My Favorite Things – Part Two: Must Haves to Aid in Recovery After Mastectomy
Updated: Sep 11, 2019
In the article, “My Favorite Things – Part One,” we touched on some essentials that I had (or wished I had) when I was first recovering from my mastectomy.
Now let’s discuss specific products that I have found useful for passing the time while healing, as well as, other must haves that added to my life post cancer and after my second surgery for removal of my ovaries.
Podcasts I enjoy
“My Favorite Murder”
Just before being diagnosed with cancer, a good friend turned me onto the funniest podcast “My Favorite Murder,” which I’m now totally addicted to. As you recall from Part I, it’s often hard to sleep whilst recovering. When you find yourself suffering from in-and-out-of-sleep-mode, podcasts are great. They are much easier to listen to than trying to follow a show on Netflix. Plus, you can just pop on your headphones in the middle the night like I do so your partner can sleep soundly next to you.
If you enjoy partaking in all things true crime, then this is the podcast for you. It’s hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark and you will love these women. Is it a terrible thing that one benefit of recuperating from my mastectomy was spending endless hours hanging with this incredibly smart and sassy duo (and I must not forget to mention STEVEN!)?
A girl’s gotta look on the bright side. I suggest starting at episode one and enjoy all things “murderino” and basically, “Stay sexy and don’t get murdered!” ENJOY!
I’ll let you in on a little something – after my discovery of how much fun podcasts can be, I decided I needed to start one about cancer. Low-and-behold, at the same time I was putting things together for my website this was on my next “to do” list….and then Kelsey Smith’s podcast “CanSurvivor” appeared out of nowhere!
Thank God that she freed me from feeling like I needed to add another thing to my plate! Her podcast is EXACTLY what I had imagined the world needed. She is a young breast cancer survivor bringing on all different guests to talk about how they have used their breast cancer experience to bring change to the world. If you want to know what is going on in the breast cancer world this podcast is a must!
How to Be Happy Dammit! by Karen Salmansohn
I love a good book. Problem is, I am not one for fiction so reading is mostly reserved for memoirs, informational, and sometimes spiritual books. If you want something that is easy to read that you can pick up or skim through (or even read the whole thing in one go), I love “How to Be Happy Dammit!” I actually buy this book over-and-over. Why? Because I end up giving it away! It is so good I sent the last one to a friend who is also a uni. I have learned my lesson and recently, when I ordered it again, I got two! I don’t know who will be gifted my extra copy yet. But, if you want to email me your address, you never know….
FLAT by Cathrine Guthrie
I had timed the publication of this article to coincide with the release of this book. Well, I sure did make a big boo-boo. The publication of the book was pushed back and won’t be out in stores until September 25th. But, the good news is that you can pre-order it on Amazon by clicking HERE. (I pre-ordered mine and just got notification that it is due to arrive on Monday). This way you know you’ll be one of the first people to have it in your hot little hands. I have actually had the honor of meeting the author by strange coincidence, twice, and we have become fast friends.
A health and fitness journalist who had breast cancer, Catherine’s article in O Magazine was the first article I found when I discovered my cancerous lump. Though it was mere happenstance, I credit this article for my decision to forego reconstruction. The strange twist of our meeting was that; she and I found each other through commenting back-and-forth on a Facebook group without me knowing she was the one who had written that article! She just so happens to have some relatives who live only five miles from me!
But just because I happen to adore her does not make her story and book any less amazing. Her writing skills convinced me to go flat and her book is sure to be an amazing journey for anyone bold enough to read it.
If you happen to be awaiting your surgery and you are deciding on foregoing reconstruction, you may also want to read this article that she just wrote for Cosmopolitan HERE. [It may leave you wanting to have one last talk with your surgeon before going under the knife].
Speaking of Magazines
Wildfire is a Must
I learned about Wildfire online and passed it up; because at first glance I figured I couldn’t afford it. However, that shifted when I actually SAW the magazine. It is rich with gorgeous photos and is beautifully printed in the perfect size. Best of all, it has quality stories with NO ADS. It’s just a magazine all about breast cancer.
You don’t have to buy a full subscription; you can just always buy an individual copy. I ended up getting the yearly subscription, though they do have a digital version at a lower price.
Did I tell you it’s beautiful? I am not only glad I got myself a subscription but I’m even happier to say that one of my articles has ended up in it. I also met up with the founder of the magazine while visiting family.
We had arranged to meet up at a coffee shop she had recommended. As I sat at a table outside, on a brisk spring morning, I watched her approach in amazement. Although she had known from my articles that I was one breasted, I hadn’t even asked what route she had taken with her own breast cancer journey. A massive smile flooded my face as I saw, for the first time, another uni, just like me!
You wont regret being a subscriber to this informative and inspiring magazine.
T-Shirts, Mugs & Bags
Emily Hopper, founder of the fun and sassy, kick-cancer-in-the-ass, brand Empowerhaus, is transforming the way we view breast cancer. When she was going to chemo treatments and wanting to wear sassy gear to her appointments, Emily could find nothing but frilly pink dribble. So she started her own fun and refreshing company that spoke more boldly about what she was going through.
I have purchased several of her items and can’t tell you how much fun it is to walk around my office with my “check your boobs, mine tried to kill me” coffee mug.
Self Lymph Massage
I have lymphedema in my chest area. It isn’t bad but I tend to swell if I get too hot or if I wear something around my chest for too long (like a bralette). Unfortunately, where I live, I have not had a positive experience with a physical therapist. It took 11 weeks just to get an appointment, and let’s just say, when I did finally meet up with the physical therapist, my experience was not a positive one.
