Originally from Northern Ireland, Laura is a 35-year-old educator living in Worcestershire with her husband and her two young sons. As a BRCA1 gene mutation carrier, Laura has recently undergone a preventative double mastectomy and a reconstruction. She has also had her ovaries removed in 2019. Laura has been documenting and sharing her BRCA1 experience via her Instagram account @brca1_mum.
In March 2021 Laura will be trekking 100km across the Sahara Desert with CoppaFeel, a breast cancer charity, to raise vital funds for this amazing charity and their projects.
One of the last times I had to pack a hospital bag, was when I was preparing for the birth of my youngest son. Gorgeous new-born baby clothes, tiny nappies, soft blankets. The thought of packing a hospital bag for my double mastectomy and reconstruction wasn’t quite so appealing to begin with, until I started preparing and realised this could be an opportunity to treat myself! There are some essentials you will definitely need for your stay, but your body is about to undergo a major surgery and an enormous physical change, so if there’s ever a time to be kind to yourself, this is it!
What to pack into your hospital bag:
- Your phone.
- Your phone charger – make sure you have an extra-long lead as invariably the plug sockets always seem to be miles from the bed!
- Pyjamas. Now, the important thing here is to make sure you go for a nightshirt or pjs which button up at the front. You won’t be able to raise your hands above your head for some time, so this makes it much easier to dress and undress. It is also more convenient for access when you are being examined. I treated myself to some new pjs and nightshirts to help lift my mood.
- Dressing gown – I brought a Brobes dressing gown with me. It was comfortable, nicely fitted and came with pockets to hold my surgical drains!
- Post-surgery bra. I was under the impression the hospital would fit me with a post-surgery bra. But thanks to Covid-19, and a change of location, they didn’t have any for me. Thankfully I had thought ahead and brought one with me. I ordered mine from Nicola Jane, but you can pick up a post-surgery bra from most places now, including supermarkets! Like the pyjamas, the important thing is that it buttons at the front. If you have had a reconstruction you will be expected to wear a bra day and night for 6 weeks. During that time your breasts will vary in size thanks to swelling etc. So, get yourself a couple for the early days and when things have settled, and you know what size you are, you can buy more.
- Toiletries. The usual – toothbrush, toothpaste, soap. Your skin can get very dry in hospital so pack some moisturiser and lip balm. I’m a face oil fan so I packed that too.
- Wipes – if you don’t have the energy for a proper clean, you can use wipes to freshen up.
- Going home clothes – you’ll want to have something that is easy to pull on or button up. Maybe a shirt, or a dress you can pull up over your hips.
- Snacks! The hospital I stayed in were very good at feeding me. I didn’t get back from surgery until very late, but they brought me tea and toast. However, it is good to have some of your favourite snacks to hand if you get hungry.
- Eye mask - I treated myself to a heated eye mask from Spacemasks which felt like such a luxury in my hospital bed.
- Dry shampoo – You’ll find that it can be difficult to raise your arms enough to wash your hair. Dry shampoo will definitely be your best friend.
- iPad/tablet – I had a lot of time to kill before I was called to surgery. Watching my favourite shows whilst waiting really helped (though in hindsight I probably should have avoided Grey’s Anatomy!)
- Earphones/Headphones. I found these very helpful to drown out the hospital sounds. Ear plugs would also work.
- Book/magazine/puzzle book – it can be very boring in hospital. Especially with the lack of visitors - thanks Covid! Ensure you have what you need to keep yourself occupied. Plan for a few extra days, just in case.
- Mastectomy pillows. These are heart shaped pillows which you pop under your arms for comfort and support. I went everywhere with them for the first few weeks! I got mine from Jen’s Friends – very kind volunteers make them for free and charge postage only.
- Bags for your hospital drains. Most hospitals will provide you with these. But if you want to have your own you can get them from various organisations.
- Notebook and pen – You may have questions to ask your medical team, so make a note beforehand. It can also be helpful to write down the advice given. Your head will feel a bit fuzzy for a few days, thanks to the anaesthetic so keeping a note will help you remember.
The best advice I can give is to bring those things, in addition to the essentials, which will make you feel comfortable in hospital. I ensured that I had familiar ‘home comforts’ – the smell of my face oil, my favourite tv shows, cosy pjs, snacks. Most important of all: be kind to yourself!