A Fellow Breast Cancer Blogger

Occasionally, I visit Word Press’s tag page specifically for articles tagged “breast cancer.”  I ran across a young woman’s post questioning how to prepare for prophylactic bilateral mastectomy Her post begins with:

Now what exactly do I mean by preparing? Mentally preparing. Emotionally preparing. Telling my work that in 2 weeks I’ll be off work for an undetermined amount of time. Telling all of my family. Telling my friends. Telling my rowing coaches. And other smaller(ish) details…

At the time of viewing her post, there were no comments offered, so, I took it upon myself to answer her questions as best I could from my own experience. Of course, everyone’s experience is going to be different, but, all of us who have dealt with breast cancer seem to  seek each other out for stories, support and to offer help. Here are her questions and my offerings of answers:

  • Clean & organize my house (after the surgery I wont be able to reach my overhead cupboards)
    • Prior to surgery, I put things on my counter that I knew I would be using regularly – like my favorite coffee mugs, my jars of instant coffee and creamer, think ahead, you will thank yourself later!
  • Get tops that I can wear post-surgery (i.e. button-up or zip-up tops that are really loose, because a) I won’t be able to pull a shirt over my head and b) to make room for the drains that I will have in for 10 + days)
    • I didn’t feel like getting ‘dressed up’ so I just bought those old-lady-type housecoats that zipped up the front. I wore those for the first two weeks then switched to sweat pants and some old button-down shirts of my husbands.
  • Get small ice-packs to put on my boobs to help deal with swelling?
    • This is a good tip. My hospital sent me home with refillable ice packs, but I didn’t know this prior to surgery. It won’t hurt to have extra!
  • Get lots of food (preferably pre-made meals) so that I don’t have to worry about this for the first little while?
    • Another good tip! I cooked and froze food ahead of time since I don’t like to eat the food my husband cooks, plus, my son was coming in to be with me for moral support.
  • Who can shovel my driveway? There’s no way I’ll be able to do this for a long time, and we’re supposed to get a lot of snow this Feb.
    • Again, check with your hospital or even insurance company, there are volunteer organizations that can help with this, even check with local churches.
  • Who can come with me on surgery day & drive me home?
    • Once again, check with your hospital, they may even have a “pay” service , but, you will REALLY need some help at home at least for the first couple of days… especially if you are taking medications!
  • Do I need to fill any pain prescriptions ahead of time?
    • Your doctor should give you your prescriptions prior to surgery, at least, that’s what mine did.
  • Do I need to get one of those special post-mastectomy bras?
    • Your doctor should let you know ahead of time. Mine measured me ahead of surgery and had the bra with her at the time of surgery. I did have to buy one later, so that I had two – one to wear while the other one was washing. I had to wear my bra for months, day and night.
  • Will I be able to lift the cat food bag in order to feed the kitties? What about their litter?
    • No. You WILL NOT be able to get up off the floor, so don’t even try to get down and sit on the floor for any reason! You will NOT be able to use your hands to boost yourself up!!
    • Again, keep things that you will use daily, in a convenient, reachable place. Insofar as the litter box, I told my husband to clean it out. See if you can ask a friend, or if not, set up another litter box.
  • How long will it be before I can drive?
    • Each person is different.
  • How on EARTH am I going to sleep on my back/sitting up??Seriously, I am a stomach sleeper, and can’t sleep on my back. Legit can’t. And I’ll have to, because post-surgery you can’t sleep on your stomach or side.
    • I am also a stomach sleeper. I literally slept in my lazy boy recliner for THREE MONTHS!!! I got used to it, I had to.
  • Do I have enough movies/books to keep me entertained while I’m bed-ridden?
    • The first little while, depending on your pain tolerance, you may be sleeping a lot with pain medication – I know I did. You might want to look into Netflix – my son bought a subscription for me and believe me, I watched so much television – the entire series of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Fringe, and movies, movies, movies… It’s worth the cost and you can cancel when you don’t want to be sitting around any longer.
  • What will I do about showering? I’m not allowed to for the first while (because of the drains) -should I buy dry shampoo? Baby wipes? Will someone have to help me with my hair & have a semi-bath/shower/sponge-bath?
    • I have short hair, so I took a towel and folded it up and laid it on the edge of the kitchen sink, where my “boobs” might rest, then, I bent over and washed my hair.
    • I did the sponge baths in the bathroom sink, it wasn’t as nice as a shower, but felt oh so good to be clean!
  • Do I need to buy a shower chair (see above note?)
    • I didn’t and I’m 60 years old
  • Will I be able to keep track of all my meds etc. when I’m all doped-up?
  • Will I be too stubborn to ask for help when I need it?
    • Not when you reach your wit’s end.
  • Will the pain meds even work? (I have an insane resistance to pain medication, itnever works for me)
    • Only you will be able to answer this.
  • When will I be able to return to work? Will I be up to doing some work from home?
    • Again, only you will be able to answer this. Everyone heals at their own pace but I think it’s quicker for young women.
  • When will I be able to get back to rowing? (or at least exercising in general?)
    • Your doctor will advise you.
  • Are there physio exercises I should be doing post-surgery?
    • Your doctor will advise you.
  • Buy extra pillows (to help sleeping on my back/propped up).
    • Unless you have a nice, comfortable recliner.
  • Buy thank you cards
    • Yes!
  • Tell my rowing team (although, I partially did that by posting my blog on facebook and letting people just discover it themselves).
    • Right now, you must put YOU FIRST!!
  • Stock up on cat food, cat litter, toilet paper, Kleenex
    • And frozen food!
  • Buy a thermometer (you have to keep an eye on your temp to make sure you’re not getting an infection)
    • Yes
  • Re-organize my room so that the clothes I’m going to be able to wear post-surgery are easily reachable
    • Yes
  • Purchase a camera? I want to document this entire process, but maybe I’ll just use my iphone the whole time.
    • Since you already have an iphone, I wouldn’t worry about buying a camera unless the new purchase will make you happy!

