How to: removing mastectomy bandages, preparing for shower

You’re feeling grubby and have gotten the okay from your care team to take a shower. Here are some suggestions.

What you need

  • Mineral oil to help remove the tape
  • Something to protect the drains
  • Something to protect the skin around the drains
  • Something to keep the drains from dangling, unsupported

Preparing for the shower

Remove tape and gauze

Your incision is protected with both stitches and steri-strips, which are small white strips of tape. It is usually covered by a gauze dressing and tape. Mine was also covered by a very large ace bandage. My care instructions stated that I could remove the gauze and tape two days after surgery and then shower.

For me, removing all that tape would have been hard without lubrication. My local pharmacist endorsed the idea of mineral oil, which we nudged between skin and tape with q-tips. But even with the lubrication, there were a few places that caused cringes/teeth gnashing. You may need to cut the tape because it has stuck to the steri-strips; do not remove the steri-strips!

Phone is in right hand.

Protect and support drain(s)

You will have a Jackson-Pratt (JP) drain after your surgery for each breast and for lymph nodes if you had a dissection.

My care team at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance gave me a prescription for a post-surgical camisole that I filled at Nordstrom. The camisole provides pouches for drains and soft foam for a temporary prothesis if desired.

The camisole is great for everything but the shower.

You need to protect both the drain bulb and the drain incision from water.  To protect the incision, I bought two boxes of Band-Aid “Shower Care” bandage protectors at my local Rite-Aid. I’ll use them for the chemotherapy port.

Google will serve up a variety of ways you can protect and support the drainage bulbs. For example:

  • Use string/shoelaces/lanyard to create a loop around your neck, then use a safety pin to hang the drainage bulb.
  • Use string/shoelaces/lanyard to create a loop around your waist, then use a safety pin to hang the drainage bulb.

We put my three drains into two plastic grocery bags w/handles. We then tied each bag closed to help keep water out.

Taking the shower

If your shower head is on a hose, the shower will be a lot easier. If you have a partner to help, ditto.

Because we did not have the maneuverable shower head, Mike became my assistant. My job: each hand held a grocery bag with drains. Mike washed my hair and my body. I gave him the bags to hold so that I could wash my face.

Do not remove the steri-strips! They can tolerate the shower but not scrubbing.

After the shower

Follow your care team instructions. My care team advised air drying as well as gentle towel drying. I then put my post-surgical camisole back on, slipped the drain bulbs into their pouches, and felt like a different person.

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