Surgery Prep & Planning Checklist

Posted by Sara Liyanage on 17 September 2017

Whatever type of surgery you are due to have (lumpectomy, mastectomy, reconstruction or auxilliary node clearance) here are some suggested items to get prepared…


  • Toiletries for your wash bag
  • Things to do at hospital, for example; magazines, book, puzzle books and an ipad or similar
  • For node clearance and mastectomies: one or two drain bags depending on whether you are having surgery on one or two sides (Although you may have something at home – such as a lightweight tote bag – which will do the job just as well as a special drain bag. Check out Drain Dollies.)
  • For mastectomies: a mastectomy pillow (search online, for example Jen’s Friends). The pillows are used after mastectomy surgery / or any breast surgery to help support and protect the tender chest area. They help by fitting under the arm when doing everyday tasks such as sitting, sleeping, watching TV and when in the car.
  • Front fastening sports bra (Marks and Spencer, Asda and other high street retailers all do these. Don’t get one that goes over the top of your head – it has to be front fastening).
  • Straws – it is a lot easier to drink from a cup with a straw than reach for the cup and hold it up to your mouth. You’ll need these in the hospital and at home afterwards.


  • Small, soft, squidgy cushion or pillow that you can put under your arm after node clearance surgery. Jen’s Friends provide small, handmade heart shaped pillows which are perfect for using after surgery – they just charge for P&P – a wonderful organisation. You may find that a “cheese wedge” pillow or a body shaped pillow might so it is worth taking some time to research your options.
  • Flannels or sponges
  • Comfy clothes for convalescing at home – this can be tricky, have a look around online. Also consider looking in charity shops so you don’t have to spend much (you’ll probably not want to hold onto your post-surgery clothes for long).
  • Extra pillows to help night time sleeping


  • Plan how you will sleep at night when you get home from hospital
  • Contact numbers for who to call about any questions to do with the recovery and drain
  • Plan and freeze some meals (make sure you do a grocery shop just before the surgery so you don’t need to go food shopping for a while afterwards)
  • Plan childcare
  • Clothing to accommodate the tubes and drain coming out of your armpit and that you can put on without really moving your arm(s) and check with your hospital about whether they will be providing you with compression socks for once you are out of surgery. If not, then it is worth getting a pair to wear for a couple of weeks after surgery whilst you are convalescing.
  • Someone to take you and bring you home from hospital (you won’t be able to drive – remember to ask your breast consultant when you are likely to be driving again and in the meantime you may need to organise help with getting yourself and your children around: to and from school, to medical appointments and so on)


In your bag for the hospital stay, you may wish to include items such as:

  • Wash bag of toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, regular facial toiletries or face wipes, soap, dry shampoo). An electric toothbrush requires less movement so might be worth using.
  • Clean undies
  • Nightwear – ideally top and bottoms with the top easy to open from the front. Short sleeves are best as these are easiest for the nurses to take blood pressure in the night.
  • Dressing gown and slippers because you will probably have to walk to the operating theatre. Make sure your slippers don’t have slippery soles and avoid taking flip flops because you’ll be wearing surgical stockings. And slip-on slippers are best because you may struggle to bend down after surgery.
  • Something to do like a book, magazine, downloaded film on an iPad/phone and headphones. If you have noise cancelling headphones take them. Hospitals are noisy all the time.
  • Phone and charger (either a plug in one, or one of those power banks that you charge at home first)
  • Snacks – think about how long you are going to be in hospital
  • Drinks such as juice boxes, bottles of water, herbal tea bags, cordial, squash etc.
  • Note pad and pen for jotting down instructions and information from the nurses
  • Towel
  • Post mastectomy bra – there are various options available and you may have a recommendation from your consultant. Check out Reco Bras  for some options. Or a front fastening sports bra from somewhere like Marks and Spencers.
  • A small cushion that you can wear in the car on the way home between the seatbelt and your chest
  • Something easy to wear when you leave hospital – ideally something that buttons or zips up at the front, a skirt or jogging bottom/baggies and flat easy to slip on shoes or boots.
  • The small pillows for under your arms (for example, the Jen’s Friends cushions).
  • Bags for the drains (such as Drain Dollies) or even just a couple of lightweight tote bags.
  • Details of your prescription medication to give to the nurses.
  • Eye mask, ear plugs, hand cream, tissues.

You might want to consider packing various items in different coloured bags so that when you are in bed, you can ask the nurse/visitor to pass you the “red bag” rather than ask them to rummage around in your bag for whatever it is you want.

The information and content provided on this page is intended for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice.

Reviewed July 2021


Claire diagnosed in 2016
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