This post is about my mastectomy surgery. Be prepared, there is bed pan chat!
I was told I’d be in hospital from the Monday and all going well I’d be home on Wesnesday afternoon. Obviously, i packed enough for a week!
Now, when I’m anxious, I organise and I buy stuff. Those things give me a sense of control. I was so nervous I packed my little case about 25 times.
Part of the reason I’m writing this, other than to remind me of facts when I inevitably forget them in about 6 months time, is to help guide/prepare/support anyone else in my situation so here is my packing list.
Pyjamas: 3 pairs. Make sure they are at least 1 size too big and button down the front. This will make them much easier to get on and off and allow you easy access for the many many people who will want to see your wound for the next few days. Also, you will have a drain coming from your wound site (sounds worse than it is) and that needs to be accessible too.
Pants: 5 pairs. I don’t know why. I panicked and bought a multi pack from BHS
Dressing gown: I was really glad of this as I felt up to having a little wander and freedom from the ward after a few days but not up to getting fully dressed to do it!
Clothes for coming home in: I took jogging bottoms, a vest top and a zip up hoody. All things I could quite easily dress in with limited movement
Bras: the bras I bought were terrible! They advise you to buy unwired bras as they will be more comfortable post surgery. If you can find a bra with no wires in a 38F that offers any kind of comfort or support, then you’re doing better than me. I’ve worn them a total of twice and I look truly mental when I do. All I can do, is pull at it and try to make it sit properly. Within ten seconds it’s managed to tuck itself under my other boob in medieval torture style death grip. I’d have been better off bandaging it down.
Once I was home, I worked out I was better with a wired bra. I pulled the wire out of my op side and some still had support on my other side. I was very swollen and needed one of those dodgy Betterware type bra expanders. If you’re buying a bra specifically for post op, buy it at least 1 back size wider than normal.
Slipper socks: I didn’t need mine as it was roasting in my room but they might have been handy if they kept the place at non ‘depths of hell’ temperature.
Toiletries: All the normal stuff you’d take for a weekend away.
One bit of advice I got from a wonderful friend who, unfortunately, has had far too much hospital experience having been treated for bone cancer, is to take sanitary towels. Something to do with the general anaesthetic… Anyway, I’m glad she told me as it did bring on my period and I managed to save myself from a potentially very embarrassing situation!
Other things that might help: face wipes, dry shampoo, moisturiser, lip balm, nice smelling hand sanitizer (the body shop have a lovely coconut scented one) These will make you feel a bit more human if you get really hot or feel a bit grubby.
Entertainment: This is probably the most important thing on the list as 3 or 4 days in hospital is equal to 2 months in the real world. It can be very lonely and boring so take things that will help alleviate the boredom.
My top recommendation is an audiobook. A lovely customer of mine sent me a memory stick with a Harry Potter audiobook on it which I downloaded onto my phone. This thing is about 20 hours long so no need to worry about getting through it too fast!
After my operation, I woke up at around 5pm. I was extremely drowsy as it had taken almost a 5 hours. I wasn’t up to sitting up to read, or even hold, a book so popping on my headphones and heading off to Hogwarts was amazing. That was a long night as I as being monitored on an hourly basis so having Stephen Fry reading me a story was very welcome company.
I also had my iPad with a bunch of films and music downloaded onto it, some books and magazines. I’d rather have way too much to choose from than way too little!
Snacks: I didnt have much of an appetite but did have the odd fudge or sucky sweetie. I took a bottle of lucozade and diluting juice too. During the op, they put a tube down your throat to help you breathe and when you wake up it can be quite sore and dry for a few days so drinking lots is essential!
So, on the morning of the operation, we arrived at the hospital at 8am. It was a whirlwind of activity for the first hour or so. I met the nurses, the aneasthatist, the surgeon, the physio. I had bloods taken, temperature, blood pressure and pulse. The surgeon drew a huge downward facing arrow on my left collarbone to make sure he got the right side… That was reassuring. He then drew a load of lines all over my boob, had a conversation with me (directed at the boob) and then we were left to wait… and wait. At just before 11, the nurse came to get me. I changed into my fetching gown and my dressing gown and walked to the theatre. I said goodbye to Steph in the hallway. The fear well and truly set in at that point but there was no going back now. I had my 25th cry of the day. I don’t know how I didn’t dehydrate and wither away in those first few weeks.
