What You ACTUALLY Need for Mastectomy Recovery

A cancer survivor shares what you actually need for mastectomy recovery
A cancer survivor shares what you actually need for mastectomy recovery
what you actually need for mastectomy recovery
What you actually need for mastectomy recover

The purpose of this post is to be helpful…not to earn advertising fees.  However, since I participate in the Amazon Associate program and I am linking to products on Amazon in this post to help me explain certain items, I want to make sure everything is on the up and up by posting a disclosure:

This post contains affiliate links, which are designed for this site to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to other websites.  For my full disclosure policy click here.

First things first.  If you are reading this post for yourself or a loved one:  I am SO very sorry.

Breast cancer is a life-altering and heart-wrenching illness that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.  I am sorry that your family is now among those affected by this terrible disease.  I am especially sorry that your journey will include a mastectomy.

I found that there was a LOT of emotion involved leading up to (and following) my mastectomy, one of those reasons being that there was so much that was out of my hands.  I wanted to be able to have some control over what was happening to me, and I felt that I could get some of that control through preparation.  BUT I was quickly overwhelmed when I started looking around online.  Special pillows…drain aprons…camisoles with pockets…what did I ACTUALLY need?

Since I didn’t really know exactly what I would need, it turns out that I over-prepared.  Now I am ready to share, from my experience, what you REALLY need for mastectomy recovery.

After the surgery, I found that my life was impacted most in these areas:  Getting rest, getting dressed, getting clean, and getting up.

GETTING REST

Recliner – I would 100% recommend having a recliner for sleeping in after surgery because the only way to sleep is on your back and at an incline.  I slept in a recliner for about 2 weeks after my mastectomy.  If you don’t have access to a recliner and don’t feel the need to rent or borrow one, there are definitely other options.  You mainly just can’t sleep completely flat – there is just too much pressure and discomfort.

Wedge Pillow – When I was ready to graduate from the recliner back to my bed, I used a wedge pillow that my sister-in-law let me borrow.This would definitely be an option instead of sleeping in a recliner, but it takes a LOT of other pillows to really get comfortable.

Other Pillows – Recovering from a mastectomy is a pillow-heavy venture.  I found that laying a regular bed pillow across my chest was helpful for extra cushioning and comfort. I also used a small heart-shaped pillow under my armpits when my drain area started getting sore (although a rolled up hand towel probably would have done the job just as well); it helped to have a little cushion to keep my arms from sitting directly on the drain tube or where I had my sentinel node removed.  I didn’t feel that the special mastectomy pillows were necessary in my case.  HOWEVER, I only had one sentinel node removed.  I might have been singing a different tune if I had more significant node involvement.

GETTING DRESSED

As you might expect, this is the area in which I was over-prepared.  So here is what I would recommend in regards to clothing for mastectomy recovery:

Drain Camisole – This is absolutely my number one recommendation for mastectomy recovery.  It was worth every penny,  even though I only used it for the short time I had drains.  I wore the camisole under my pajamas; it held my drains and I found the gentle pressure it provided to be comfortable.  Click here for the one I used.

If the cost of this camisole makes it not a feasible option, you can always safety pin the drains to the inside of your shirt, or wear a lanyard (see the next section).  I tried both of these options when my camisole was in the wash, but didn’t like how things felt or looked.  Family and friends of those facing a mastectomy:  I know that many of my family members and friends wanted to know how to help, but I wasn’t sure at the time.  Now that I know this item is such a helpful part of mastectomy recovery, I would highly recommend that you help your loved one acquire a drain camisole prior to their surgery.

Button-Up Pajamas – You will definitely want at least one set of button-up pajamas, but I would recommend two.  This is pretty much all I wore at home for the first week of recovery.  If this isn’t the type of pajama that you normally wear, don’t buy more than two pairs (one to wear, one to wash).  My loose and stretchy t-shirts that I normally wore for pajamas were some of the first shirts that I could get over my head when my range of motion improved, so I didn’t have to wear button-up pajamas for too long.

comfortable clothes post-mastectomy

Comfortable Clothes – These are the “one-step-up-from-PJs” clothes.  The ones you wear when you go to all the trouble of getting showered so you don’t feel like putting PJs back on, but you aren’t leaving the house. I chose loungewear pants and a zip-up hoodie (the zipper didn’t bug my skin because I was wearing my drain camisole). Again, I would recommend two outfits: One to wear, one to wash.

