Getting dressed post-surgery comes with unexpected challenges.
You can anticipate some obvious ways your life may change after breast surgery. You know your appearance may be a little different, or that it will take some recovery time before the pain subsides. What you might not anticipate, however, is that getting dressed after a mastectomy may come with some challenges.
“There were many things that I wasn’t really expecting following my mastectomy surgery, like restricted range of motion and [less] strength to grab and pull things,” says Dana Donofree, breast cancer survivor and founder of AnaOno, which specializes in clothing for women with breast cancer. “That really leaves dressing a little bit difficult.”
Donofree, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 27, began designing lingerie out of necessity when she realized there were no garments available at the the time that were both pretty and comfortable. Her company, AnaOno, continues this mission of providing garments for women who have had breast reconstruction, breast surgery, and mastectomy.
Here are the things Donofree wishes she knew about getting dressed after a mastectomy.
1. Experiment with scarves, hats, or headwraps.
Washing your hair after a mastectomy can be really challenging. Pulling your hair back using scarves or hats can keep hair out of your face and from soaking up the oils on your skin. This can help lengthen the amount of time you can go without washing your hair.
“Maybe as a treat, set up a hair appointment after [your surgery],” suggests Donofree. “Get your hair washed by a stylist.”
2. Find a bra that fastens in the front.
Immediately following the surgery, the hospital will provide you with a post-surgical bra. “Once your doctor gives you the OK to get out of your surgical bra, part of what you’re really going to want is a bra that fastens in the front,” says Donofree.
Bras that fasten in the front are easier to put on and take off than a traditional bra that fastens in the back or goes over the head. Sports bras may seem comfy and casual, but they’re not ideal after a surgery.
3. Conceal but protect your surgical drains.
“One of the biggest challenges following your mastectomy [is] going to be the drains,” says Donofree. Surgical drains are connected to temporary tubes that collect fluid from the surgical site, according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
“Find something that can keep them in place,” says Donofree. “You don’t want them tugging or pulling, but you also don’t want them out for the public to see.” A loose cardigan or wrap sweater can hide the surgical drains without causing too much friction.
You can tie the drains around your neck using string, conceal them in a camisole with pockets, or use a fanny pack or specialty belt to secure the drains around your waist.
4. Dress in clothes you can step into or wrap around you.
Just like with the bra that fastens in the front, you want to find garments that work with your limited range of motion. Avoid clothes that are zipped in the back or require you to pull them over your head. Wrap dresses, for example, can easily be tied around the front of your waist.
5. Embrace loose-fitting clothes with natural fabrics.
“Some things might fit you a little bit differently,” says Donofree. “You might want something looser [if] you have some swelling or you have to hide your drains following surgery.” Clothes with loose or dropped sleeves can prevent friction against the ribcage or armpits.
Fabric matters, too. “Look for natural fabrics. Those materials give you a lot of extra room,” says Donofree.
6. Embellish with ruffles and prints.
If you’re self-conscious about how your chest looks now, you can still add volume with your clothes. “Even if you decide [to] go flat, look for movement in your blouses,” says Donofree. She suggests tops that have ruffles, prints, sheer fabric, pleats, or other embellishments.
7. Avoid tight pants.
Just like sports bras may be a no-go after a mastectomy, so are your yoga pants. Opt out of tight-fitting bottoms and try looser pants with an elastic band. This makes them easier to pull up and down easily.
8. Get shoes you can slip into.
“I would recommend not wearing your flip-flops,” says Donofree. There are a number of reasons to avoid flip-flops, but after breast surgery, it’s especially important. “You’re on pain meds [and] you’re tired.”
Comfy sneakers are great for the feet, but it will be challenging to tie them yourself. If that’s a concern for you, try slip-on shoes (ideally ones with plenty of support).
“Just a few minor adjustments like this can really make a difference in your recovery,” Donofree says. “The easier your recovery, the more time you get to focus on healing.”
Want to learn more?
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As a breast cancer patient there were many
things that I wasn't really expecting
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following my mastectomy surgery,
like restricted range of motion,
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there's not a lot of strength to grab and
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So that really leaves dressing
a little bit difficult.
00:00:17,457 --> 00:00:19,662
I'm here to give you
some helpful hints and
00:00:19,662 --> 00:00:22,121
some things I wish I knew
before my mastectomy.
