I remember the exact moment I was told I had breast cancer. My mind went into overdrive to absorb the tidal wave of information about mastectomy and the options for reconstruction. Robotically, I went through the motions and faced the machines that peered inside me and the doctors who marked me for surgery. Breast cancer took control of my life.
As surgery day approached, I ran around doing everything I could think of to get myself prepared. Up until the very last minute, I was nagged by the feeling that I should have asked more questions about what was to come.
After my mastectomy, I hurt everywhere, which was no surprise. What did surprise me were the little things that made me cry, like not being able to reach for a cup of water. Homecoming produced one crushing moment after another. My feet swelled and I could not get shoes on. I needed help to dress. Surgical drains hung off my body and ointment seeped through bandages onto my clothes.
Eventually I figured it out – something women do all the time. I discovered how sleeveless cotton undershirts were a comfortable and inexpensive garment that kept bandages in place and surgical drains secure. Through trial and error I learned which bandages provided the most comfort and that only paper tape did not irritate my sore skin. Lip balm became as precious as gold.
I wanted to tell other women facing mastectomy what to really expect, help articulate those unasked questions, and give them back some sense of control. It also occurred to me how quickly the expense of bandages mounted up, which is the last thing some women need on top of everything else. But the supplies are necessary. That’s how I conceived the idea for the Necessities Bag.
With my new found perspective on what I should have done to prepare for the debilitating affects of major surgery, I put together a pamphlet suggesting how to pack for the hospital and what to have ready for homecoming. Then I went shopping and filled a bag with essentials, like cotton undershirts, bandages that were super soft, gentle paper tape, personal hygiene items, lip balm, and a few other things.
I knew that for my idea to have the greatest impact, mastectomy patients needed to receive the information and supplies before surgery to get organized while they could still do things for themselves. I reached out to my own surgeon for approval and support. Thanks to Dr. David Passaretti, the first Necessities Bag was soon given to a very grateful woman.
The response to the Necessities Bag program has been overwhelming and I am grateful to everyone who encouraged me to do this. I never imagined my life would include breast cancer, but I got through it with the support of a loving family and caring friends. My new challenge is to raise another woman’s spirits and then I will have truly accomplished something remarkable.
Maureen Hogan Lutz