Out and About Clothes – Whether you will want to or not, you will be leaving the house for doctor appointments not long after the mastectomy.  Find a couple of button-up or zip-up tops that make you feel good!  Also, keep in mind that if your “out and about” pants are difficult to fasten prior to the mastectomy, they will be nearly impossible to fasten afterwards.  Leggings will become your friend!

I was able to maneuver myself into some of my regular tops within about two weeks post-mastectomy.  But remember, I only had my sentinel node on one side removed, so that could be different in your case.  I still don’t think a mastectomy requires replacing your whole wardrobe with button-up tops.  You can make do with the bit that I mentioned above until your range of motion improves.

**When it comes to clothing, this is what I recommend for mastectomy RECOVERY.  If your mastectomy and cancer treatment are anything like mine, your body is going to be changing in many ways…including weight gain…long after surgery.  So you will probably be adding other clothing items to your wardrobe.  I found that light, flowy tops were my favorite post-mastectomy choice.  There are also other clothing needs to take into consideration for other parts of the cancer experience, but I will include those in another post.

GETTING CLEAN

I will preface this section by saying that everyone’s mastectomy is different, and everyone’s surgeons have different recommendations during recovery.  Your doctor will let you know how soon after your surgery you can shower…my recommendations are assuming that you have received the go-ahead.  With that disclaimer out of the way, here is what you REALLY need when it comes to keeping yourself clean after a mastectomy.

Lanyard – I think this is one of the most important items on this list.  You can’t wear your fancy camisole in the shower, and you can’t let your drains drop or dangle {ouch!}, so you need somewhere for the drains to hang.

clipping lanyard to drain

I just looped a large safety pin through the plastic loop on each drain, then clipped the safety pins to the lanyard.

Spray Deodorant – The incision pain decreased long before range of motion increased, so I was ready to put on deodorant long before I was ready to lift my arms and rub it on.  That’s where spray deodorant came in handy!  Definitely be cautious about using spray deodorant around any lymph node or drain incisions and follow your doctor’s recommendations.

2-in-1 Shampoo – For me, the hardest part of showering post-mastectomy was washing my hair.  I normally use a separate shampoo and conditioner, but chose a 2-in-1 for after my mastectomy so I only had to go through the motions once.

Easy-Open Bottles – Most shampoo and conditioner bottles are pretty easy to open, but you’ll be shocked at how little muscle you will be able to use for things like this.  Just be aware of how difficult your bottles are to open.  Also, make sure the bottles are stored low in the shower.  If you normally have them hanging on one of those shower head organizers, you will want to figure something else out while you recover from your mastectomy.

GETTING UP

It is important to get up and moving, both for physical and emotional well-being.  The following are items that helped me be a little more independent in getting up and taking care of my own needs.

Seat Belt Pillow – Riding in the car is not a very comfortable experience after surgery.  I found that the little pillows that I used for my armpits worked beautifully as a cushion between the seat belt and my chest during car rides.  In fact, I STILL use the little pillows as a seat belt cushion when I drive, otherwise the seat belt rubs against my port (very uncomfortable).

Lightweight Step Stool – It goes without saying that getting anything out of the cupboards is a challenge after a mastectomy.  I had a lightweight step stool that I could push around with my feet and get into position so that I could access cupboards that would have required me to lift my arms otherwise.  Even with the step stool, I couldn’t reach the top shelf in the kitchen cupboards.  (Take that into consideration when you are storing food and other necessities prior to surgery.)

Easy-Open Prescription Bottles – If you live on your own, this is REALLY important!  It was impossible for me to open the push-and-turn lids from my pharmacy, so I always had to have my parents or Mr. Blue Eyes open the bottles for me – – even in the middle of the night.  I ended up with two bottles from a different pharmacy that had easy-open caps (still child resistant), so I found out there was an easier way!  If your pharmacy doesn’t give you the easy-open caps and you won’t have someone to open your bottles for you, then you will want to get a pill organizer or some other easy-open storage method.  (Be careful if you have kids at home!)