This left me seeking private massages and more importantly, to learn to give myself lymph drainage massage. This YouTube video is the best example that I found online for self massage.
Do not let my bad experience influence your opinion on physical therapy. I know many people who couldn’t do without this vital part of their recovery. If you have an opportunity to see a physical therapist and they are the right fit go as often as you can.
When my surgeon sent me home he told me to continue to do everything with my arm that I was doing before. He encouraged me to not “baby” it. He discouraged lifting only while my drains were in, but after to keep doing what I was doing.
However, I developed “cording” a condition where, in an attempt to heal lost tissue, your body tries to compensate for what it has lost. Thus, webbing or “cords” of tissue start forming and they wrap around tendons, causing pulling under the skin.
If you start feeling pulling going down your arm to your fingertips (or down your side) don’t be alarmed. Usually this eventually goes away on it’s own. I found, however, that massage and stretching help.
Stretching by Bob Anderson
This stretching book is made with different sports and activities in mind. However, it has specific stretches for before bed, morning stretches, as well as specific stretches to strengthen your arms and back. I have found it to be the best (and simplest) book with simple illustrations.
I can’t emphasize how much this has helped me for knowing how to get my range of motion back in my arm.
Skin & Hair Products
You may be advised not to bathe for the first few days after your mastectomy until removal of your bandages. In fact, I took my doctors advice and waited to have my bandages removed during my post mastectomy appointment, which was 5 days after my surgery. My surgeon, who has been working with breast cancer patients for over 20 years, likes to be with his patients when the bandages are removed in order to support them with the emotional part of seeing your post mastectomy body. Not all doctors care and may send you on your way without considering this. But I decided this was important to me also. Therefore I didn’t actually get a shower until after my appointment.
With this in mind, unless you have someone who can help you wash your hair while leaning over your sink or tub, you may want to get some dry shampoo.
As I mentioned last week, if you had lymph nodes removed, you should not be shaving under your arm(s). You may notice an odd sticky feeling under your arm. This can last for several weeks and makes it hard to run a stick of deodorant under there.
While I have your attention… Do you know what ingredients are in your deodorant or antiperspirant? Most on the shelves in your local store have ingredients that are known to cause cancer. What I was using was very high in aluminum. I will no longer put anything under my arm that isn’t 100% natural and I encourage you to do the same. For more information on this I recommend you watch this informative video.
I started using a cream deodorant after my mastectomy and like it for two reasons (1) it wasn’t in a stick form so I could rub it gently into my armpit without hurting myself in the first several months when my skin was extremely sensitive; and (2) the action of rubbing it under my arm helped me gently massage my cording.
I really like “Schmitz” all natural deodorant cream and, now that I can safely rub under my arm without pain, I sometimes use “Sam’s.” However, on a few occasions I have gotten clogged pores from this product, so use sparingly.
More recently, while shopping at a little boutique in my town, I discovered a locally made natural deodorant of which I have fallen head-over-heels in love with. The texture is smooth (unlike the Schmitz which can be chalky) it melts right on my skin. I haven’t had any problems with clogging and it honestly works.
My best advice would be to find several go-to natural deodorants to fit your changing needs (and outfits).
Dry Skin and Hair Loss
After starting on estrogen blockers (and then having my ovaries removed) dry skin and hair loss became an unexpected major problem. I used to have the most oily skin and had problems controlling it….Fast forward to now; and I have had many painful days with dry, cracked skin in the creases of my nose.
An esthetician advised me not to put coconut oil on my face as it can clog pores. So I suffered for a long time before finally finding something to help moisturize my face. I now use Advanced Clinicals Hyaluronic Serum and, although I cannot guarantee its safety, it has helped treat the dry skin around my nose. I am happy that the base is aloe vera gel and within a week of using this product before bed my skin was back on track.
I also use Yes to moisturize my face which claims to be 97% natural. But again, I cannot guarantee its safety and I am a lot more cautious with what I put on my skin since my cancer diagnosis.
Regarding hair loss; if you had chemo and lost your hair, or if you are getting loss (like me) from the estrogen blockers or having your ovaries removed, I recommend using a shampoo with biotin and collagen in it. I bought Renpure, don’t be put off by the man on the back of the bottle. It does not have any heavy scent and (although, I repeat, I cannot guarantee the safety) it claims to be free of most harmful chemicals.
I have also purchased collagen supplements, but I’ll be honest, I haven’t taken them because I’m lazy and I keep forgetting. I’ll have to get back to you at a later date to let you know if these products have been affective or if they were duds.
The BoobyTrapp App
Let me tell you about an app that is (or will become) important to you. It’s an app for breast cancer patients. It’s still in its very early stages – with its beta version released in July, 2018. This App was co-founded by a young breast cancer survivor along with Will Macfarlane, who felt alone and when first diagnosed and wanted something to help keep track of appointments and connect with people going through the same thing.
This app is incredibly helpful because you can message others who have the same type of cancer as you. No more going it alone! You can also schedule all your appointments in it, so you never accidentally miss one. Plus, it has an amazing GLOSSARY! Seriously, this glossary is full of relevant, timely, and accurate information to help you navigate through this journey.
Like any software, this new phone app needs people to us it so it can continue to improve. Because it is still in it’s infancy, you get to be in the founding group of users, so you will actually be helping build the app to be better for the next generation of breast cancer patients. It is similar to being in a medical trial so you can help others down the road. Please consider downloading and joining me in using this app (and tell all your doctors about it too). Use it as much as you can and remember to give constructive feedback (through the app) so they can make it better!
Until next time, I hope you get some use out of my favorite things….and again, keep sending me feedback on your experiences, if any of these things have been helpful to you, and if there are things I should add to this list for the future.