Mastectomy: How to Prepare

What to pack plus healthy steps to take before surgery

In This Article

If you and your health care provider have decided a mastectomy is necessary in the treatment of breast cancer, one of the best things you can do is make sure you’ve prepared yourself for surgery ahead of time. This may include adjusting your fitness routine, making sure not to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk a few weeks prior to the surgery, to packing your hospital bag properly to help in your recovery. 

Some of the preparations you take will also depend on the type of mastectomy you’re having, as well as if you need a mastectomy in one or both breasts. But regardless of the procedure, by taking the proper steps ahead of time you can help minimize discomfort post-surgery and give yourself the best chances of recovering quickly and fully, without complications.

Location

A mastectomy will always be done in a hospital, and you’ll stay overnight once the procedure is done. The average hospital stay for mastectomy patients is three nights or less. Before the procedure, you’ll wait in a pre-operative room as nurses and the surgical team prepare the operating room. Depending on the hospital you may or may not be able to have a friend or family member in this room with you while you wait. Next, you’ll move into the anesthesia room to get an IV placed and some initial medicine administered through it to help relax and calm you. After that’s done, you’ll head into the surgical room for general anesthesia (which will put you to sleep) and the procedure itself.

A mastectomy surgery takes between two to three hours, in addition to any time for breast reconstruction if that’s part of your treatment plan. Once the surgery is over, you’ll wake up in a recovery room before being taken into your inpatient hospital room where you’ll be for the remainder of your stay. Depending on the hospital you may or may not have a roommate, which is typically another patient recovering from a mastectomy.

What to Wear

It doesn’t matter what you wear to the hospital, as you’ll change into a gown for the mastectomy, but it’s important to wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing after the surgery as you recover.

Shirts should have zippers or buttons, and nothing that you need to pull over your head. Underwear, no-skid socks or slippers, and pajama pants or sweats are the best bets to pack in your bag along with any toiletries you need.

Things that you won’t need include a bra (the hospital will provide you with a surgical bra after the procedure) and deodorant, since you will be advised not to lift your arms to apply it.

Food and Drink

You should stop eating after midnight the night before surgery. This is to keep your stomach as empty as possible for the mastectomy and more specifically, the anesthesia. Getting anesthesia can sometimes make patients feel nauseous, and this eliminates the possibility of getting a sick stomach during the procedure. Since general anesthesia requires intubation, having an empty stomach beforehand will help prevent food or liquid from getting into the lungs.

Instructions may say to drink nothing after midnight. Or, they may say you can drink clear fluids (but no dairy products) until two hours before you arrive at the medical center. Be sure to check with your specific instructions and comply with them exactly.

Medications

Talk with your health care provider before surgery to make sure they have a list of the medications you take daily. You’ll take most of these as directed with a sip of water, even if it’s the day of surgery. The exception here is if you take a blood thinning medication, as taking them before surgery may cause excessive bleeding during or after surgery. Your health care provider will let you know if you should stop taking these types of drugs ahead of time and when exactly to stop.

Because aspirin products and vitamin E also have blood-thinning effects, you should stop taking these medications 10 days before surgery (although a multivitamin with vitamin E in it is still fine to take daily).

What to Bring

In addition to your easy, loose-fitting clothing make sure to pack things that will help you stay comfortable and entertained during your hospital stay, Your favorite pillow, lip balm, hand lotion, a sleep mask or ear plugs, as well as a book or crossword puzzle you can do alone will help keep you busy and ease any post-surgery nerves.

Pack like you’re taking a quick road trip (i.e. don’t forget your glasses, toothbrush, and cell phone charger) but don’t go overboard. Everything should fit into one light bag you can easily carry with one hand.

Pre-Op Lifestyle Changes

If you’re not doing so already, take the time before surgery to start implementing some healthy habits into your daily routine. Eat a healthy diet filled with fruits and vegetables, make it a point to exercise regularly and move every day (even if it’s just a quick walk around the block), drink lots of water, cut back on drinking, and stop smoking. This will help make your recovery journey smoother, in addition to improving your overall health.

Make sure to speak with your health care provider about your current workout routine, particularly if it involves strength training with heavy weights. They may suggest you taper it down until you’re fully recovered to prevent injury before your mastectomy, which may complicate the procedure. 

A Word From Verywell

Getting a mastectomy can be frightening, but the best way to prepare yourself is to make sure you’re communicating with your health care provider. Bring a list of questions you want to ask before the surgery and remember that no question is too small or silly to ask. The better prepared you are for the procedure, the easier it will be to recover. Last, keep your friends and family in the loop. Having a contact list with you in the hospital will be helpful for the nurses and a steady support system—everything from having a set person to bring you home from the hospital to friends who will regularly call and check in, cook for you, and visit—will be important once the mastectomy is over.

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Article Sources
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  2. Breastcancer.org. Mastectomy: What to Expect. February 27, 2019.

  3. UCLA Health. When to stop eating and drinking.

  4. Breast360.org. Blood Thinners and Breast Surgery.

  5. UCSF Health. Mastectomy: Instructions before surgery.

  6. Alberta Health Services. Mastectomy: Before your surgery. December 19, 2018.