How to Recover from a Mastectomy - Breast Cancer

by katiem2

It can all happen so fast you can't think straight and yet with this helpful how to guide you can do this. Get the how to recover from breast cancer surgery and do it better.

Breast cancer research estimates 230,480 new cases of breast cancer cases occurred in the United States during 2011 with an additional 2,140 cases diagnosed in men. The American Cancer Society reported 192,370 cases of invasive breast cancer in 2009. It is the most common form of cancer (other than skin cancer) among women in the United States. The survival rate of those having breast cancer is about 1 in 35, much improved over recent years due to early treatment. The American Cancer Society estimates there to be more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States alone.

Many patients will experience the lifesaving procedure of a mastectomy. Today we’ll explore what to expect when recovering from breast cancer and a mastectomy. Follow this step by step guide to the care and needs of a breast cancer patient to better recover and regain health comfortably.

How to Get Through Breast Surgery

Everything tends to sink in and overwhelm you once you make it past the breast cancer surgical procedure.

A deep sigh of relief occurs after making it through surgery. We tend to move into autopilot mode once first diagnosed.  Anytime a woman faces such a major surgery the focus on getting through that process is intense and can be all consuming. Once making it past the surgical procedure you begin to think more realistically in terms of recovering. The physical changes are often overwhelming both physically and mentally as one is left weak and exhausted. 

Challenges are met on a daily basis as you realize the level of pain and difficulties you now face. Doing what once came easy and without thought or concentration can be overwhelming. This page will provide you with a list of instructions tips and real life experiences gained by the recovery of patients just like you or your loved one. The recovering patient will need help, the key is not to ask what you can do yet learn what their needs will be and meet those needs without asking.  The recovery is a new road for everyone involved. The preparation and planning is paramount.

What to Expect After Breast Surgery

There are certain routine things you can expect after you come out of surgery.

What Happens When You Come Out of Surgery

  1. After surgery you’re moved to recovery.
  2. You may feel confused the first instant you come off sedation but will quickly realize your done, this seems to happen in the blink of an eye, one minute you're a bit nervous about going under and the next it's all over and your done, some patients wake in intense pain, be calm and tell your nurse.
  3. There you will be closely monitored by a highly trained staff.
  4. They will watch your heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure.
  5. You may feel pain, headache and nauseous from the anesthesia.
  6. If so don’t be alarmed, tell your nursing staff.
  7. The nurses will address such issue as you communicate them making you more comfortable.

Once stable and ready to leave recovery you’ll be admitted into your hospital room. The standard hospital stay for breast cancer surgery is 3 days. The hospital stay concerning a mastectomy can be a bit longer than the standard 3 days without reconstruction. It will vary and your doctor will let you know as soon as possible. Each case is different given your choices and or circumstances. Talk carefully with your doctor to best understand the expectations surrounding your specific needs.

Journal Your Needs

You will be so very glad you kept a journal of everything during this process.

The Morning After Breast Surgery

The morning after your surgery you will begin physical therapy, the last thing you feel like doing but very important.

The physical therapist will show you exercises to prevent arm and shoulder stiffness otherwise your pain would worsen. This will also help prevent scar tissue. Be careful to do only the exercises the staff suggests as others could cause problems. You’ll also be given written instructions outlining the exercises specific to your needs. Be sure to ask your physical therapist any questions about these exercises making certain you understand the correct procedure. Designate a binder for all your medical paper work and instructions.

Keep a Journal as well for the added questions you have writing the answers and special instructions in your journal.

Dealing With Mastectomy

There is much you can do to insure the best recovery after having a mastectomy.

Plus, Share questions that come up the hours following your surgery with a loved one who should log these concerns in a journal.

Later, while your surgeon or doctor pops in you can access your journal being careful to ask the vital questions most patience forget once face to face talking to their doctor.

Listen first and ask questions once he's done, the surgeon will no doubt ask you if you have any questions. You will be prepared.

Note: Keeping a journal helps you to maintain your level of active healing, following the many instructions you are given.

While you caregivers spout them off with great confidence and accuracy you may feel as though you should simply remember it all.

You will not, and it is for this reason creating a journal is extremely helpful. In addition, the number one thing breast cancer survivors are grateful for, other than healing and the support of loved ones, is their journal of the experience.

It is priceless and yet something you will not understand until the day you're ready to reflect back on this time.

