Depending on your general health and the type of your mastectomy, recovery from breast removal surgery usually takes 4-8 weeks for initial tissue healing and longer for overall healing. Although the prospect of a mastectomy is certainly unsettling, knowing what to expect will help to prepare and guide you through the recovery process.
Read on to learn more about mastectomy recovery, how long it takes, and when you can expect to return to your normal life and daily activities.
What to Expect in the Hospital After a Mastectomy?
Straight after surgery, you will be moved to the recovery room where healthcare professionals will monitor your vitals, like your heart rate and blood pressure. Once awake from the anesthesia, you’ll notice an IV in your arm to provide fluids, a bandage over your incision, and a surgical drain to allow blood to drain from the surgical wound.
After a few hours in recovery, and pain medication has been administered, you’ll be moved back to your room. Most mastectomy patients remain in the hospital for 1-3 days for observation after surgery, but some go home as early as the morning after their operation.
While you stay in the hospital, it helps to be prepared with a post-operative shower belt to hold your surgical drain while you wash, as well as loose clothes or pajamas to wear for comfort.
What to Expect When Recovering At Home After a Mastectomy
After a few days in the hospital, mastectomy patients usually return home to recover. During the first two weeks, it is important to rest as much as possible and not lift anything over two pounds in weight. Doctors also recommend patients wear clothing that does not require raising their arms over their heads for 2-3 weeks after surgery to avoid putting too much pressure on the wound.
Asking for help with chores, errands, or childcare will allow you the time you need to heal, and it’s also a good idea to ask caregivers to remove anything you might need from high shelves or cupboards to avoid any overhead reaching. Exercise-wise, only short and slow walks are recommended for the first few weeks of mastectomy recovery.
Common Questions You May Have
Is it Safe to Drive After a Mastectomy?
You will not be able to drive home from the hospital after a mastectomy. Essentially, no longer needing to take prescribed pain medication is the most significant indicator that you are ready to drive after a mastectomy.
For some women, this could be 10-14 days after surgery, for others, it could be longer. Speak with your surgeon for the all-clear, and it’s always a good idea to take someone with you on your first drive so they can take over if it becomes uncomfortable.
One of the most important things about driving after a mastectomy is to find comfort while wearing a seatbelt. To protect sensitive wounds from the tightness of a seatbelt, women’s health experts, Intimate Rose has produced comfortable Mastectomy Seatbelt Pillows with adjustable velcro straps and a special pocket for a gel pack to provide either hot or cold therapy while you drive.
When is it Safe to Exercise After a Mastectomy?
While mastectomy patients are given specific arm and shoulder exercises to perform regularly during recovery to improve range of motion and avoid stiffness, doctors recommend waiting 3-4 weeks before returning to normal exercise.
Doctors also advise beginning with gentle movements then building intensity over time and with caution. In some cases, surgeons might suggest a few sessions with a physical therapist (physiotherapist) first to regain some strength in the upper body muscles.
Mastectomy Recovery, a Few Months Down the Road
While most women return to their everyday activities within 6-8 weeks after a mastectomy, some changes might take a little more time to get used to.
Physical Changesto the chest, for example, can be difficult to accept in the beginning but rest assured each woman learns to accept their scars and new appearance with time, love, and self-care. The most important thing to remember is that a mastectomy was the best decision for your overall health.
Numbness in the chest area and underarm is normal after a mastectomy, mainly because nerve endings in the chest can be harmed during the procedure. In most cases, the chest nerves will grow back, but some mastectomy patients may experience a lingering sense of numbness in the chest and underarm for some time afterward.
Phantom Sensations or phantom pain may also occur as the chest nerves heal and re-grow. This type of pain is usually manageable with over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen and it generally subsides as the nerve endings become stronger. If not, speak with your doctor.
Decreased Strength in the upper body will more than likely occur due to the avoidance of any heavy lifting or using upper body strength during the recovery period. However, strength can be regained, albeit slowly, with some training and exercise as soon as your surgeon gives the all clear.
Although undergoing a mastectomy can seem scary and daunting, recovery is manageable once you are prepared, and most women return to their normal daily lives within a few weeks.
To be informed before the surgery, make a list of questions to ask your surgeon, and ensure you have someone to help with care in the first few weeks of recovery.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help with errands, meals, chores, and childcare. And should you feel overwhelmed or depressed at any stage of a mastectomy, schedule a session with a counselor or women’s wellness expert to talk it through and find help in moving forward with life.
Mastectomy: What to Expect - https://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/surgery/mastectomy/expectations
Checklist For Recovery After Mastectomy - https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/blog/checklist-for-recovery-after-mastectomy/
What Happens After Breast Surgery - https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/breast-cancer/treatment/surgery/after-surgery/what-happens-after-surgery