Whether you’re having a mastectomy, lumpectomy, reconstruction, augmentation, or explant surgery, going under the knife can be a scary process. But one of the hardest parts of any breast surgery is the weeks after that you’ll spend in recovery. Not only can it be painful, but adjusting to your reduced mobility and limited capabilities can take some real getting used to.
The good thing is that this is only a temporary battle! If you take the time to take care of yourself in recovery, you can expect to be getting back to your normal routine in a few months. To help you during this time, we’ve rounded up seven breast surgery recovery tips.
1. Prepare beforehand for your breast surgery.
One of the best things that you can do to help your breast surgery recovery is to prepare beforehand. This means getting your home in order and thinking about the specific needs you’ll have when you return from the hospital.
The biggest thing to remember is that your mobility won’t be the same for several weeks or months after the surgery. You’ll want to make sure that your home and clothing are geared for this when you return. Here are few pre-surgery prep recommendations:
- Get your living spaces ready. Make sure you’ll have plenty of space to get around without any trip hazards blocking your way. Set up a cozy space to relax in your bedroom or living room. Move frequently-used items from high shelves to lower ones. Put items like tissue, chapstick, remotes, and other entertainment within reach of your bed. If you will need things like a shower chair or shower wand, make sure that these are purchased and securely installed.
- Evaluate your clothes selection. You’ll need clothes that you can button or tie in the front like a post-surgical robe or button-down shirt. You’ll also want to make sure you have a compression bra or two on hand. A compression or mastectomy bra will help give your chest the extra support it needs during healing. Make sure you have all of the right attire and place it somewhere it’s easy to access.
- Make a plan for getting home comfortably. Between planning for your hospital stay and what you’ll need when you get home, it can be easy to forget the ride home. Be sure you have some breast surgery pillows for the car ride. These will help protect your surgical site and keep the seat belt from digging into your incision. Also, think about picking up any prescriptions in advance or on the way home so you have them as soon as you need them.
Taking care of this beforehand will be one less thing you’ll have to worry about when you get home.
2. Listen to your body.
Before you leave the hospital or surgical center, your doctor will talk to you about what to expect after breast surgery. If you begin to experience symptoms that seem out of the ordinary, it should be cause for at least some concern.
You know yourself better than anyone else. No matter how small it may seem, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor or surgeon if something doesn’t seem right. It’s always better to double-check and be safe than risk experiencing a dangerous complication.
3. Take it easy.
Rest and sleep are so important to your recovery process. While you don’t want to be completely sedentary after your surgery, resting will be a vital part of your healing.
Sleep allows your body to focus solely on the healing process. During sleep, your brain will work to repair injured areas, ward off infection, and guard against other harmful substances. A proper night’s sleep can also do wonders for your energy levels and mood.
If there’s one thing at the top of the “what not to do after breast cancer surgery” list, it’s overdoing it when you get home. It may be easy to bite off more than you can chew and try to get back into your normal routine. But it’s important to recognize that you just had major surgery. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it or to tell people “no” to doing things or visits while you take things easy.
4. Don’t neglect your wounds.
Caring for your wounds is no one’s definition of fun, but it’s necessary for a smooth and healthy healing process. Taking care of your incisions and drains will prevent infection and help reduce scarring once everything has healed up.
Your doctor will give you instructions for wound, dressing, and drain care before you are discharged. Make sure you follow these instructions to a tee.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to manage this on your own because it can be hard to reach or maneuver, especially in the beginning. Ask your doctor ahead of time if they think you’ll need an extra hand. If so, arrange to have someone help you or consider hiring a home health nurse to come in to assist you in caring for your incisions.
5. Do your exercises.
Like we mentioned earlier, it’s important to get your rest but not be completely sedentary during recovery. Make sure that you’re getting up and moving every day— within your limits, of course.
If your doctor or physical therapist recommended arm and chest exercises, do them! Moving your arms and chest will help rebuild and repair damaged muscles, allowing you to regain your strength and mobility. Deep breathing exercises will help relieve discomfort and tension around the incision and can help reduce stress.
Remember, only do exercises with your doctor’s approval. Don’t attempt to do any heavy lifting or strenuous exercises until a doctor gives you the all-clear.
6. Watch what you eat.
Opting for quick and easy fast food is tempting after surgery, especially when you don’t feel like cooking anything. But a healthy, balanced diet is key to any recovery. Wholesome foods will provide your body with the energy and nutrients it needs to heal and fight off infection.
Try to incorporate fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats into your post-surgery diet. They will help you not only heal quicker but feel better every day! It’s also important that you’re staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water during your recovery.
7. Reach out to your support system.
You’ll likely need physical, emotional, and mental support from friends and family after your surgery. Make sure to keep your closest circle in the loop and create a plan for keeping them updated throughout your recovery.
Don’t be afraid to tell your support system exactly what you need. Oftentimes, friends want to help but are just unsure how and want to give you space if you need it. If you find yourself struggling with the emotional and mental impact of your breast surgery and a cancer diagnosis, consider reaching out to a cancer support group. They can provide emotional support and guide you to healthy coping mechanisms and resources.
What to Do After Breast Surgery
Breast surgery can be a major operation, and it’s important to treat it as such. Take time to prepare beforehand to ensure a smoother road to healing when you return home. Breast surgery recovery may not always be easy, but if you are diligent about caring for yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally, you’ll be back to your normal routines in no time!