34 Best Ways to Help Someone Before, During and After a Mastectomy
Written by Oluwatoyin Joy Oke on
30th May, 2021
Updated: 23rd January, 2022
Estimated Reading Time: 11 minutes
The few weeks leading up to major surgery like mastectomy are often accompanied by mood changes. If you know of a friend or a family member who is about to undergo a mastectomy, you may begin to wonder if there’s something you can do to help them prepare for the road ahead. However, although, emphasis is often placed on things to do to help mastectomy patients prepare for their surgery, your friend also needs extra care, love, and inspiration during and after this time. This can help to stabilize them physically, mentally, and emotionally along the way.
Therefore, we consulted with our community and we came up with these practical and effective ways to support a friend before, during, and after mastectomy.
Ways you can help your friend before a Mastectomy
Be a good listener
Don’t give advice but try to acknowledge the difficulty of the situation your friend is passing through. Being an active listener shows your friends you care about their feeling and fears.
Listening is the best way you show your support to your friend or family member, try putting yourself in their shoes. Let your friend know they can talk to you at any time. Really listen and find out what your friend and their family's needs are. It’s the best way to help them.
Drive her/him to appointments
You can volunteer to be their driver when going for appointments or when they are returning from the hospital after surgery and even during follow-up visits if possible.
Be your friends or family note taker and advocate
Follow your friends and family preparing for mastectomy to their appointments. Take notes of what is being said at those appointments. It helps to know someone is there with you all the way. You can write out some questions to ask, if appropriate.
You could also bring along a tablet to watch a movie or listen to music while waiting to be attended to. Things like this can relieve nervousness.
Help to clean up their living space in preparation for recovery
It may be difficult for your friend to put things in order in her home after their mastectomy, so help your friend clean and arrange their bedroom, kitchen, so that necessary items are within reach.
You can also help to prepare meals and store them before their surgery.
Give your friends phone number of people passing or recovering from mastectomy
Finding someone who has gone through the same thing can be very helpful. If you know of another person who has passed through or is passing through mastectomy, you can ask your friends if they would like to connect to them, and you could also ask that person if they want to connect with your friend or their family about to go through a mastectomy.
It can be a source of comfort for your friend or family member to talk to someone who may understand them more at this time.
Distract your friend with little surprises
Do things to take their mind off their upcoming mastectomy surgery such as playing music they may enjoy, reading them exciting books, solving game puzzles and watching a TV series will help relieve some of their anxieties.
Help your friend or family understand they need help
If you have a friend or family who loves to give rather than receive. It is important to make them see reasons why they need to ask for help and be there to help them through their ordeal.
Always assure them they are not a burden and that you are ready and happy to play your role in helping them get through their mastectomy
Organize a Pre-mastectomy Boudoir photography for your friend
With your friend’s permission you can help them through their mourning process of losing their breast by organizing a photo-shoot.
You can make arrangement with them to get a local photographer she is comfortable with and take amazing pictures of their natural breast.
You can gift them beautiful lingerie or a pretty new bra for the photo-shoot. It is a great way to bid farewell to their breast.
Show your friends mastectomies of other women
With the permission from your friend or their family you could search out pictures of women who have had a mastectomy and show them those pictures. This may help you friend or their family warm up to the idea of having a new body.
You could both can sit and visualize how beautiful they will look after a mastectomy. Seeing another women’s mastectomy can help your friend start to feel at ease with their forthcoming surgery.
Help pack things that will be needed in the hospital
If your friend or family member has to stay in hospital for a couple days after their mastectomy and/or breast reconstruction. You could help by packing things that may be needed in the hospital.
Washbag of toiletries: it could contain a toothbrush, toothpaste, regular facial wipes, soap, dry shampoo, antibacterial gel, sleep mask ......
Clean undies: help to pack things that will be useful for a few days.
Nightwear: when selecting the ones to pack, take the ones that are easy to zip, tie or button up.
There are more things that may be needed by your friends, check out this hospital bag essentials for more suggestions. So that your friend’s stay at the hospital during and after their mastectomy surgery can be more comfortable.
