Helpful Tips for Your Mastectomy Recovery
For many people, a mastectomy is the best option for dealing with breast cancer. However, it is important to know that the recovery process goes beyond the physical. Breast cancer can be a scary diagnosis. Know what to expect from your recovery and learn about the important lifestyle changes that can help you recover both physically and emotionally.
The following article outlines a few tips on how to care for yourself after a mastectomy. If you are unsure about anything, or if something does not feel right, please do not hesitate to contact your doctor or local support group.
Delegate and Let Go
Delegation and letting go is a skill. If you don’t have it, now is the time for you to develop it. You need to concentrate on recovery. Delegate to your support crew. This can be a spouse, family member, or friend who can help with the daily activities around the house or office.
Look at your recovery this way: You’re the boss. Your support crew of family and close friends are your team members. Your one job is to heal and they are here to help you. This means you need to concentrate on you and let others help pick up the slack.
By delegating to your team, you are helping them help you. This is something that left on their own they’d flounder unsure of the best way to assist your recovery. So, in effect, by delegating and letting go you are helping them!
Let them know what you need. Let them help with meals, transportation to doctor appointments and therapy sessions, do the shopping, carpool the kiddos, walk the dog.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. No, strike that. Don’t be afraid to tell your crew what you need. They want to help and need to know the best way to do so: You’re the boss!
Remember to Take Your Medications
The most important thing you can do for yourself as you recover is to remember to take your medications, as prescribed by your doctor. You should not take any other medications or supplements without first consulting with a physician or pharmacist.
If you are in doubt about what to do, be sure to ask questions of both the doctor prescribing the medication and anyone else who may be involved with administering it (such as nurses). The best way not only to avoid problems but also avoid any possible side effects is by taking only the medications prescribed for you and nothing else!
Take Careful Care of your Post-Mastectomy Drains
While they may make you look and feel like some sort of science experiment, your surgical drains play an important role in your recovery. Surgical drains help prevent excessive fluid buildup, reduce swelling, prevent seromas or other post-op complications.
Your surgeon or nurse will give you instructions on how to manage your drains, but knowing what to expect can make living with drains a bit easier.
It’s important to keep your drain clean and protect it so it stays in place.
Keeping Drains in Place
If there’s one thing you don’t want during the post-mastectomy healing process, it’s complications. One of the best ways to ensure this is to take careful care of your post-mastectomy drains. A special drain management garment will keep them secure and prevent lines from getting caught on objects or rubbing uncomfortably on your skin.
When you go to sleep at night, pay attention to the location of your drains. If you are an active sleeper, you may need to sleep on your back or in a recliner to prevent dislodging them. You may also consider a “pillow nest” like this one to help prevent movement while you sleep.
General Surgical Drain Management Tips
- Always wash your hands with soap before and after emptying your drain.
- Keep your drains below the level of where it comes out of your skin so it can drain properly.
- Be careful not to put a hole in the drain bulb or tubing with the safety pin.
- Don’t let the drain pull on the area where it’s inserted.
- It is normal for the fluid to be bloody at first. As you heal, the drainage will change from red to pink, then to light yellow or clear as the wound heals and the drainage decreases.
- It is normal to have different amounts of drainage from day to day. It should become less over time.
- If there is leakage from the drain site, put a sterile gauze dressing over the site and change it when you need to so the site stays clean and dry.
- If you can’t collapse the bulb after emptying the fluid or if you see drainage around the skin where your drain is inserted, call your doctor. Your drain may not be working properly or may be blocked.
- If your drain accidently slips out, even a bit, NEVER try to push it back in. If your drain falls out completely, put a dressing over the site and call your surgeon’s office.
Signs and Symptoms of Infection
Having drains provides bacteria an access route to your body, and the longer drains are in place, the greater the risk of infection.
Signs of a drain-related infection may include:
- A fever of 101 degrees or higher
- Redness of your skin surrounding the drain
- Hardness or firmness where the drain exits your body
- Thickening rather than thinning of the drained liquid
- Foul smelling drainage or pus at the entry site
- Pain or discomfort at your drain sites
- A sudden change in the smell or color of the drainage
Get Good Rest. Your Body Needs it to Heal.
