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Ideas to help friend who is having double mastectomy

bigsyis specializes in ER, Occupational Health, Cardiology.

Hello, all. My best friend at work (age 40) is due to have a double mastectomy w/reconstructive implants this Friday. She found a mass in the left breast and is having the right removed prophylactically. She is a strong woman and has a lot of friends. We have done everything we know of to be of help to her, but I would welcome any suggestions, especially from someone who has already been there.

Her parents live w/her, but are in their 60's, and fairly healthy. She has no SO at this time. She is actively involved inher church, and has a lot of support from there.

Most of the women here at work (80 of us) are wearing "HOPE" bracelets in support, and I told her that I would shave my head so that she wouldn't be alone if/when she began losing her hair from the chemo that is planned.

I would appreciate any suggestions of ways to help her. Some will likely be for things that we have already done, but there may be somebody out there who will know of something that we may have overlooked. The one positive thing to come out of this is a vastly increased awareness among all of us about just how vulnerable we also are to breast cancer.

Thanks for your input!

scattycarrot specializes in ITU/Emergency.

I don't have any great ideas, I am afraid but I just wanted to wish your frined good luck and say that she obvioulsy has an amazing group of friends. I guess you are doing the most important thing already.... providing her with unconditional support and love. Sometimes the 'just being there' is the best thing you can do. Knowing that she can depend on her friends to take careof the small things in her life...feed the cat, water the plants, dress the kids, etc.. means she can channel all her energy into getting better. Perhaps one of the best things all her female friends could do is make sure they have a breast check and/or mammogram.

Anyway, I wish your friend and all of you, the very best.

santhony44 specializes in FNP, Peds, Epilepsy, Mgt., Occ. Ed.

Contact the American Cancer Society. They may be able to get her in touch with women who have been through all this who can offer her support.

And I agree, she is very fortunate in her friends. That will go a long way!

As a breast cancer survivor myself the two things I can think of in addition to the terrific support you are being to your friend already are:

1. a rota of people to bring dinners to the family for a while . I know she has her parents but they too will be stressed out during the immediate recovery period. My friends kept bringing meals for several weeks and when we didn't need them, we froze them for later. This was very helpful for my husband and kids.

2. try to keep up the cards and phone calls or visits after the immediate post-op period. The patient may feel forgotten, no matter how many cards, gifts and flowers they got initially, if after two or three weeks everyone seems to feel "well, I sent a card but now she must be almost better" Recovery goes on for a long time, especially if there is po-op chemo or radiation.

Best of luck to your friend. She's lucky to have such a good friend.

I don't have any ideas other than making sure she has help post op, but I think you guys are terrific for supporting her the way you are!

bigsyis specializes in ER, Occupational Health, Cardiology.

Thank you for your good wishes and ideas. The one area we haven't covered yet is food for the family postop, but you can bet that we will! Thanks again.

EmilyUSFRN specializes in Pediatrics.

I love the food idea... many people forget that families will usually care for a patient after discharge and may be stretched too thin or exhausted to cook and take care of themselves.

I also think that things that can be done for her to help maintain a sense of femininity would be helpful.... although receiving implants, is losing an important part of a woman's identity, so things like spa trips or excursions to the makeup counters for makeup, etc. just an idea...

one of the best things you can do for your friend you are already doing by being as good as a friend as you are in such a difficult time.

i am sorry that she has to go through such a horrible thing. thank you for being a wonderful friend to her through all of this.

This might sound odd, but in addition to all the wonderful positive things you are doing, give her time and space to experience sadness, grief, loss, anger.

Try to avoid giving her the idea that she is letting all of you down if she has a bad day or even a couple of them. Part of her healing will come from feeling all of her feelings, not just the hopeful, uplifting ones.

Let her know that she can call on at least some of you when she wants to complain or just be sad, and that you will listen without trying to talk her out of her down time.

Give her permission to be honest and not have to "take care of the caretakers." She will probably already be doing some of that with her parents, and it's an exhausting job.

The best thing you can do is listen. The second best thing you can do is share your self. Don't stifle your own voice because you feel guilty that you're not sick. Tell her that she has the freedom to say what she wants and to talk about anything and everything. And, within reason, you live by that, too. There are few things more depressing than walking around on eggshells or feeling that others are doing so for you.

On a day when she feels strong, help her to make a list of practical favors she can call in. Picking up meds or dry cleaning. Making a pot of soup. Bringing inexpensive flowers. Cleaning her bathroom. A whole menu for her and others to choose from when they say, "Call me if you need anything." Invariably, you can't come up with anything when you're put on the spot like that, but if you have a list ready, it can be helpful to everyone involved.

Make her a basket that contains phone numbers and addresses of friends, the stores she frequents, restaurant menus, the other places she does business with. Include note cards, pen, stamps. Ask her if she needs to send birthday cards or notes for other occasions. It's so hard to gather these things together when you feel bad, but if they are right at hand, you can spend just a little energy and feel like you have accomplished something, and you aren't totally out of touch with your old life.

Find out if there are certain magazines she likes or hobbies or interests that might have some kind of publication. If she's like the rest of us, there is never enough time to sit and savor that kind of reading. Stop by the library and pick up some back issues of two or three different magazines and let her know you'll pick them up and return them when they're due.

Give her small bottles of light scent. Peppermint sometimes helps with nausea. A little spritz on herself or her pillow can help her feel attractive when she isn't looking her best.

Ask her what she wants. And doesn't want. Some sick people don't want to hear what's going on in the world around them. Others hunger after the details and live through them.

Rent a video and watch it with her.

Get her some books by Anne Lamott.

Hug her.

Email her.

Hug her again.

She is very blessed to have such caring friends.

first_lobster specializes in ICU.

really, really sorry for your friend. give her our love and prayers. I had a strange thought, and maybe this is agood idea, maybe not. But sorta along the same lines of shaving your head with her, maybe wearing an ace wrap or really tight support bra so that in the interim she doesn't feel like the only one without, and at least doesn't look like the only one without. that probably sounds strange, but i think if I lost both my breasts, I would be really tired of seeing everyone else's. Also, just give her time, and love.

ONe thing that can help, once she is back at work. Have other women dress so that they don't show a lot of cleavage of anything that shows off " their girls". She is going to feel self contious about her body, so better not to flaunt your health body in front of her.

bigsyis specializes in ER, Occupational Health, Cardiology.

Wow! You all are just the best! Thank you, RN/writer for your very thoughtful post, and to first lobster and prowlingMA. Your insights are just the kinds of things I was looking for and had not thought of on my own. I am going to try to get these ideas out among the group for their consideration, and do as many of them (including minimizing!) as I can. Today we are having a "Best Wishes" luncheon for her, with a laundry basket of goodies that she likes. I got her a gown, relaxation lotion, high-protein snacks, some socks, etc.

Thanks again, so much, for your ideas and good wishes.

bigsyis specializes in ER, Occupational Health, Cardiology.

Here is an update on my friend, for those who are interested.

Her surgery was this past Friday-they found one 'hot' lymph node in the left axillary area, so during surgery all of the nodes in that area were removed. During the reconstruction phase of the surgery one of the implants began to leak, so they had to remove the sutures and the implant and insert another. She went home on Memorial Day, and is doing pretty well, except for being VERY sore. She has two drains on each side, and was told that when she has 15cc or less of drainage in all four of them, that she was supposed to call for her surgical f/u appt. No home health, just she and her Mom (and of course her Nurse friends) taking care of her. Is that kind of a loose leash she is on, or is it normal practice these days?

Thanks again to all for your thoughts, ideas, and prayers.

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