I think that’s everything!  If you have everything on this list, you should be prepared to face the first couple of weeks post-mastectomy with confidence.

NICE, BUT NOT NECESSARY

Now, I want to add a few more items that I found were NICE to have, but definitely not necessary.

Bluetooth Headphones – Mastectomy recovery starts as soon as the mastectomy is over.  And that includes in the hospital!  Even though a mastectomy is considered same-day surgery in many hospitals, my surgeon had me stay overnight for pain control.  This meant spending the night in the acute care wing.  Holy noise, Batman!

headphones post mastectomy

My roommate situation was definitely not ideal, so my Bluetooth headphones came in handy to block out noise without adding to the many wires and tubes hanging off my body. They were also helpful while I was recovering in my recliner at home – – I just kept them around my neck so I didn’t have to worry about losing them in the chair.

Electric Toothbrush – I saw this mentioned in a blog post somewhere, so I decided to ditch my manual toothbrush for a Sonicare.  It was nice to just let the electric toothbrush do its thing when it hurt to lift my arms, but I felt like I could have managed with a manual toothbrush just fine.Disposable Sponge Bath Wipes – I’m talking about the sponge bath in a package that you can heat up in the microwave.  I was able to shower within two days of my mastectomy, so I didn’t get around to using these.  But I HAVE used them in the past (I can’t remember why….which is a little scary…) and they are nice.  Obviously, a regular washcloth and wash basin will do the trick, but these are nice to have on hand.

Slip-On Shoes – Bending over is not super comfortable post-mastectomy, so being able to just slip my shoes on was helpful.  I was able to put on regular tie shoes with a little more effort than usual,  so I wouldn’t say slip-ons are a necessity.  Think of it as trying to put on tie shoes when you’re eight or nine months pregnant.  Can you do it?  Eventually.  Do you want to?  Not really.

Soft, No-Cup Bra – If your mastectomy wasn’t bilateral, your bra needs will definitely be different than mine.  After my bilateral mastectomy, I found that there were certain activities when it was more comfortable to wear a bra (mainly during exercise).  I tried a zip-front sports bra and HATED it.  Too much squeezing!  What I found most comfortable was the soft, no-cup bra that grew with me as my tissue expanders were filled.  The reason this is on the “nice, but not necessary” list is that I live life with basically no bra (sorry if that’s TMI).  Tissue expanders are like cannonballs.  There is no movement.  There is no sagging.  At this point, I am most comfortable without a bra at all, but there are activities and/or outfits when a bra is necessary.  I saw recommendations for zip-front or front-fastening bras all over the internet when researching mastectomy recovery.  If this isn’t the fastener you normally use, then don’t worry too much about finding one.  By the time I was done with my zip-front camisole, I was able to fasten a bra in the back.  Even if it takes a little longer for you to get your range of motion back, reaching behind to fasten a bra probably won’t be one of the more difficult movements for you.

Clipboard – There are a few things you need to keep track of during mastectomy recovery – drain output and meds.  I kept mine in a binder that the cancer center had given me, but it would have been less cumbersome if I had kept it on a clipboard next to my recliner.

So I think that’s everything!  I hope this list serves as helpful instead of overwhelming (the last thing I want is to add to your anxiety during this time!).  Please feel free to contact me if you have any additional questions.

23 thoughts on “What You ACTUALLY Need for Mastectomy Recovery”

    1. This is the best advice I have read! I only had mastectomy on one side. And (this was important to me) home that night. I didn’t see the need to buy anything special other than some soft sports bras that hooked in the front. I love those. (My daughter’s suggestion.) Still wear them 3 years later.

  1. Thanks Stephanie. Great info here. I too was researching what I’d need for MX recovery and was at risk of being over-prepared with clothing in particular. At this date I’m still anticipating my place in line for a bilateral MX. I’d like to add to your list of useful clothing that I encountered – a shower shirt. This is a waterproof bolero jacket made by The Shower Shirt Co.com that you wear in the shower (has drain pockets too) to protect chest from the needlelike spray of a shower and prevent household water from getting into the drain tube sites. Eileen

  2. This is spot on! I had a bilat about 5.5 weeks ago. I would also recommend Danskin type leisure wear that have pockets and drawstring waistband. They are really easy to get on and off and pockets are useful. I did not opt for reconstruction and instead chose prosthetics. However, the prosthetics are uncomfortable at this time so I Have been using the Bali soft one piece stretchy bras. They are very comfortable and protect my incisions. Plus in the early weeks I could put sterile pads over the incisions and the bra kept it in place.

