If you have a friend that was recently diagnosed with cancer and is preparing for a major surgical procedure like a mastectomy, you are probably wondering what you can do now to support them and help them prepare for the road ahead. Mastectomies can be mentally, emotionally, and physically draining— both before and after the procedure. Your friend will need extra care, love, and uplifting during this time.
For at least two to three weeks, mastectomy surgery patients will experience soreness, swelling, and bruising. All of this happens while they are also processing what they’ve just been through and adjusting to a life that demands assistance (at least temporarily). Having someone nearby and ready to help is invaluable.
While many members of our Brobe community are cancer fighters and survivors themselves, many are simply the friends who stood by their side. We wanted to create a guide for these friends and family members who are integral parts of the recovery process. There is a lot that goes into getting well again after breast cancer, and we wondered what women really needed during this time. We asked our community and got answers.
5 Ways to Help a Friend Having a Mastectomy
Here are five ways to help out a friend undergoing breast surgery.
1. Be there for support.
Your friend or family member will need support both physically and emotionally, as it is not only a time of physical recovery but emotional as well. It’s important to surround your loved one with people who want to help, like family members, friends, or neighbors.
It can also help to point your friend toward other professionals who may be able to help. Experts recommend seeking counseling or therapy before and after the mastectomy for both the woman undergoing surgery and their spouse, too. There are also post-mastectomy support groups available that meet once or twice a month that can share valuable information. For mastectomy patients, it’s often helpful to meet people who have been through and are going through the same thing as you are. It’s a good idea to find local groups before your surgery.
Do some research to find groups in your area or check out our list of Breast Cancer Recovery Resources and Services.
2. Gift them the right recovery garments and products.
The lack of mobility after surgery often comes as a surprise to many woman. Before surgery, they often don’t realize what an impact this surgery would have on their daily tasks like getting dressed. This is especially true for those in double mastectomy recovery.
We are best known for our Recovery Brobe, which is both a bra and robe in one. Endorsed by nurses all over the world, our Recovery Brobe is a one-of-a-kind product that makes a perfect after surgery gift. The robe is designed with pockets for postoperative drains and a velcro front-closure bra, complete with pockets for ice packs to help soothe tender breasts or incisions. Of course, we're a little biased, but we designed the Recovery Brobe to be the best gift for a breast cancer patient.
We also offer a shower belt that holds your drains and a comfort pillow that holds an icepack for underarm support. These are what many women called “must-haves” as they make recovery more bearable. Whether you're looking for double mastectomy recovery gifts or for recovery items in general, check out our post-op recovery items for a thoughtful solution for your loved one.
3. Make sure they get the proper nutrition.
A balanced, healthy diet is crucial to recovery. But when you're recovering from surgery, getting up and cooking is the often the last thing you want to do. It can be tempting for someone in recovery to grab fast food or have something delivered, but this isn't the healthiest (or most budget-friendly) option. Help your friend by ensuring they get the healthy meals that they need to feel their best.
There are several ways you can do this:
- Cook a homemade meal and deliver it to their house
- Help meal prep fresh fruits and veggies for easy access snacking
- Offer to grocery shop for them
It’s also good idea to ask a healthcare provider or a nutritionist for suggestions. Most of the time, diets for breast cancer patients are higher in protein. This nutrient-rich food can provide the energy the body needs to heal after breast cancer.
If your friend doesn't have much of an appetite, protein shakes and supplements may be an option to help keep protein levels where they should be. For most women, the appropriate protein intake is approximately 50-75 gm per day. On average, a chicken breast that is around the size of a deck of cards roughly contains 25 gm of protein.
4. Encourage exercise and physical therapy.
Exercise for breast cancer survivors usually includes physical therapy to improve strength. If their practitioner okays it, your friend may want to engage in moderate aerobic exercise (like walking) for about 30 minutes, three or more times a week after they’ve recovered for several weeks.
Many women with large breasts who undergo mastectomy surgery will either have (1) a bilateral mastectomy or (2) a mastectomy on the affected side and a breast reduction on the other. This often changes your posture, the way you sit, your balance, and the way you walk. Seeking a physical therapist before and after surgery can help restore mobility to the affected side.
Though it's harder to help with your friend's physical recovery, there are still a few things you can do:
- Join them on walks. This can give them peace of mind that should anything happen, they've got a friend with them.
- Encourage them to do their prescribed exercises. If your friend is tired or not feeling great, it can be easy to skip prescribed exercises. Remind them that physical therapy will only help them have a smooth recovery.
- Accompany them to their physical therapy appointments if they desire.
Doing these activities with a loved one can take their mind off of pain or discomfort and make the process more enjoyable.
5. Make sure they have a recliner.
Your friend will not be able to sleep lying flat, so having a recliner at home is so helpful. To keep the recliner clean, you can wrap it with a fitted sheet. For extra comfort initially, you may want to surround your friend with support pillows. Before surgery, create a basket or bin and put things they might need next to the chair. Some items you may want to include are lip balm, medications, water bottle, phone charger, lotion, pen and journal, a good book, magazine, and crossword puzzles.
Even the smallest things go a long way when helping a friend recovering from a mastectomy. Your support, love, and care means the world to them and is integral to a speedy recovery process.