One of the most common methods of treatment for breast cancer is surgery. When a patient undergoes a mastectomy (partial or bilateral), a lumpectomy, or even reconstruction, the healing process can come with its own set of challenges.
After surgery, patients will be moved to a recovery room where vitals will be monitored by a medical team. Everyone’s experience is different but the average hospital stay is 1-3 days. If opting for a mastectomy and reconstruction at the same time, patients can expect to stay longer.
From Survivors and Patients: 16 Must-Haves for Recovery after Mastectomy
We are lucky to be able to call on our community of breast cancer survivors and ask for their insights. To help breast cancer patients facing surgery, we compiled a list of some of the most-used items to help provide comfort during a hospital stay or while recovering at home.
There was an overwhelming response; front button shirts, yoga pants, and an underarm pillow were some of the most popular answers. A back scratcher, a drain apron, and a recliner were some of the non-traditional, but genius, tips provided.
Dry shampoo and feminine hygiene cloths or wipes were also recommended to help patients stay fresh. Most patients are told not to shower until the surgical drains are removed, so these items can help with staying clean until it’s safe to resume a normal routine.
It’s important for the patient to give themselves grace and allow time for healing—let go of the ever-present chore list, the daunting task of grocery shopping, and the stress of cooking while trying to recover. Before a mastectomy, it may be helpful to ask friends and family members to start a meal train.
A survivor in our community, Ashley, shared how she effectively organized her home to prepare for her recovery time:
“Before the surgery I prepped my house and put things in reach and out of cabinets so I could do as much for myself as possible. For your drains, know that while they’re in (6-9 weeks) you will not be able to lift your arms over your head. So, knowing that, I took things down like coffee cups, plates, shampoo, etc. off higher shelves beforehand.
“I did a check three days before, of everything I used on a daily basis and was mindful of things I had to reach for. I was lucky enough to have my husband home but I’m also stubborn and like to do for myself as much as possible.
“Be prepared to not be able to sleep in your bed for a while, because it’s near impossible to get out of it once you’re laying down. I slept in a chair for a week or so before getting a wedge pillow for the bed, and that thing was awesome! I used it for about five weeks before I was able to use my stomach muscles to lift myself out of bed.”
Recommendations From Survivors
How to prep at home before surgery:
- Place most used items in reach
- Find a comfortable chair or recliner for sleeping
- Grab a wedge pillow for transitioning to a bed
- Start a meal train, or ask a friend to host one during recovery
What to bring to the hospital:
- Front button and loose-fitting shirts
- Yoga pants
- Pillow for support under the arm or seatbelt
- Slip-on shoes
- Phone charger
What post-op items to have at home:
- “Drain apron”, cardigan or zip-up hoodie with pockets, or a button-up shirt with pockets for drains
- Pen and notebook for journaling, tracking medication times, and questions for the doctor
- Cooler on the porch, if receiving a meal train
- Chair or recliner for sleeping
- Dry shampoo
- Cleansing or shower wipes
- Comfortable pajamas
No matter what the patient is able to pack or set out at home, we believe that having encouragement, support, and hope makes all the difference. Resources are open and available for patients and loved ones, and our team at National Breast Cancer Foundation is here for support.
Join the conversation! If you’ve gone through breast cancer surgery, comment below what your must-have recovery items were.
For the full comment thread of recommendations from survivors, check our Facebook post here.
This is some really good information about recovering from surgery. It is nice to know that it would be smart to consider how you might need to deal with drainage from the wound for around 6-9 weeks after the surgery. That is good to know because my aunt might need a mastectomy. https://www.assocofsurgery.com/services-and-forms
I am so grateful for this list! I am going to be having a mastectomy soon so this list is a godsend
I had my surgery 6 months ago & I suggest keeping a small cooler in your room for water, juices, etc. Also, foam no rinse body wash is great for in between freshing up!
Keep a log in the bathroom to write down your fluid amount from your drain tube.
Thank you so much for this list. My surgery is in 5 weeks and I am trying to get prepared. This helps so much.
You will need tops that are full button downs. You will not be able to raise your arms up to put on a regular tshirt. Also, size up for comfort. Good luck!!
Great information to know! My double mastectomy is in 2 weeks. I hadn’t really given any thought to having the right clothes at home following surgery. What is the main consideration when buying pajamas?
I found that stretchy type button down pajamas worked best for the drains. Also an essential for me was a neck pillow at home and I wish I would have taken it with me to hospital !
One more tip – ask the doctor if physical therapy is recommended, a step that many women don’t realize can be extremely beneficial. This article provides more details on the benefits of PT for someone recovery from breast cancer: https://www.jfcares.org/blog/physical-therapy-following-breast-cancer/
My daughter will be having bilateral mastectomy (due to aggressive breast cancer) next week and I’ll be her main caretaker. I’ll probably stay with her for awhile because she’s a single mom of 2 young school age kiddos. Thank you for tips and suggestions. I’ll be taking a leave from work to help her but any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you
I’m scheduled to have a left breast mastectomy with no reconstruction on 12/2/21 I’m very apprehensive about the recovery time and the drains. Never realized about sleeping on my back, button or zipper tops. I was planning on traveling to my daughters for Christmas in South Carolina from my home in Florida but I don’t want to be a problem, is this something I should postpone?
Then you. I will be having Bilateral Mastectomy January 2022 and this helped me with my wish list for everyone that keeps asking is there anything I need.
Joanne, no this isn’t something you should postpone, unless your doctor confirms your choice. Do google your best choice of surgeons . Will you be choosing immediate reconstruction? If so, have you chosen implants(silicone or saline) or will you go the micro surgery route? There’s only two locations in SC that can do this kind of surgery: Spartanburg regional and MUSC near Charleston.
Regardless, check out as much info online as you can and view as many videos that pertain to your situation. There are also charitable organizations that will help you with things like walkers, shower chairs AND non perishable items.
Check out your hospital resources too. The gift shop in the hospital often has resources .
I had my bilateral and reconstruction in December also.
Another thing some one Suggested to me was the battery operated toothbrush so you’re not having to move your arm back-and-forth I thought that was a really good idea