    Thank you for sharing this. I too overprepared!

    1. Did you ever here off knitted knockers.org they have a free knitted prosthetics Iam wearing them for over 3 years there really comfy and light weight, and there all knitted in different sizes , and by volunteers , 100 % cotton

  3. Great tips! Thank you for sharing! I started my treatment with chemo and am now researching as prep for my upcoming bilateral surgery. I like the camisole you describe and also appreciate using things you already have at home vs running out to buy lots of new things. Thanks again and hope you feel fully healed.

  4. Thank you. I am preparing for bilateral mastectomy. This is very helpful. I have not made my decision on reconstruction at this time.

    1. I am so sorry that you have to travel this road, Sue! I am glad that this post was helpful for you. I completely understand the difficulty in making decisions about things such as reconstruction, but I know that what you decide will be what’s best for you. Hugs and best wishes!

  5. The very best information I have read Lon the web. I am ordering many of the items suggested prior to my mastectomy. You providing the links to items was very helpful.

  6. Thank you for this great advice. Will be looking into the camisole and sleep pillow for sure! Being prepared is so important. Deciding on a bi-lat mastectomy is scary and I’ll admit I’m nervous. All I want is to keep being a mom for whole lot longer♡.
    God bless

    1. Thank you for reaching out. I am so very sorry that you have to make these decisions! I’m glad to hear that this post was helpful for you. If you have any other questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out. God bless you and your family!

  7. This was THE most helpful information. I’m one month post op and now preparing to start chemo but as for the surgery items and tips…. you could not have been more SPOT IN. I can’t thank you enough!!!

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your comment, Sandra! I am so thankful that you found this post useful. As for itching….oh, boy. Itching comes and goes during many different parts of cancer treatment. I found that using a microwavable rice bag was helpful…it has a slightly moist heat, so it helps when you’re feeling dry and itchy. Sometimes cold compresses help as well. It really depends. There are also some radiation relief lotions that are helpful, but I’m not sure about using them around healing incisions. You might want to check with your oncologist and surgeon before applying lotions and creams. Good luck and thanks again for sharing your experience! I wish you the best as you continue to heal.

  8. Oh, question. I had the boost and the incision scars are healing well but feel right and somewhat dry/itchy. What did you find most helpful for that?

  9. Hi Stephanie Love your common sense approach to both prepping for a mastectomy and your chemo advice, all of which translate okay to English readers. I had a single mastectomy and axillary lymph nodes removed a week ago and would not have slept without my wedge pillow, a v pillow and half of the rest of the pillows in the house. One surprise benefit was I didn’t wake my hubby snoring either (win win). Also button up PJs and jogging bottoms have been invaluable. Now that I have mastered the art of putting my surgery arm in to t-shirts first I can dress presentable. It is a scary journey for everyone but with humility and humour we can get through. Watching my 15 year old son realise that you have to pick socks up when you hoover and using my hubby as a mobile drain holder whilst I showered have tickled me. Good luck to all you courageous beautiful ladies.

  10. Thank you for the information. I am getting ready for surgery in a few weeks and making decision about bilat also, just finished chemo. This was very helpful. Best wishes to you all and God Bless.

  11. Thank you for putting together such practical advice! Some of the blogs feel a little too “looking sexy 3 days after your mastectomy” for me. I just finished 6 rounds of brutal chemo, am trying to function as a wife/mom, and make all these terrifying choices, so I just need practical. I did have a friend that bought me a unique gift that may be tmi for some but I think it seems practical and was recommended to her by another friend that had a mastectomy…its a wand that will hold a wet wipe bathroom wipe. You know, to make that reach a little easier. She found it on Amazon. I don’t know, my surgery isn’t until August but Im thinking it seems legit. Anyhow, again thank you for the list, it makes a crap situation a little easier ❤

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