What You Should Know After Surgery
Breast cancer surgery is challenging. Knowing what to expect immediately afterwards can help you prepare.
Recovering from surgery is not just a physical process; there are significant emotional issues to deal with too. Talking about your concerns is important, so reach out to your breast care nurse, doctor, family and friends, or find a support group, to ensure you get the help you need.
What can I expect after breast surgery?
These are some of the physical and emotional issues you might face after your breast cancer operation:
- Pain – Breast cancer surgeries can cause short-term pain and tenderness in the area of the procedure. Be sure to ask your doctor for pain relievers as needed.
- Arm numbness and exercise – You may feel more discomfort in your underarm area after surgery than in your breast. Discuss with your health care team when and how to exercise your arm to minimise stiffness.
- Wound dressing and drains – Make sure you receive instructions on how to take care of the wound and the drains that may remain in your breast or underarm area during healing; ask, too, if post-surgical bras or camisoles are available – they can help you feel more comfortable.
- Infection – Although infection after breast cancer operations is uncommon, ask about the signs of possible infection and contact your doctor with any questions or concerns.
- Oedema – Lymph node removal may result in swelling in your arm which is usually not painful but can increase the risk for infection. Discuss any symptoms with your doctor.
- Diet and medications – Get instructions from your health care team on the best diet and any medication that may help in your recovery.
- Further treatment – Your doctor will discuss future treatments with you during your follow-up visit a week or two after the operation.
- Emotional stresses – After breast cancer surgery, you may experience negative feelings related to the surgery and the disease. These may include feeling unwhole; a negative body image; concerns about intimacy and sexuality; depression; and anxiety about possible recurrence of the disease. It is very important to discuss your feelings openly and get help from family, friends, professional counselors and support groups.
- Wearing a breast prosthesis – After you have been cleared by your surgeon at about six to eight weeks post surgery, it is time to visit a certified mastectomy fitter to determine the best-fitting bras and prostheses for you. Further on, a yearly check with your fitter will ensure you always feel your best.