Double mastectomy 'previvor' shares letter she wrote to herself 9 years later
It has been 9 years since I had a prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction. I am a' previvor' - that means I beat cancer before it ever had a chance to get to me. I inherited the BRCA2 gene mutation from my father who is a 2-time breast cancer survivor. Since I learned I had BRCA 2 at the young age of 26, I chose increased surveillance while I had my children and then surgery once my kids were ages 5 & 8. These tips were written as I was recovering from surgery as I wish someone had shared these things with me. I hope you'll share them with a survivor or previvor in your life.
1. Do you own a recliner? You might want to consider sleeping in it post-op. If not, look for a cushion or pillows that can help keep you comfortable when you'll need to sleep on your back after surgery. Pillows under the knees help too. Make sure if you do use a recliner to sleep you have someone nearby to help you in and out of it as you can't lift that arm on the chair by yourself or push yourself up.
2. Before surgery, check out your closet for button down shirts or zip up sweatshirts that don't cling to you. You'll need a few of these. The more cotton and comfy the better. I thought I had this covered and realized that most of my wardrobe goes over my head. Make sure they are a little roomier than your normal tops for when you still have drains and bandages. Choose one size up if you buy anything.
3. There are great online stores for surgical post-op bras with front closure. Soma sells post-surgical bras as does Ameona and even Target. My surgeon was a stickler for keeping me bound up tight 24/7 so I used the hospital issue bra for a while because it had Velcro close in the front and on the straps which was helpful and comfortable. Buy a few options for after surgery so you can switch them up from time to time. If you are like me, the elastic irritates your skin after a while and it is nice to have a few bras to change between.
4. Accept help. I am not one to slow down but if there is one thing I learned is that having friends and family help with the kids, or help clean the house, or make dinner is really nice - and you shouldn't be doing these things - so be good and rest while others do for you. You can repay the favor when you are better.
5. Treat yourself to a spa day! Have someone drive you your hairdresser or a spa. Since showering is challenging when you can't raise your arms above your shoulders, have someone else pamper you with a hair wash and blow dry or a mani-pedi or facial…It is amazing how better you'll feel.
6. Be prepared. You aren't going to look or feel like yourself for a while. Keep remembering that every time you look in the mirror at those scars. You'll get there. My first two saline injections (expander method of reconstruction) were on one side only because my left breast wasn't healing as fast as the right. So, I remember being seriously lopsided but it was only temporary.
7. Remember he fell in love with you, not your breasts. My husband is a pro at answering the “Do these jeans make me look fat?” question. Try not to keep testing your husband or partner with questions about how your post-op breasts look. We tried to find the humor in it all. Since I did the expander reconstruction, we joked about it being growing new boobs without the acne and the training bra Laugh a little …it will be therapeutic for you both.
8. If you're a mom, enjoy your children while you recover. As a working mom who never slows down, my kids loved that mommy could sit and play board games with them, or watch movies. And it is amazing how gentle children can be when they know you are hurting. They even kept their rooms cleaner
9. Indulge a bit. Have that piece of chocolate. Get out to dinner or lunch with friends when you are feeling better. And after you stop the pain meds and antibiotics…open a bottle of wine with your best girlfriend and toast to being a strong, empowered woman. Quick note on the meds - Tylenol was helpful for my post-op recovery. The heavier prescription medication made me nauseous and foggy-headed. Tylenol helped the pain but I could definitely tell when it wore off so I had to take it regularly.
10. Baby Steps. Take it one day at a time. Your emotions will run wild as you recover and that's okay. Rent that chick flick or read the sappy novel for a good cry. Then wipe those tears and do something that makes you happy. (For me it was shoe shopping) The more positive your attitude, the stronger and healthier you'll feel. You got this.
Wendy Bailey is the Executive Producer of Great Day Washington on WUSA9. If you have a tip from recovering from a mastectomy or reconstruction please comment and share it with us!