Examples of care packs that can comfort and give practical relief during and after staying in hospital
Exercise before a mastectomy can help quick recovery. A study from American Cancer Society showed that moderate exercise can help reduce anxiety, aid recovery and improve self-esteem.
So if you can get involved in physical activities such as stretch, walking, box jumps, triceps extensions and so on with your friend it will be beneficial, but please do check with your friend surgeons for their advice on how to proceed.
Donate funds or gift them a card to help out
Depending on where you are in the world, mastectomy treatment and care can be very costly, so donated funds from friends and family can help relieve and care for the needs of your friend as she/he prepare for his/her surgery and then afterward.
Gift cards might be for a salon hair wash after their surgery (as it might be difficult for some time after the surgery to lift their arms and do simple things like washing their hair). Try to think of who they are and what they might like, but please do check out our 'what NOT to buy for a cancer patient' article first.
Offering help during Mastectomy
Volunteer to keep other family members and friends updated
Before your friend’s surgery, you can make yourself available so that your friend’s medical team can communicate with you and you could then feed back to others on progress and results.
You can send group email or text to other friends or family members.
Help plan how to make the ride home after mastectomy surgery a smooth one
When coming to get your friend or loved one from the hospital you could place small pillows in the car, so that they can place them on a chest and over their lap when using a sit belt.
You can also pick up your friend’s prescription from the pharmacy before coming home from surgery.
Care for their kids
Offer to watch over their kids when they go for their surgery. You could take time to take them grocery shopping and/ or to watch over them.
You could also volunteer to pick them from school or to attend their extra-curricular activities.
Pray for your friend or family undergoing mastectomy
Is your friend a religious person? If yes, assure them that you’ll put them in your prayers as they undergo their surgery. That could help your friend be more relaxed.
Help the caregiver
If you are not the primary caregiver, you could help your friend and their family by helping with the house chores, such as cooking meals, running errands or any other thing delegated to you by the caregiver.
You will find additional suggestions on thing you can do to here.
Buy them amazing gift
You could buy a thoughtful gift such as a comfortable robe, beautiful pajamas in a color they like or a mastectomy bra that feels comfortable for them. You can also check out the unisex deluxe mastectomy gift set from Cancer Care Parcel for great ideas.
Offer to provide company
Will your friend be staying in hospital after their surgery? Make the effort to take time to keep them company. Hospital stays can be boring and lonely but having someone who cares there can be uplifting to them.
Help your friend feel normal
It won’t help if you always down and sad around your friend or family member who had the surgery. It would be best to engage in activities that can lift up their spirits.
And treat them the same. Try not to let your friend’s condition get in the way of your friendship. As much as possible, treat him or her the same way you always have
Don’t forget to care for yourself
It helps your friend or family member going through mastectomy if you stay well.
Offering help after mastectomy
After a mastectomy, patients need people around. Take a break from work or school to be with them. Even if as a friend, you won't always be present, assure them of your availability when they do need you. Doing so will help them see they are not alone.
Be willing to help
Don't just stay with them, offer help to do things for them. They won't be able to move about and do hard work. Buttoning down their clothes, stretching to pick a cup of water, combing their hair all seem simple tasks but may be hard after major surgery. So, they will need a helping hand in minor and major things.
Spending as much time as possible with your friend could make it easy to better understand them (if they are happy with this). Pay attention to how their surgery is affecting their everyday life. Try to tailor any help you want to offer to their needs.
Follow your friend’s personal page
If they decide to write about their experience follow their page and drop encouraging comments on it for him or her. It serves as a source of strength to them. You can read and answer their email for them if they want you to.
Hold their hands or hugs them
Skin-to-skin contact such as the holding of hands or hugging is an affectionate gesture (if they are a huggy kind of person). When with them either while talking or not, holding their hands shows warmth and personal interest in them. Hence, help put them in a good mood. However, please only do this if this is who your relationship was before the surgery. Some people naturally don't like hugs or hand-holding regardless of circumstances.
Beware of what you say
Avoid making statements such as “I understand how you feel", if you've never been in their position." Rather say," I do know you're going through a tough time". Be mindful of not focusing too much on their reproach.
In addition, never remind them of the fact that they do not have one or both breasts or will have to wait before their breast surgery or for healing –They know this already! Talking about it will only be like piercing through an open wound.