I walked through the double doors and into the unknown.
Getting set up for this operation was a little different to the egg retrieval one. As it was such a long op, they had to wrestle me into some fetching compression socks to avoid any blood clots. There were 5 people in the pre op room and they were all wonderful to me. Lady GaGa was playing on the stereo and it was such a buzzy, positive atmosphere, it was almost hard to feel afraid with them! My biggest fear is unmanageable pain. They assured me that I would be so full of drugs that there was absolutely no chance of that happening. With that reassurance, I felt ready. Well, as ready as I was ever going to be. They slipped the mask over my face and asked me to take she deep breaths. I felt warm, happy, a little drunk….and I was out.
My next memory is waking up and feeling like my head was full of fog. I was moved back onto my bed and taken back to my room.
It took a while to really feel like I’d woken up and there was a nurse waiting with a glass of water which was heaven as my throat was so sore a dry. I drank a lot over the next few days.
This lead me to my encounter with the bed pan. Oh dear. Not the most dignified thing in the world. I was so drugged up, I couldn’t get out of bed so it was a necessary evil. I had a bit of stage fright and the nurses had to leave me to have a word with my bladder. Peeing whilst lying in bed must be one of the most unnatural things to try to get your body to do. Luckily that was the one and only time I had to use it during my stay.
Steph called the ward to find out if I was awake and he came in to see me at around 7:30. It must have been a huge relief for him. I was fine, I was unconscious, he had to wait all that time! He was visibly relieved to see that i looked pretty normal and by that time, I was sitting up and had had my first (of many) cup of tea. He stayed with me an hour or so but I hardly remember anything we talked about. Just of being glad to see him.
I was being monitored a lot so there wasn’t much rest but I did doze a lot in those first few days.
The next morning I was helped into the shower and got my first look at what was left of my breast. The wound itself was still covered over with dressings and there was a drain coming out of it. It was quite a shock but not as bad as I’d been imagining. Mostly it was just so much smaller than the other side. I’ve always had a big bust so it feels very strange now. My implant was quite heavy though so weight wise it’s about the same.
The next couple of days went along without much excitement. There was a bit of a panic moment when my drain got blocked and I started to swell like violet from charlie and the chocolate factory. The surgeon was called to come and have a look and he recognised the problem straight away. I had a new drain fitted and started to feel better straight away. Unfortunately this resulted in spending an extra day there so they could keep monitoring me.
The only other part of my hospital stay worth noting was the fake boob and all the tears.
Marlene, my breast care nurse came in to fit me for my temporary ‘softie’, a boob shaped cushion to pop in your bra to balance out both sides. She asked me if I’d really looked at myself yet. I said I’d seen my wound while I was in the shower. She asked me to stand and look in the mirror and really have a good look. The reality of how much of a physical change id gone through started to crush me. She asked me to put a bra on (the first time since my op) and I realised how massively ‘missing’ I felt. She then showed me how to place the softie in my bra to achieve a bit of a balance. All I could see was the gap between my wound and the cup of the bra and how much was gone. I cried. A lot. I cried so much, a nurse came and closed the door to the bathroom and the door to my room to try to muffle the sound from the the main corridor. Being the type of person who cares massively about what people think, this public display of emotion is something I would rarely show. I felt as though all my strength and courage had evaporated and in that moment, I knew my life had changed. Not just because of the physical difference but that I, regardless of the outcome, had come face to face with my own mortality. The weeks of tests, facts, appointments and procedures had pushed me too far. Marlene watched me patiently and told me “that was going to happen at some point”. She left me to have some time to myself. One of the nurses came in a few minutes later and without saying a word, hugged me. I cried again and clung onto her. I can’t remember her name but I’ll never forget the compassion she showed me. I needed that hug as much as I needed the painkillers she came in to give me.
Luckily, it got better from there. I let go of a lot of mounted up fear and anxiety in that hour or so and all I felt from then was tiredness and a burning desire to go home!
And so, after 4 days, home I went!
Our timing for the surgery coincided with us getting new windows and doors fitted in our house and due to the dirt and dust, I went to stay with my mum for a few days to allow Steph time to get the duster out. It was lovely and peaceful there and I got spoiled rotten.
After 2 nights, I finally got to go to my own house which was beautifully clean and tidy. It was so nice to be back. I got to spend a few days relaxing and healing and sleeping a lot!