Things You May Not Know You Need For Your FTM Chest Surgery

After recently having a double mastectomy, I thought I would pass along some tips I’ve learned to other trans folks on what you may need before and after your chest surgery.

1. Backscratcher:

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The saving grace of anyone on post-op bed rest. A third arm for when you spend the week chronically “T. rex-ing.” Yes. With your arms by your side the entire week, you will need a lot of tools that help extend your reach. By the way, you would not believe how many artsy pictures of backscratchers exist on Instagram.

2. A blanket from home:

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There’s nothing better than curling up under your favorite blanket when you aren’t feeling your best. Roll up a small travel blanket in your carry on. Can be used as an extra pillow if necessary.

3. Comfortable clothing:

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Get comfy. When I packed for my trip, I thought I would wear a “day shirt” to walk around the house in and a “night shirt” to sleep in. I was wrong. Realistically, you’re going to wear one shirt and one pair of pants each day. You’ll probably wear the same outfit multiple times if it’s easy to get on.

Short/long sleeve button ups a size bigger than you normally wear. Looser is better. You’re not dressing to impress so size or style doesn’t matter. Hit up your local Goodwill and go nuts.

Zip-up hoodies. Old Navy makes really light weight and affordable ones.

Athletic pants/shorts. Make sure the waistband is stretchy enough that you can easily pull them on with little straining.

American Eagle Performance Trunks are super comfy and way easier to get on than boxers or even cotton trunks. Get them here at 2 for $20.

Compression socks. A must when traveling to and from the surgical center and traveling back home. They prevent blood clots from forming. Wear them whenever you’re unable to walk around.

Slip-on shoes. Flip flops, boat shoes, slippers. Anything you don’t have to reach down and tie.

4. Laptop bed table:

Not just for your laptop but to put your food on. Chances are you won’t feel like sitting at the dining room table for the first few days. Consider this a chance to take advantage of having breakfast in bed. I recommend this IKEA BRÄDA laptop table for under $10. There’s also this slanted laptop table for under $4. Both of these could easily fit into your checked luggage.

5. Luggage:

Try to pack both your stuff and your travel companions belongings into one suitcase (you won’t be able to roll a heavy suitcase after your surgery). Take a carry on you can carry on one shoulder. If you must have your own checked bag, invest in a shop wheeled suitcase that you can leisurely push alongside you instead of straining your arms behind you.

6. Medication:

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Your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic and a pain killer that you should be able to get filled at a pharmacy the day before your surgery. During that week, I also used anti-nausea (Zofran) and anti-itch (Benadryl/Zyrtec) medications. Talk to your doctor at pre-op and see what they recommend for itching and any other side effects of the surgery. Do not take any medication without consulting your doctor.

7. MiraLAX:

Don’t be a hero. Just take the stool softener. MiraLAX travel packs are a must when you’re popping pain meds. It’s not chalky, and it is completely tasteless. Just do it.

8. Plastic dishes & bendy straws:

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Another thing on your dollar store shopping list. You wouldn’t think it would make a difference but reusable plastic plates and cups make it easier to carry your food from the kitchen to your “man cave.” Bendy straws* are also a saving grace when you can’t fully move your arms.

*Neon colors encouraged. Mustache not included.

9. Plastic poncho & clothespins:

No, I’m serious. During the first week, you must keep your bandages and drains dry so no showering. If you start growing repulsed by the very smell of your existence, throw a plastic poncho on and at least shower the parts you can get wet while protecting your bandages. I don’t recommend trying to wash your own hair with the poncho on because 1) your bandages will inevitably get wet and 2) you won’t be able to lift your arms anyway. Have a friend help you wash your hair over the sink. If you don’t want to wear the super hunky poncho, you can easily wrap a towel cape-style over your chest and clothespin it together.

10. Razor & shaving cream:

Some patients need to shave their chests and/or armpits before going in to surgery. Also, if you shave your face, do it the night before surgery because you aren’t going to want to have to deal with it after. T-rex arms are not kind when it comes to maintaining the beard.

11. Sponge on a stick:

The first thing I picked up for my trip. Now when you’re wearing your super hunky poncho in the shower, you will be able to wash your lower half without bending over. The sponge on a stick is also helpful in the weeks post-op because mobility is still pretty limited. And let’s face it: you’ve always wanted one and now you have an excuse to get it. Pamper yourself.

12. Travel pillow:

Absolutely necessary. You will be sleeping propped up and on your back (in my case, in a recliner) during your recovery week. I bought this SwissGear travel pillow from Target. It was a little pricey but it is an adjustable neck pillow that can turn into any type of pillow you may need. You will also need a pillow to cushion yourself against a car seatbelt.

13. Lodging:

If you’re having surgery in Florida with Dr. Garramone, I highly recommend staying at New Beginnings Retreat. It’s a group house for other folks having their surgery with Dr. G. The prices are much less than you would spend on a hotel with taxi fare/car rental. It’s run by wonderful people who will really take care of everything for you, including dropping off your prescriptions, taking you to the grocery store, and providing post-op care if necessary. I was totally comfortable here, from being able to walk around with my bandages showing to just getting to make friends from all over the world. Visit their website.

If you aren’t having your surgery with Dr. Garramone, there are other alternatives to traditional hotel suites. airbnb.com is a home and apartment vacation rental site that rents apartments for as little as $40/night, depending on where you are staying. Just type in the city you will be visiting and you can find some really cozy all-inclusive places to make you feel right at home during your recovery.

14. Traveling post-op:

This will probably be one of the most miserable days of your recovery. Because you’ve been in a cocoon for a week, you may have trouble

Make sure your carry-on is light and you can comfortably sling it over one shoulder. My doctor limited my lifting to 5 lbs. so I let my travel partner take some of my heavier items, such as my computer. Make sure to have your travel pillow with you.

If you have a smartphone, download a mobile boarding pass. It’s one less thing you have to find.

Dealing with the TSA. Politely tell the officer at the body scanner that you are unable to raise your arms above your head. They will pull you aside for a thorough pat down. You can also request a private screening. The officer I dealt with was extremely understanding and made sure I wasn’t uncomfortable.

Have your pain meds and antibiotics on hand at all times.

If you feel you need additional time to board the airplane, talk to the airline member at the desk at your gate. When I explained that I had just had surgery, they allowed me to board with passengers with disabilities so I had more time to get situated. If you feel that a wheelchair or some other accommodation is necessary for you to get around the airport, call the airline at least 24-48 hours prior to takeoff to request assistance.

If you have any secret tips you’ve learned along the way, comment below!

Please keep in mind, this list was from my personal experience only. Not everyone experiences this surgical procedure in the same way.

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