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There can be many questions about what it’s like to recover from a double (or bilateral) mastectomy (or DMX).


As you can imagine, each person’s story is unique to them, and their recovery is no different.

However, I found myself wanting to know what others’ experiences were like as a way to better understand the things that might come my way and reduce the amount of things that felt unknown to me. I received a nipple-sparing, double mastectomy with retro pectoral expanders (under the muscle).


I hope that what I share can provide some comfort and information so that you and/or your loved ones feel empowered and better prepared for recovery from a DMX.

Below are some noticings about how I felt during the first week of recovery post-surgery:


I stayed for one night in the hospital following surgery. I was in considerable pain, even with the pain block, and was given additional pain management so that I could rest. I woke up wearing a chest binder and was instructed to keep it on at all times (minus showering) for the first two weeks. This is because of the importance of keeping my expanders in place while my body heals. I also had two drains, one on each side, which were designed to help my body heal by bringing fluids away from the chest area. I did not have any nausea and could eat food the next day. I ate small snacks the first evening as I woke up from anesthesia. 

I had extreme tightness in the chest, and my muscles contracted a lot when I moved. Using the muscle relaxant that my doctor prescribed really helped. It calmed my muscles down and allowed them to get used to the expanders in my body. 


I was incredibly tired. I took several naps throughout the day and found myself feeling worn down. Even while I was awake, I could tell my body was working hard to heal, and all my energy was going towards that. 


Nighttime was uncomfortable for sleeping for the first few days, and we tried various pillow systems and arrangements to support my chest and arms. Pro tip- if you find that you have lots of pressure on your shoulder blades or lower back when you’re lying down, try putting a pillow under your knees. That helped a lot. 


I needed help shuffling to and from the bathroom, especially because I had pain meds on board and was a little woozy at first. I would recommend talking with your partners to make sure they help you when you need to get from one place to another if needed. Or, they can walk beside you or behind you if you feel well enough. It’s always a good idea to have someone with you until you get a sense of how you are doing. 

My Biggest Challenges That First Week

As someone who is always on the go, it was very difficult to rely on family to help me do every day tasks. Sitting up, moving, eating, showering, or all monumental tasks that required someone to hold my hand and walk with me to make sure I didn’t fall. For the first couple days of being at home, I would need to be very slow in my movements from sitting down to standing up to walking. There are a couple of occasions where I felt myself getting faint, and needed some assistance to keep myself alert. This is not an experience everyone has, but I’m sharing it in case it’s something for you to be aware of.


Because of the retropectoral expanders, my muscles were pretty mad at me. They kept cramping and constricting at the oddest times. It was quite painful, but I got relief with some muscle relaxant. Now, one week out, they only contract on occasion when I’m using them, but I can tell my body is getting more familiar with the objects in my chest.

The drains were ones I didn’t quite expect to have such a challenging time with, and no one particularly likes them. Yet, they are a necessary evil to keep you healthy and moving along. And while it feels like a lifetime while they are in (typically 2 weeks), this time will pass and will be a distant memory before you know it. In addition to the drains being uncomfortable, I really struggled with the visual of my mom or has been stripping my drains for the first few days.

Our doctor requires that we strip them two times a day, and each day the drains contain less and less fluid. I didn’t realize that seeing my drains stripped would give me the heebie-jeebies the way that it did. I’m getting more used to it now, but just know that if it’s hard for you to look at your own drains, you’re not alone! 

Week one is by far the most difficult, but with proper pain management, cozy places to rest, and loved ones taking care of meals, kids, animals, and other responsibilities, you'll be in great shape.

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