Caring for a spouse post-lumpectomy
December 11, 2020 5:43 AM   Subscribe

What tips/suggestions/must-dos/don't-dos/must-gets do you have to help me care for my wife following her lumpectomy?

Dotsmom found a very small lump about a month ago. She's been going through a bunch of tests/imaging to determine the best course of action. Following her completely negative genetic testing results (YAY!), it looks like she will be having a lumpectomy.

Other than the obvious care, love, support, what else might I do or provide to help her recovery be as comfortable as possible? What did you (or your loved one) find unexpectedly helpful/useful during their recovery? What, if any, difficulties did you not expect in the recovery?

Many thanks!
posted by Thorzdad to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I had a lumpectomy about three years ago in what sounds like similar circumstances. Things I appreciated afterwards—
*Pillow for under my arm on the surgery side while I slept.
*Little flat, round icepacks that I could tuck in my bra. You can buy these in multi-packs and just keep them in the freezer. These were awesome.
*No lifting or carrying anything over the weight her surgeon advises. Seriously. You need to do the literal heavy lifting for her.
*My recovery was pretty smooth. Had the surgery on Monday, back to work on Thursday. I was able to manage the pain with extra-strength Tylenol and the icepacks I mentioned.

One thing I wished my surgeon had explained more fully—my breast did not get back to looking “normal” for about 6-9 months. The swelling created a sort of dent near the incision site for quite awhile. Also, the scar took much longer to heal than I anticipated. But after about 9 months you could barely see the scar and my breast looks “normal” again.

Best wishes for an uneventful and complete recovery!
posted by bookmammal at 6:27 AM on December 11, 2020 [5 favorites]

I am on day 3 post mastectomy and have found the following useful:

- straws
- cough drops
- facial wipes
- armpit pillows and other pillows
- a sleep mask and headphones
posted by melodykramer at 7:57 AM on December 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

My mother found that the bruising extended way further than she expected. Arnicae really helped with that.

She probably won't be allowed to lift her arms above her shoulders for some time; any easy-on easy-off clothing you can buy or dig up out of storage will be helpful. Cozy cardigans and wraps, loose button-up shirts, tank tops she can step into.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:10 AM on December 11, 2020

My mother had a full double mastectomy but really appreciated button-front clothing (she actually borrowed some of my husband's flannel shirts), a heart-shaped pillow she could squish around, which she especially found helpful between her incisions and the seatbelt in the car, yes to facial and baby wipes, and a motorized recliner to sleep in for the first few weeks (I assume your spouse won't need this). I also used dry shampoo in her hair for her when she was feeling well enough to feel gross after the surgery but couldn't shower yet.
posted by SeedStitch at 8:38 AM on December 11, 2020

I was back at work the next day after both of my lumpectomies, which were 2 weeks apart (I had positive margin in first one, necessitating the second one). In both cases the procedure was in the morning and I was home by that afternoon. At home I drank lots of fluids, stayed propped up with pillows, and iced the area with small ice packs provided by the hospital. I think I took Tylenol the first day but didn't require painkillers afterwards. I was also told to go on walks as soon as I felt able to - this is where having another person (in this case, my husband) to coax me to move was very helpful.

The mastectomy was a completely different story - all of the things people have mentioned above for post-mastectomy care.
posted by needled at 9:38 AM on December 11, 2020

After my lumpectomy (which, sadly, was followed by radiation for DCIS) several years ago, I slept in a sport bra for several nights because I was uncomfortable otherwise. But I wore my regular bra during the day and recall no restrictions, probably because there are no muscles in breast tissue. I'm pretty sure I went back to working out at the gym the next day. I'm frankly surprised at the cautionary tales from folks who had lumpectomies. (A mastectomy is a whole different ballgame, for sure.) Be sure to ask the surgeon what restrictions (s)he advises, and then follow them if they seem reasonable.
posted by DrGail at 9:46 AM on December 11, 2020

Things I wish I had had:

More easy on/off clothing
More help getting stuff down from higher places
(A doctor who believed me when I told her that I always need antibiotics with surgery no matter how minor)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:24 PM on December 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

My wife and my mother both had a lumpectomies this year. Having a bunch of those little ice packs bookmammal referred to was key for both of them. If your spouse is also going to have a lymph node biopsy, be prepared for that to be more painful than the actual lumpectomy - for that, my wife found that a soft, flexible ice pack was more helpful. My wife was very nauseated post-surgery from the anesthesia, but was also ravenous because her surgery was at 7 PM and she hadn't eaten all day, so having some bland foods on hand (ramen and saltines in our case) was helpful.
posted by coppermoss at 4:29 PM on December 11, 2020

I appreciated a buckwheat pillow because they can be smushed to provide whatever support is needed for sleeping, reading etc. For several weeks post lumpectomy I wasn't comfortable in underwire bras and loved that my mom got me several different non underwire styles to try. My recovery was really pretty easy, and I hope the same is true for your wife.
posted by Pleased_As_Punch at 8:56 PM on December 11, 2020

I took a week off from my office job after my lumpectomy, but I didn’t need it. I would have been fine to go back after a couple of days. It does take a while for your breast tissue to settle down into its shape again. My lumpectomy was wire guided, which I didn’t realize meant they were literally going to stick a wire into my breast. It was wild.

It’s a relatively easy procedure to recover from, as surgeries go - wishing you the best!
posted by jeoc at 9:11 PM on December 12, 2020

Response by poster: Hi, all. Many thanks for the tips and suggestions. They've all been helpful, in one way or another. bookmammal's suggestion of the little round coldpacks, though, were a huge winner for my wife. She keeps a box of them in the freezer and uses them throughout the day. She really loves them.

Her surgery was successful (took the lump and two lymph nodes) She's really had very little discomfort from the surgery. We're now waiting for results from some sort of testing that will determine if she will have to have chemo or not.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:47 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]

Those little ice packs are great—SO GLAD they helped, and even happier to hear that your wife is doing well. Best wishes for the days ahead!
posted by bookmammal at 5:56 AM on January 29

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