00:00:22,121 --> 00:00:27,904
00:00:27,904 --> 00:00:30,170
After your mastectomy with
your limited range of motion,
00:00:30,170 --> 00:00:32,169
you're gonna have difficulty
washing your hair.
00:00:32,169 --> 00:00:36,873
You may wanna wear headscarf or get a head
band, pull your hair back off your face.
00:00:36,873 --> 00:00:40,348
Maybe as a treat,
set up a hair appointment afterwards.
00:00:40,348 --> 00:00:41,887
Get your hair washed by a stylist.
00:00:41,887 --> 00:00:45,689
And you'll go home from your
surgery with a post surgical bra.
00:00:45,689 --> 00:00:48,717
Once your doctor gives you the okay
to get out of the surgical bra,
00:00:48,717 --> 00:00:52,187
part of what you're going to really
want is a bra that fastens in the front,
00:00:52,187 --> 00:00:54,637
something that you can get in and
out of very easily.
00:00:54,637 --> 00:00:58,900
One of the biggest challenges following
your mastectomy are going to be the drain.
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These strings will exit out
of your incision points.
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And they're there post surgery to
make sure that your swelling and
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your healing is going along properly.
00:01:07,378 --> 00:01:11,046
Find something that can keep them in
place, cuz you don't want them tugging or
00:01:11,046 --> 00:01:14,117
pulling, but you also don't want
them out for the public to see.
00:01:14,117 --> 00:01:17,901
Have something that's loose that you can
wrap around that you feel like your drains
00:01:17,901 --> 00:01:21,701
are going to be secured and protected, but
aren't going to be getting in your way.
00:01:21,701 --> 00:01:27,245
You can tie your drains around your neck
with a shoe string or rope or a string.
00:01:27,245 --> 00:01:31,607
Find a camisole that buttons up the front
but also has pockets internally for
00:01:31,607 --> 00:01:32,161
00:01:32,161 --> 00:01:35,925
There's a lot of little pockets and fanny
packs that you can put the drains on so
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they stay around your waist.
00:01:37,363 --> 00:01:42,243
Look for things that you're gonna be able
to step into or put on around you and
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in front of you.
00:01:43,317 --> 00:01:45,583
Some things might fit you
a little bit differently.
00:01:45,583 --> 00:01:50,176
You might not want really close-clinging
garments, you might want something looser.
00:01:50,176 --> 00:01:52,025
Maybe if you have some swelling or
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you have to hide your drains following
your surgery, look for natural fabrics.
00:01:56,530 --> 00:01:59,154
Those materials give you
a lot of extra room.
00:01:59,154 --> 00:02:03,462
I'm wearing right now just a classic
Oxford white button-up, but you can see
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it's got nice dropped sleeve so that way
if i feel any compression under my arms or
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my lymph node scar is still sensitive,
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I don't have anything rubbing up
against it causing additional pain.
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Even when you decide to maybe go flat
look for movement in your blouses,
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maybe some ruffles, or some shirring,
or even beautiful prints.
00:02:23,667 --> 00:02:28,154
Bottoms that you may wanna look for
may surprisingly, not be your yoga pants.
00:02:28,154 --> 00:02:31,252
You're gonna want really soft,
loose-fitting lounge pants.
00:02:31,252 --> 00:02:35,518
Stuff that has elastic bands, so you can
really pull them up and down easily.
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Because you might also
experience some swelling,
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especially if you undergo
a flat reconstruction.
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Getting around can be a challenge I would
recommend not wearing your flip flops.
00:02:45,810 --> 00:02:49,099
You're on pain meds, you're tired,
tennis shoes are great, but
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you're not gonna really be able to
bend over and tie them yourselves, so
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think about things that you can just
slip on and get your feet into easily.
00:02:56,214 --> 00:03:01,525
Just a few minor adjustments like this can
really make a difference in your recovery.
00:03:01,525 --> 00:03:05,631
And the easier your recovery,
the more time you get to focus on healing.
00:03:05,631 --> 00:03:10,804
Mastectomy. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2017. (Accessed on September 13, 2018 at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/treatment/surgery-for-breast-cancer/mastectomy.html.)
Mastectomy - the procedure. Dallas, TX: Susan G. Komen Foundation. (Accessed on September 13, 2018 at https://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/MastectomyTheSurgicalProcedure.html.)