Avoid negative statements like, “what if your breast doesn't build back, so now, you will have to live without a breast?"
Do not ask too many questions
Even if you are a family member you are not entitled to every detail of the Mastectomy. If you want to know some things, ask the health care provider, not your friend.
If you realize that the patient isn't comfortable talking about a particular topic don't push it.
Prevent asking such questions as "what was the tissue removed from your breast like?", "Where was it kept or disposed of".
Guide against dwelling on the past but on what can help them recover. This will help them feel free and relaxed when with you.
Listen with your heart
You need to allow your friend, loved one- or family member to speak and be attentive to whatever they want to talk about. Permit them to speak about their insecurities, doubt, and pains. Telling them to be brave in response is not always a good idea. You can read more about the language to use when talking to someone with cancer here.
Exercise with them
As they strive to get better, exercise is an activity they will need to engage in at some point. Don't leave them to do it alone. Be around to go exercising with them, in or outdoors.
Exercise helps them in their recovery. But you and your friend would need to check with the surgery to determine the exercise program they can engage in.
Help them feel normal
Feeling left out is something we all dislike. Just because they went through a mastectomy doesn’t mean they can't partake in many of the fun activities you do.
Make them sense they belong by, going shopping with them, seeing a movie with them, going to lunch or dinner together. As you do all these, be attentive to their well-being, so that they won't end up getting stressed.
Gift essentials that that will aid their healing process
After a mastectomy patients may find it difficult to move their shoulder and arms, to take a shower (since water must not touch the operated part and drain until it's healed), or even wear a normal bra etc.
Getting things like the following can be helpful to them.
Mastectomy pillow, backrest and body pillow
Soft, silly socks
Self-care items e.g. cancer resource book
Shower seat and removable shower nozzle
Mastectomy drain jacket
Dry shampoo and so on will go a lengthy way in easing their life after mastectomy
Brief notes or text messages or short calls remind your friend you are thinking about them.
Keep in check, Keep in touch
Try spending time with your friend or family member even after their mastectomy. Help them feel like they felt before.
Do try to call before you visit and don’t be angry if your friend’s caregiver ask you to leave. Make your visits meaningful and engaging. You can talk about interesting things, you can bring a movie along with you or watch their favorite TV show with them. It is usually best to keep visits short but frequent.
As time passes by, they will get better. As a family member, friend or loved-one, don't stop showing care and attention to them just because they look "fine" or better than before. Don't stop visiting, putting a call through or hanging out with them.
Support their emotional health
Remember that no matter how strong they may be or seem to be, they can also benefit from having a friend around. Your friend who experiences a mastectomy might also benefit from your love and support. This link contains further points on how to show such support.
It may be hard for them to look at themselves in the mirror or still feel like the woman they were before their surgery. You could try to remind them (if appropriate) that their scar is evidence of being alive.
Help them see a therapist if recommended by their medical team. This could be an importhat part of their mastectomy process, especially if they find it it hard to focus, sleep or engage in normal daily activities for too long.
If you commit to helping, it is important that you follow through on your promise.
A flower can only blossom if it is watered. It takes more than the mastectomy but you as well. The love, attention, and care you show now could help determine the well-being of your friend that will go, is going, or had gone through a mastectomy.
As discussed in this article there are various ways to do help, please choose what is right for you and your friend.
Oluwatoyin Joy Oke finished her 4 years course/ program in 2018 as a public health practitioner in Osun State University, Nigeria. And has developed in skills involving prevention, treatment and care of diseases.
She works as a Linkage Coordinator connecting people from the community to treatment and care of Tuberculosis and HIV. She recently picked up another skill in writing which she so far enjoy.
She volunteers in creating awareness for people on topics relating to Cancer, mostly the ones common to women (Cervical and breast cancer), mental health, and HIV. In past years she has received certificates of appreciation from different organizations.
Her hobbies are cooking, watching movies, and writing. She places her worship of God as first in her life and giving of herself to her family and others is a priority.
We strongly advise you to talk with a health care professional about specific medical conditions and treatments. The information on our site is meant to be helpful and educational but is not a substitute for medical advice.
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