BAR_LINE2

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7 responses to “A Fellow Breast Cancer Blogger

  1. I did everything that we are supposed to do — though mine wasn’t exactly a prophylactic anything, I had cancer in both breasts — but it wasn’t at all what I expected. Not worse, not better. Very different. The discomfort was more that I expected — by discomfort, I mean irritation, itching, etc. — not serious pain. The pain wasn’t as much, but it has lasted much longer. The weakness was much more and lasted much longer.

    Now I’m going in for heart surgery and I can’t even think about the repercussions and after care. My head is swimming. I suppose I should try cleaning the house, but it’s too much to deal with. It’s all too much. And too soon.

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    • Marilyn: ask a friend for help. I know it’s hard for those of us who are used to doing for ourselves, but it blesses the person helping as much as it does you.

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    • I thought you were cleared from the cardiologist? I’ll have to go back and re-read through your posts/comments. Damn!
      Don’t worry about the house, it’s not like you are living alone, others can pitch in. Most of all, I hope that you keep your spirits up. I know it’s hard, it seems like since the breast cancer, my body has been on a quick downward slide, even my Aunt told me that very thing!

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  2. Boy oh boy.

    Sent from my iPhone

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    • It can be overwhelming when one prepares for the surgery, I just hope that re-posting and answering her questions will be of some help – especially in this comment section too! 😀

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  3. A couple of things that meant a lot to me: if she has friends who want to help in shifts, http://www.mealtrain.com is a great way to organize not just meals, but also other needs like rides to followups or wherever, yard work, etc. Also, I usually use a Brita pitcher, but knew that it would be too heavy to lift post-surgery. I got 20 oz bottles of water, cans of soda and bottles of juice to keep the lifting to a minimum.

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