Honest writing about sleep - and recovery - from someone who’s been there.

Rachel’s thoughts on all those pillows!

Recovering from any surgery can be challenging. Once you add cancer into the mix, sleeping becomes even more difficult. Not only are you trying to rest and recover, but you are also worrying about the test results that follow your surgery. You are worried about whether the doctors removed all the cancer, or if there is more cancer in your body. Did they get clean margins? Were your lymph nodes affected? Obviously your body can “make” cancer again. Will your body “make” cancer again? There are so many thoughts running through your head and it is so darn hard to quiet those thoughts and allow your body the sleep it needs. Sleep is critical for healing, yet can be elusive when your brain is consumed with thoughts of cancer. I was never a great sleeper before my breast cancer journey. Following my surgeries, I found sleeping comfortably very difficult until I developed the Sleep Again Pillow System. I would cozy up mid-day sometimes, just to read, rest, and relax.  It was my special place. Sometimes, I would meditate while resting in the pillows.

Dealing with the emotional side as well as the physical side of cancer is extremely important. Knowing that you will be held and you will feel protected by your “pillows” allows you to focus on your emotional and spiritual journey. The Sleep Again Pillow system really does help you feel cozy and safe.  

On a practical level, the pillows are physically very comfortable and they provide full body support, which is extremely rare and cannot be found by any other post-surgical pillow on the market. The upper body wedge raises your upper body as required for recovery. The two side pillows tuck you in, so that you do not roll to your side.  You rest somewhat on both of the side pillows, so your arms comfortably rest on the pillows and your legs are each on one side pillow. Your hips are fully supported. The lower wedge can be used to raise your knees or to double up on your upper body wedge if you want your upper body to be raised up higher. Lastly, the small oval pillow can be used to support your head or neck, or anywhere else where you need a little extra support. You are physically safe and secure.  

Double mastectomies are particularly challenging because you cannot raise your arms over your shoulders for about four weeks following your surgery. Following a double mastectomy, the muscles are usually pretty tight and strained. Drains add extra discomfort and frustration. They are extremely uncomfortable and really no fun at all.  I know they serve a purpose, but they certainly bring their own set of issues following surgery. It took a long time for me to feel like my upper body could relax.  

Physical therapy helped me tremendously. I was able to get some relief from PT, which was nice. I also did a lot of stretches to try to relax my muscles. The tightness does stay with you for some time. Patience is not my strong suit, but I had to learn to be patient in my recovery. The first 4-6 weeks after surgery can be very difficult and limiting and it does take about a year to really feel like your skin, muscles, and upper body start to relax and feel more normal.  

We designed the Sleep Again Pillows so that you do not have to raise your arms or put too much pressure on your upper body when you get in and out of bed. The side pillows help you forget all about your drains for a little while, which I loved. Having your side body and arms supported post surgery is important and necessary. Without the side pillows, you would need to prop up your arms and side body with random pillows.  Initially, that is what I tried to do. I had a million pillows in bed with me and I could never get comfortable. Finding the right pillows is a process and, honestly, it’s one worry you just don’t need!

Many people sleep in recliners following surgery. We do not have a recliner in our home, nor were we inclined to buy a recliner following my surgery. I really did not want to invest in a recliner, and I knew I wanted to sleep in my bed.  I had a minimum of 3 surgeries between the double mastectomy and reconstruction surgeries, so I had to find a solution. I literally started with the wedge pillow and pieced together the full system. It was nice a relief knowing that buying a recliner was not necessary for my recovery.