7 Masectomy Home Care Tips

Before you go home the hospital staff will review your personal at home care routine including written instructions, follow these instructions carefully.
  1. Pain Medication and Prescriptions: You will be given a prescription when you leave the hospital. A loved one will need to fill your medication on the way home or better yet beforehand. Add this to your list of questions to ask your surgeon, ask about the medications he will be prescribing for you at home and if you may get those written before released so a family member or friend can have those filled and ready on your arrival. The trip home often results in pain creating a greater more immediate need for pain relief than you may have anticipated.
  2. Incision Care: Follow the instructions given to you by your nurse on how to take care for the mastectomy bandage. If you forget or get confused with the paper work call and ask someone on staff in that department, this is when your journal comes in handy. You may be advised not to remove the bandage until your first follow-up with the doctor at which time they will do so. This will provide the doctor with important information as to your healing so do not mess with your incision bandage leave it to the doctor.
  3. Surgical Drain: Drains are sometimes removed before you leave the hospital and yet maybe left in until your first follow up visit with your doctor. If you’re sent home with a drain you’ll need to keep the fluid emptied from the detachable drain as instructed by the nursing staff. Make sure you understand the instructions for this before you leave the hospital. It is very helpful to take notes if needed as you will be tired and fatigued unable to remember it all, again adding this to your journal. Title sections in your journal for all of the topics listed here to keep your personal notes organized and easy to find as you need to reference different concerns. 
  4. Staples or Stitches: Most commonly surgeons use stitches that dissolve without the need of removal. It is common to see the end of the suture poking out of the incision like a whisker. If you experience this, your doctor will easily remove it. If staples are used they will be removed during your first follow up visit after surgery.
  5. Infection: You will be instructed to watch for signs of infection, if you note any infection at all call the doctors office immediately.
  6. Exercise: Continue with the prescribed regimen of exercise as instructed. Once again, don’t hesitate to call the doctors office if in doubt. Refer to your physical therapy notes for reminders as to what you should be doing at each stage of your recovery.
  7. Wearing a Bra: A certain level of healing must occur before you’re able to wear a bra or other prescribed garment. Wait until your doctors feel its okay to resume wearing such clothing. You may feel the instinctive need to cover or protect your chest with a bra or other garment, remember it’s important to call and ask first. This is another question you may want to title in your journal prompting you to inquire about beforehand. Research garments other breast cancer survivors found comfortable and helpful beforehand. It’s helpful to familiarizing yourself with the products and trouble shoot possible needs. It’s natural to protect and cover wounds while healing. This feeling is often more intense after breast surgery.

It typically takes a few weeks to recover from a mastectomy; again your doctor will inform you of this as all patients are different. Take the appropriate time for you to feel good and heal properly. Physical therapy exercises are vital to healing and recovery; do not skip this very important step as recovery will be halted otherwise.

6 Masectomy Recovery Tips for Home

The care you plan and get at home is vital to proper healing and recovery.

More Tips on Recovery at Home

  1. Proper Rest: When you get home, you will be both fatigued from the experience and relaxed to be home which creates an intense need to rest. Allow yourself the much needed extra rest in the first few weeks after surgery.
  2. Pain Medication: It’s normal to fell a combination of numbness and pain near and round the breast and or armpit incisions. If you need the pain medications prescribed take it according to the instructions and rest.
  3. Hygiene: After the drains and any staples or sutures have been removed or dissolve you may take your first shower but until then a sponge bath will do the trick.
  4. Exercise Daily: Continue the arm exercises on a regular basis to prevent stiffness, keeping your arm or arms flexible.
  5. Connections and Support: Designate a loved one or family member to be your personal care and recovery coordinator. Many offers to help will come in and some may need request. This person can take charge of scheduling who does what and when removing you from this process better allowing you to rest. The recovery from a mastectomy can take time. You cannot do routine housework and many otherwise daily activities. Let friends, family, support groups and networks help with meals, laundry, shopping, and childcare. People really like to feel they are doing something and this is the perfect contribution. Allow people to help! 
  6. Know Your Limits: Don’t take on more than you should, know your limits, listen to your body and get your head on the most positive and peaceful track to heal and recover! Here’s to you adding one more to the list of survivors.

Breast Cancer Article Dedication

Women who face breast surgery and masectomies due to breast cancer need as much help and support as you can give.

I dedicate this article to my aunt Becky. Becky found a lump that felt uncomfortable and warm maybe even hot to her, as if feverish, she called her doctor who said "lets watch it".  She trusted this doctor she had been seeing for many years and let it go for awhile hoping it would pass, maybe she was over reacting. In the back of her mind she was still concerned. With her husbands encouragement she found a new doctor.This doctor was alarmed by the lump even more so by the description aunt Becky gave her of the physical symptoms. She was later diagnosed with breast cancer which took her from us. It was a difficult struggle for her and our family, to say the least.  

We kept a journal and most often wrote down what she told us plus the things she talked about or mentioned.  

Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon

Pink Breast Cancer Ribbon

Loved Ones Lost to Breast Cancer

The common phrases that were unique to her, the secret ingredients to her secret cookie recipe and more were added to this treasured journal. Her care was outlined and we took photographs all of which we also added, thinking it's a good idea to remember this struggle to later celebrate life.This was priceless as those who did not spend as much time with her as they'd like were talked about, they later read the things Becky said about them.  We all marveled over the things documented in the journal, some of it funny, much of it very telling yet had not consider at the time. It was deep, profound and magical. It's priceless for both the survivor of breast cancer or regrettably the surviving family members.

Do go quickly to have any concerns you have checked out and if you don't feel comfortable with a doctors suggestions go else where. Trust your instincts. 

I Love You Aunt Becky, Katie

Updated: 04/08/2013, katiem2
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?

Share your experiences with recovery after breast cancer surgery

Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login
katiem2 on 04/06/2013

Jamie, Glad to help

Jamie on 04/06/2013

WOW what an amazing resource for anyone facing breast cancer.

You might also like

How to React to and Help a Loved One with Cancer

Dealing with cancer? Learn how to react, treat and care for a loved one when ...

How to Eat to Avoid Cancer

As a society we've all but become obsessed with the cure to cancer and yet co...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...