow supporting my left arm because of the lymph nodes being removed. (In the hospital they used pillows in all the same places.) I use a total of six pillows when I sleep.
2. Nightgowns that button up the front and have pockets. Button front is essential because it is difficult after surgery to put anything over your head. I turned the pockets inside out, and put the drains in them from the inside. This is much more comfortable that pinning them to the inside of your pjs. But, do you now how difficult it is to find pjs that button and have pockets? There are a ton of Aunt Bea-type house dresses available, but you must show your AARP card to purchase one. I was very lucky to find a decent nightgown by Ellen Tracy at Nordstrom - the funny thing is that I bought it for the buttons, and later found the pockets, and their usefulness.
3. Washcloths - tons of washcloths. I went through at least 6-10 washcloths a day. I would lay down a clean washcloth by the bathroom sink every time I emptied my drains - twice a day. I used 1-2 clean washcloths when I washed out the measuring cups for the drains. I used 3-4 when showering because you must be very careful when cleaning the incisions. Whenever I did anything related to the surgery, I used a clean washcloth for a sterile surface.
4. Loose sweat pants or shorts with pockets. I found it much more comfortable to place my drains in pockets that to pin them to the inside of my clothes, or pin them to the waistbands.
5. Large button front tops. Buttons are essential because it is difficult to pull anything over your head. The largeness is to hide the drain tubes and drains that might be pinned to your waistband or stuffed inside your pockets.
6. Step stool. Because of the stomach incision, it is a little bit challenging to climb into bed. I use a little step stool to help me get in bed. For people with normal-length legs, they might not need this item.
7. 2-step step stool. I sat on the second step when I was was emptying my drains in the bathroom. I also used it as an extra rack right outside the shower for towels, clothes, etc. When I didn't need it, I could fold it up and set it aside.
8. Clipboard. After surgery it is important to keep track to your medications. I always forget whether or not I took my medicine. I think it is important to keep track of your medications - when and how much - in a log.
9. Square band-aids and neosporin. After the drains are removed, a square band-aid with super strength neosporin was placed over the point of entry. They must be changed every day. I learned Curad and Band-Aid make two different sizes. I prefer the larger Curad brand. The doctor's office had even larger, oval shaped band-aids that worked the best. I took a handful of these larger band-aids before I left the examining room, but when four drain holes to cover, I went through them quickly.
10. Extra pair of glasses in the bathroom. Yep, I'm getting old and need glasses to read little print. Every time I emptied my drains, I needed glasses to read the measuring cups so that I could write it down in my log. It was so much easier to have everything I needed for drains set up in the bathroom. (No, I do not read on the toilet, and do not need glasses in the bathroom for this reason.)
11. Home nurse. If insurance allows it, get a home nurse. (At first I didn't think that I needed or wanted one.) It is comforting to have a medical professional check up on you twice a week. She checked the incisions, the drains sites, and answered any questions. She has direct contact with my surgeon and his assistant. My home nurse has called the doctor's office twice on my behalf.
12. Last and most importantly - help. If you have children, it is great to have extra help. My mom was critical to my recovery. With me in Boston, and the girls needing to get ready and off to school, and Molly needing to be picked up, there is no way Chubba, the girls and I could have made it without my mom's help. She made life much easier to handle for the girls while I was in the hospital, and also after I got home and was all drugged out. She was the stabilizer for our rocky boat.
I am sure that I forgot something essential from my list, and will remember at 3:30 in the morning.
Tonight Molly asked when do I have to go back to stay in the hospital. I told her that I don't have to go back, and that all the surgery is done. She said, "What about the floppy and the not floppy boob? Are you going to make them the same?" I asked her if they look bad when I wear a bra with clothes. She replied, "Well, they do look a little different because one sticks out farther, but it doesn't look that bad." I think she approves... It is hard for me to even entertain the thought of that surgery right now. Dr. Chief is all ready to do the surgery so that I "match," but he has to wait in line behind chemotherapy and radiation.
Whacky thought for the day...
Who needs mirrors when your have daughters?!