Starting Treatment

Preparing for Mastectomy/ Breast conserving surgery

So you’ve been given the date. The calendar is circled in red. You probably cannot think beyond that day and are unsure how the following months are going to pan out. All you know is that finally surgery is planned and you are ready to go… Or are you?

Some people have chemotherapy prior to surgery (neo-adjuvant) and others after surgery (adjuvant). My surgery was planned prior to chemotherapy as there was a debate on whether I needed to have chemotherapy or not. I remember especially the second time around that I couldn’t wait to have my surgery as I had an urgent need to be rid of the cancer and I wasn’t thinking too much beyond my surgery date.

There is a plethora of information available on the internet on the various types of surgery and on what to expect prior to, during and afterwards. Check out these websites, especially those dedicated to breast cancer charities as they are invaluable resource of evidence based information for you. They are also reviewed and updated regularly. I am giving a personal account of what worked for me, some of the information may overlap but I hope that you will gain some insight on what to expect.

  • Your breast cancer nurse will talk to you and give you information with regard to the surgery and treatment that is planned for you: breast conserving surgery; mastectomy; plus or minus reconstructive surgery; and/or axillary clearance pending sentinel node biopsy are just some types of surgery that people have. It is useful to read the information booklets at home and then contact your nurse if you have any queries prior to surgery.
  • Usually after surgery you will have a scar and either one or two drains,depending on your type of surgery. Both will have dressings on them. It is normal for the nurses to check both regularly during the post operative period , so do not be alarmed. Wearing a bra at this time can be very uncomfortable because of sensitive skin and your wound. I bought a shape wear bra from my local department store and went a couple of sizes up to allow for swelling. Key elements to consider when choosing a garment include being seam free and having a wide strap so it won’t dig into your skin.
  • Methods of pain relief vary from institution to institution, suffice to say if you have pain inform the nurse as soon as it presents itself. After my surgery I woke up completely pain free. It was such a relief to me as I was dreading that aspect of the surgery.
  • When choosing nightwear, I suggest a loose fitting pyjamas with buttons down the front to allow easy access for the surgical nursing and medical team to examine and assess afterwards and preserve your dignity! Have a fresh pair for each day plus a couple of spares in case of drains leaking etc.
  • Earplugs for night time are a good purchase as it is very difficult to sleep in a hospital.
  • Books, music with earplugs are great to distract you from your surroundings.
  • Baby wipes/antibacterial hand cleanser are handy on your locker if it feels like too much of an ordeal to walk to the sink.
  • Welcome visitors but don’t be afraid to tell them you are tired and need to rest. if you have small children at home, this may be your only chance, so use it.
  • Your partner/spouse may like to be there when the doctors do their rounds as you may be too groggy to ask pertinent questions.

The above are some ideas that may be useful to you. Best wishes for your forthcoming surgery and wishing you a completely restful recovery…

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