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How do I prepare for a mastectomy? Eight tips

Updated on September 12, 2011

Nothing can completely prepare you for the unknown, but, from my own experiences, I would like to share my knowledge and perspective.

1. Get updated tests:

Your doctor’s office will ask for a current breast MRI and standard blood test.They want to make sure that everything is normal or you cannot have the procedure. In some cases, they may ask for additional tests like an EKG and a lung scan.

2. Medications not to take:

Check on which medications not to take prior to surgery, usually 10 days prior. This list will include both prescription and over the counter medications, like aspirin, ibuprofen, vitamins and supplements.

3. Purchase your post-surgical bra:

This is needed if you are having reconstruction. Talk to your doctor’s office about the specific brands and options that they recommend. You will wear this about 1 week after your surgery, when your drains are removed. My doctor’s office recommended that I get two sizes, my size and one size larger, both in cup and chest size. The larger is to wear for when you are swollen after surgery.

4. What to take with you to the hospital:

Find out the essential items that you need. Here is a list of what my doctor’s office recommends and recommendations I have gotten from former patients.

  • Of course, there are standard things like toiletries, toothpaste, and a toothbrush.
  • Lip balm is recommended, as your lips may get chapped after surgery.
  • Lozenges are suggested as your throat will be sore after surgery.
  • Silk pajamas are recommended to help you easily slide in and out of bed. You really only need pajama bottoms, but you will use the set for recovery at home.
  • Two small travel pillows, one for under each arm.  I found pillows for $3.99 each at Bed Bath and Beyond. They also sell travel pillowcase covers. You can also use one of these pillows under the seat belt for the ride home.
  • Baggy button down shirts are easiest for wearing with the drains. I found pajama tops that button down in silk and also in cotton. I found pajama sets at TJ Maxx and Marshalls and silk pajama sets at JC Penney’s and Victoria’s Secret, all that have button down tops and drawstring pants. Make sure to get a size larger than you normally wear, as you will be swollen after surgery and you will have the bulky drains. Again, for the hospital only the bottoms are necessary.
  • A toddler’s leak proof “sippy” cup is recommended so drinks don’t spill while you are in bed.
  • Large safety pins are used to attach the drains to your hospital gown.
  • A nice robe that opens up in the front to help you cover up.
  • A zip up or button down shirt to wear home from the hospital.
  • An mp3 player if you have one to help relax you and enjoy music that you like.

5. Talk to others who have used your doctors:

Your doctor’s office should, with no problem, put you in contact with a former patient. The day of my consultation with my doctor, there was a patient in the office who had her surgery 4 weeks before. She came into the office, spent time talking with me and even showed me her new breasts. I also had lunch with a former patient. I came armed with questions to ask her. The experience really put me at ease about going in for surgery. An added bonus, I have a great new friend that I can call before and after my surgery to talk to.

Another helpful resource that FORCE (Facing Our Risk Cancer Empowered) offers is the Patient Experience Contact Tool. This is a searchable database of practitioners that have treated members of the FORCE community. This database connects patients to each other directly by email allowing them to share their experiences. Thanks, FORCE! Patient Experience Contact Tool


6. Do whatever you need to ease your anxiety:

This is obviously a personal thing and can be anything like learning meditation to help you relax the day of the procedure and post operatively. I have decided to go to a hypnotherapist. This idea was advised to me by a friend who had chemotherapy and claims it really helped her with the side effects. The hypnotherapist makes a CD for you after you talk with her for about an hour and tell her your specific concerns.  I am most concerned with going under anesthesia and the pain post operatively.  You listen to the CD for 21 days prior to the procedure. I am also taking a holistic medication called Arnica Montana. This is supposed to help with inflammation and healing. If you want to take any medication before or after your surgery, check with your doctor to make sure there are no contraindications.  I also recommend addressing any concerns with your doctor.  I am also concerned about nausea post operatively from the anesthesia. My doctor told me that they will give me medication for nausea prior to surgery.

7. Do something nice for yourself:

I am treating myself the week before to a girls’ day out. My mom and I are going out for lunch, for a massage, a nice dinner and a Broadway show. You deserve it, so just do it!

8. Check out the FORCE website for assistance:

FORCE provides a great checklist to help prepare patients who are undergoing a mastectomy. This list contains similar points that I addressed and additional ones as well. So, check it out for more helpful information. Remember knowledge is power. You can never have enough.


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    • profile image

      C. Englander 6 years ago

      I found weaning off of coffee before surgery helped a lot. I didn't do it before my hysterectomy and ended up with a whopper of a caffeine withdrawal migraine. I weaned off coffee prior to my mastectomy and had no problem. Also my leachco pillow was great, very versatile, but a bit pricey.

    • profile image

      Jen 6 years ago

      I will say little pillows saved me! I had several at home so I could move them about as needed. Full sized pillows were too heavy at first.

      I tried silk pajamas, but I found I slid down while asleep. If having a bilateral, sitting up and lying down is surprisingly difficult and lying flat was painful for me.

      Lastly, the best personal discovery for the drains were zip or button front sweatshirts or active tops that had pockets inside. The way some are made, the pockets outside allow for the pocket lining to form it's own inside pouch. These were PERFECT for putting drains in. More comfortable than anything else I tried, and easier to manage. Best of luck to all going forward with this procedure. You're not alone!

    • profile image

      gayle20 6 years ago

      Wow...this was really full of great tips. I know you will be ready for your surgery and preparing has eased your anxiety.

    • Heather McMillan profile image

      Heather McMillan 6 years ago from Hampton, VA

      I didn't know what to take when I went in. Having to get both breast removed I didn't need a bra, but I did think to take a button up shirt. The pillows would have come in handy, to this day I sleep with one under my left arm which had the most of the lymph nodes removed and now has lymphdema. Great hub!

    • profile image

      Justsilvie 6 years ago

      Excellent Hub! The best advice comes from those who have experienced the procedure. Thank you.

    • profile image

      janels 6 years ago

      Allowing others to share your experiences is a blessing for all who may be concerned, but don't know who to ask. You are providing all women with the BRCA gene and their families with a knowledgeable trusted source who speaks from experience. Any woman preparing for any surgical procedure can benefit. What a wonderful thing to do!

    • profile image

      Dancer7 6 years ago

      Thanks for the great tips! I am sure it will be helpful to others who are facing this procedure.