Preparing for Surgery
Post-Surgical Camisoles, the Right Tops, and Pillows
Once you've made the decision NOT to have reconstruction and have been scheduled for mastectomy surgery, you can begin to focus on preparing for the surgery itself and for your recovery. Your recovery will be easier if you spend some time before surgery making sure you have on hand certain items that will be helpful afterward. Special post-mastectomy camisoles, the right tops, and wedge pillows can all alleviate your discomfort, both physical and emotional.
Healing time varies for individuals. Like many women, you may experience minimal pain after your mastectomy surgery, but will probably find the drains inserted at the surgical sites to be uncomfortable and bulky. As with the overall healing process, the time drains need to remain in place varies for individuals, but while they are in place, it can be challenging to find workable clothing solutions. Often, a woman feels otherwise well enough to leave the house and resume aspects of her normal life, but can't figure out what to do with her drains.
Additionally, until your mastectomy site has fully healed, you can't be fitted with silicone breast forms, also known as prostheses. Sufficient healing normally takes four to six weeks, and for some women even a bit longer, due to transient issues like swelling and sensitivity. But you'll probably feel ready to resume normal activities far sooner. So it's important to find an interim solution that will help you look and feel good.
Happily, some excellent solutions exist. There are a number of post-surgical camisoles that are specially designed to hold the cumbersome drains. These camisoles often come with adjustable poly-fil breast forms (known euphemistically as "puffy" forms), which fit in pockets and provide a gentle way to restore breast shape without discomfort.
One excellent product of this type is the Ladies First SOFTEE® ROO Recovery Camisole. Your local fitter or hospital boutique may sell post-mastectomy camisoles, or they can be ordered online. Many insurance companies cover the cost of one or two camisoles, so make sure to inquire. A less expensive Post-Surgical Camisole is available from the American Cancer Society's online boutique, TLC Tender Loving Care. Like the SOFTEE® ROO, the Post-Surgical Camisole has pockets for drains and pockets for breast forms, and comes with two "puffy" forms. For other options, check with mastectomy product providers in your area or go to our Helpful Links section, where you'll find links to Internet merchants who offer a selection of post-surgical camisoles.
If you like the idea of pockets for your drains but don't particularly want to wear a camisole, check out PinkPockets, which offers "peel & stick" pockets that can be attached to the inside of your regular clothing. The "super-sticky adhesive" can withstand a wash or two, according to the company, yet can be removed from the garments once your drains are gone.
The Right Tops
Loose-fitting button-down tops are a must during the first days and weeks after surgery. Your arms will be affected by the mastectomy surgery and also by any lymph node removal. It may be difficult at first for you to raise your arms up enough to put on a pullover shirt. Although time and stretching exercises will enable you to regain your range of motion, having a few button-down shirts or blouses will get you through that first period comfortably. Also, while a post-surgical camisole provides secure pockets for your drains, the bulbs at the end of each drain result in a bulky appearance, so loose-fitting tops will come in handy for providing camouflage. If you don't already have tops like these, borrowing makes sense, as you'll only need them for a short time.
A button-down vest can also come in handy, especially in warm weather. Worn open over a blouse, a vest provides additional coverage for your healing chest while still allowing you to feel cool. For most women, the puffy forms that come with camisoles are the only forms soft enough to wear during the first several weeks after surgery. These puffy forms provide shape but usually don't look very realistic. Wearing a vest over a blouse will obscure the forms enough so that your chest shape will appear natural, giving you confidence in social situations. If you don't own a vest and can't find one to borrow, check your local stores.
Some women are bothered by skin sensitivity during the first weeks after surgery. If such sensitivity occurs, it may not start until a week or two post-surgery. Satin or silk tops can ease the discomfort, since they glide over the skin.
Within a few weeks, you'll be able to wear your regular clothing. Cotton tee shirts, especially v-necks, can be tried once your arms feel ready. Anything with a little give will be easier to get on and off until your arms regain their range of motion.
When you first arrive home after surgery, it may be hard to sleep. Painkillers can help, but finding a comfortable sleep position may nevertheless be difficult, particularly while you still have drains. Many women choose to sleep in a recliner or an easy chair with an ottoman for the first few nights or even for the first week or two. Once your drains are removed, you'll probably find it easier to get comfortable, but even then sleeping in bed on a regular pillow may be challenging. Especially if you've had bilateral mastectomies, it may be problematic sleeping on your sides for a while, so you'll have to sleep on your back. But lying flat on your back with a regular pillow may put an undue strain on your chest, causing pain. A wedge pillow can help tremendously during this transition period.
A wedge pillow allows you to sleep on your back, but slightly elevated. The angle created by the wedge makes it much easier to lie down and get up and puts minimal stress on your chest. Some women find that also putting a regular pillow under their knees creates an even better sleeping position.
Wedge pillows are widely available, both at local stores and online sites. Some good options can be found at Make Me Heal.