Getting good rest is a vital part of your recovery. Sleep is when the body repairs itself and rejuvenates, so it’s important that you get enough sleep. Sleep helps you fight off infections, maintain a healthy weight, cope with stress, and keep your immune system healthy. Also, too little sleep can make you feel more tired than usual during the day.
So if you’re having trouble sleeping because of pain or discomfort at night, talk to your doctor about ways to manage these problems (for example by taking pain medications at bedtime). There are also many other things that can help people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer; some people find meditation, ASMR Sounds, or guided imagery helpful in this regard.
Physical Therapy and Exercise
You will likely be in physical therapy for a significant amount of time. The benefits are immense, ranging from improved range of motion to better posture. In addition, your therapist can help you avoid developing some of the common side effects that come with mastectomy surgery such as shoulder stiffness and back pain.
Stretching is also crucial. Be sure to ask your doctor if it’s okay for you to start stretching again; this will depend on the extent of muscle damage done during surgery and how long ago it was performed. If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, try doing gentle stretches every day (start with just five minutes) while sitting or lying down—this will help loosen up tight muscles without causing too much strain on them so soon after surgery.
Physical Therapy as part of a mastectomy treatment plan can have the following benefits:
- Improved upper extremity range of motion, strength and functional mobility
- Improved posture and core strength
- Decreased pain and swelling at the surgical site
- Improved sensation at the surgical site
- Improve scar tissue mobility
- And so much more…
Another important component to recovery is light exercise: not only does it decrease stress levels but also makes it easier for lymphatic fluid to move around in your lymph nodes which helps prevent infections from developing there! Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean running marathons though; walking at least 20 minutes per day should be enough exercise in order for recovery efforts being successful overall – even if all other factors are optimal! Talk with your health care team before starting any physical activities.
Mental Health and Mindfulness
In our culture, we’re used to being able to push away uncomfortable emotions. We can distract ourselves with movies and social media, or we can turn to food or alcohol for comfort. But these things only cover up the problem for a little while—they don’t actually solve it. Learning how to be mindful can help you get in touch with your feelings and accept them as they are, without trying to change anything about them.
A meta-review of ten recent studies have shown that Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs) have had a positive patient outcome in reducing feelings of anxiety, depression, stress, and fear of cancer recurrence.
Being and staying “mindful” might seem impossible at first, but it’s actually a lot easier than it sounds. Here are some tips on how you can be more mindful in your daily life:
Pay attention to the present moment: This means noticing what’s going on around you right now (for example, observing what color clothes someone is wearing) rather than thinking about something that happened yesterday or wondering about what will happen tomorrow. It also involves being aware of your own thoughts and feelings instead of getting caught up in them (for example, feeling sad doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with being sad).
Mindfulness requires practice: The more often you practice mindfulness techniques like those listed above (paying attention), the easier it will become for them work well when needed most—when dealing with an illness like breast cancer recovery from surgery such as mastectomy
Refraining from Excessive Physical Activity
You are recovering from a major surgery, and you need to be careful not to overdo it when you return home. That means no strenuous physical activity.
Don’t push yourself during your first few weeks of recovery. You won’t want to rest as much as you should at first, but try your best not to overexert yourself in any way — don’t lift heavy objects or push or pull anything, don’t run around or do anything strenuous for at least two months after surgery (or longer if your oncologist says so).
As soon as possible after this time period has passed and you’ve been given permission by your doctor and physical therapist (if applicable), start doing gentle exercises under supervision — easy walking is fine; swimming is great too! Take care not to let yourself get winded doing these activities; that means slowing down if necessary and resting whenever necessary.
You are uniquely YOU.
It is important to remember that every person and every experience that one might go through in the recovery process is unique. It can be difficult to know what to expect after a mastectomy, but the most important thing is to work with your doctor, caregivers, and support system in order to learn how you can help yourself cope with any lingering issues.
No two breast cancer surgeries are alike. Each person’s care plan is tailored to their situation along with the goals that they and their doctor have set. If you are unsure about anything, or if something does not feel right, please do not hesitate to contact your doctor.
you got this! xoxo