What should I be doing to get ready surgery?


I am 62 and was recently diagnosed on a routine mammogram with stage 1 invasive ductal bc that is estrogen and progesterone positive. I will be seeing a surgeon this week and my surgery date for a lumpectomy is in a few weeks. My dr is positive but I have no experience with all of this and no one I know has gone through this before. I live alone. I am wondering if anyone can give me some advice or suggestions on what I can do to get myself prepared at home for surgery and recovery. Should I buy myself a special type of bra or clothing? Prepare meals? I’ve had a few follow up calls from my dr. Each time giving me more specific pathology results and each time it gets scarier to hear this news. 

Hi Rhonda

First, I’m sorry you need to be here and all of us will understand your confusion and fears because we’ve all been here. Your world may feel it’s been turned upside down and your sense of safety snatched away. Things will settle. You will find that you learn different bits of information as your biopsy results come through (and also after your surgery). It’s not tested just for one thing - there are all sorts of proteins and genes and mutations and stuff beyond my comprehension (and I’ve been in cancer-world for over three years). You may also find your diagnosis changes a bit. I went from ‘I don’t think you’ve anything to worry about’ to full surgery in just 4 weeks! However, you are in a different and quite a positive situation, hormone positive which is easier to treat - and up to 90% of breast cancers caught early have a positive outcome, which may be encouraging. AND you have a doctor still engaging with you. Miracles do happen!

You sound quite practical. I was a quivering wreck! You need:

  1. A few pairs of button fronted pjs. It may be painful to raise your arm for a while though you MUST do your prescribed exercises diligently, pain or no pain. Your dressing may leak, so several pairs - you won’t be up to doing the laundry.

  2. Front fastening clothes, first to come back from hospital but also so it’s easier to get up and into something like your usual routine at home if you don’t have to worry about what to wear. You don’t need to wear a bra unless you have large boobs. At this stage, just go for some (seamless? Depends where the wound is) sport or comfort bras, ones you can step into. Asda do some good ones. You will have a dressing which would get in the way of a good bra and, depending where your wound will be, you may not want underwired bras. Wait to see if your lumpectomy necessitates a change in bra requirements. 

  3. At home, an extra pillow to stop yourself rolling onto your sore boob in your sleep. There are special shaped mastectomy pillows but I found a normal one worked just as well.

  4. Ready meals or easily prepared food and drink. If your mastectomy is on your dominant side, it’s surprising how little you can do for a few days. Even if it’s not, there are still things that may be difficult, like lifting a kettle. It’s surprising what muscles are involved.

  5. A hospital bag with things you feel you might need - tissues, wipes, distractions like  a good book, a puzzle book and pencil, phone charger etc. Earphones if you’re into music or audiobooks. I didn’t stay overnight so I didn’t have to bother but I remember in my mental haze wishing I had some cologne or cream that would make me smell of me and not of an operating theatre. Other things are pretty obvious, like hairbrush, toiletries in small sizes, moisturiser, hand cream which suddenly felt essential to me. I’m sure others will add their essentials.

  6. Have some paracetamol and some ibuprofen at home. If one doesn’t work, the other may, or you can alternate them in a shorter time. I actually never took anything but it’s best to be prepared. Unfortunately, general anaesthetics do tend to cause constipation so maybe some Dulcoease or some gentle laxative. Alternatively, grapes, raisins, dates, prune juice, rhubarb, anything to keep your bowels normal. Once constipation sets it, ugh!

  7. A friend or relative who can drive you home, a friend who can ring you or you can ring them so you don’t feel isolated, maybe a friend who can pop by to see how you’re getting on. Some people are very independent but this isn’t something you want to do on your own. But it can be hard to ask. ASK.

  8. Surround yourself with all the things that make you feel good. It may soon be summer but you’ll welcome a snuggly blanket! Make sure you have plenty of water and soft drinks to keep hydrated and prevent constipation.

As I said, you will get additional information drip fed as it comes through. You need to decide how much you want to know. Are you someone who will need t do a forensic examination of everything to feel in charge of their treatment? Are you an ostrich like me? You can tell your doctor that you only want the essential information because pathology results can sound alarming. Then you Google them (please don’t- Google is out of date, often inaccurate and usually leads you to stuff not appropriate to your specific breast cancer (and there are many types). It’s all your choice. After surgery you will have to wait for the final results but you will officially be cancer-free. What treatments, if any, that follow will be worked out after your surgery. If you’re like my mum, it may be some radiotherapy and hormone therapy. Don’t fret about it - you’ll find out when you do, Better to practise some meditation, mindfulness, yoga, walking, anything that makes you feel good. There are NHS-endorsed apps like Calm and Headspace, both of which can help you relax, soothe you. I rely on YouTube videos you just plug into, put in the earbuds and drift away. Progressive Hypnosis is very good.

Well, that’s all I can dredge up for now. I’d say, to get ready for surgery, the last point about practising relaxation is essential. I’m off to do a stint now. I wish you all the best for a quick recovery

Jan x