5 things I learned after my double mastectomy

As a former nurse in MD Anderson’s Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU), I felt pretty familiar with breast cancer surgery. So, I thought I knew what to expect when I scheduled my own mastectomy last August. But, as it turns out, going through the process as a patient myself held some surprises. Here are five things I didn’t anticipate and how I handled them. 1. Embrace your range of motion exercises When I was a PACU nurse, I mostly cared for patients who were just waking up from breast surgery, so they weren’t as active as they would be later on. That’s why I don’t think I fully understood the limited range of motion that comes with having both breasts removed. The first time I tried to lift my arms after my surgery, the discomfort in my muscles stopped me cold. I’d been given stretching exercises to slowly work my way back to full range of motion. But until I got there, I needed help to take a shower, because I couldn’t reach around to wash my back. That was a very humbling experience. I’d given many baths as a bedside nurse, but until then, I’d never been on the other side of the sponge. And though I have a much better range of motion today, there’s lingering tightness in the muscles under my arms. So, I still do my stretching exercises daily. It really helps. 2. Ask caregivers to go slowly when stripping drains I’ve taken care of many patients with drains, where I had to “strip” — or empty— their drains. I didn’t realize that patients could actually...