My reconstruction is called a DIEP Flap. This means that skin and fat are taken from the stomach area, as well as an artery, and shifted up to make a new breast. Since the artery is included in this move, it ensures that the flesh will stay alive and be nourished.
Since October has been dubbed Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I am sharing my list of items that helped me, in the hope that it can help someone else.
Here is a list of items that helped me when I came home from the hospital:
- Hospital bed or recliner to sleep in. We do not have a recliner. Our insurance would not pay for a hospital bed, so my husband paid for it out-of-pocket. It was well worth the money. I could sleep downstairs, move my headrest up, and move my legs up. (I retained a lot of water in my legs and needed to keep them elevated.)
- Nightgowns. Four or five nightgowns which snap or zipper in the front and have pockets for the drains. I cut small holes in the backside of the pockets, and fed the drains through so that they rested in the pocket. In the hospital, the drains were safety-pinned to the front of my gown. Yuck. Not a fashion statement I would like to make. I liked them hidden in the pockets.
- Baby wipes and feminine wipes. Four large packages of baby wipes. Since you will not be able to take a shower for a week or longer, baby wipes are great for freshening up.
- Paper tape. Five or six rolls of paper tape that does not stick to the skin like hospital tape does; especially for those areas of stitches.
- Telfa bandages. These are specially made and do not stick to wounds, so the wound is not re-opened every time you have to change your bandage. Ouch.
- Bacitracin ointment. Five or six tubes. This helps fight infection, as well as keeping the bandages from sticking directly to the skin.
- Bio-med bandages. I call them “O” rings. These are little rings that go around the site of the tube for the drains to keep it dry.
- Windows. These are clear, sticky plastic that go overtop of the bio-med rings to protect the site. Peel and stick.
- Bandages. Lots and lots. All sizes. Really small ones are good for applying ointment or cleanser.
- New socks and underwear. Treat yourself.
- Extra pillows. I needed extra support under my arm on the “operated” side.
- Dandelion Tea. This helps to naturally get rid of the excess water weight that is a side effect of the surgery.
- Notebooks. I have one for my medicine schedule I keep up on the entertainment center with my meds. Another notebook I place in the bathroom to keep track of the drainage output. Sure, the doctor gave me paper sheets, but the notebook worked better for me. Some people also find it helpful to journal what you are thinking, feeling and experiencing through the recovery.
- Pens. Lots of pens.
- A table. Or table-height surface to put bandages, tape, etc. Since I had stitches across my belly, I was very sore and could not grab items off the floor, or low to the floor. I kept all my supplies easily accessible.
- A small mirror. (Mine is about 8″ x 8″. ) If you don’t have anyone 24/7 to change your bandages, you might get into some pretty strange positions to change them yourself. A mirror is handy to find out where to put the bandage.
- Laundry baskets. One for clean, one for dirty. I lived in the living room for a month, so my “recovery clothes” are all close by. I needed to avoid going up and down stairs.
- Stool softener pills and Prune Juice. The pain meds may back you up a little. Or a lot.
- Sports bras. After you get the okay from your doctor, you can begin wearing a bra, but what’s needed is that fine line between “support” and “movement.” No underwires.
- A Lanyard or “hanger” for drains. When I you are finally cleared to take a shower, you still have the drains to consider. They need to be supported. My husband took two bungee cords and duct-taped them together. Yes, it looks a little Red-Green, or just redneck, but it worked. You definately don’t want to pull the drains out too soon.
Other things I never though I’d do:
- Put a sweater on backwards. I believe they do this in Nursing Homes. At nighttime, if I got cold, I would put the sweater on backwards, (with the buttons in the back, left unbuttoned.) Then, when the inevitable hot flash showed up, I could easily remove it without hurting myself. I experienced the pain of trying to pull myself forward to take off the sweater at 3 am, in a hospital bed, with the back raised and pulling my stitches. Learn from my mistakes. Who sees you anyway?
- Ask for help. Yes, many of us humans have a lot of trouble with this one. I had neighbors who walked my dog, friends who brought us hot meals, a neighbor who vacuumed my floors, and a friend who gave me a ride to the doctor. My sister came up and decluttered my whole downstairs.
For me, having most of these items on hand ahead of time was a big help. I couldn’t drive for a month due to the stitches, and the painkillers(!) and I didn’t want to drive Mr. Porter crazy. Of course, he still ran a lot of errands for me.
I am now five weeks past my surgery, and I’m starting to feel better. All my drains have been taken out, and I am doing the home exercises from my doctor for my arm and chest area. I am not supposed to do any heavy lifting for a few more weeks yet.
My doctor says that very soon I will be sent to Physical Therapy to regain the use of my arm and shoulder 100%.
I hope that this information will help someone to plan ahead for a speedy recovery.