I remember when I woke up from my mastectomy I was overwhelmed with this incredible sense of RELIEF.
Relief that I had woken up on the other side.
Relief that I wasn’t in horrendous pain.
Relief that I had faced this beast head on, and that I DID IT.
But once that started to settle, I wondered… will I feel okay moving my arms? My experience as a Physical Therapist working with patients post-mastectomy and post-reconstruction had shown me that so many women feel tight, uncomfortable, stiff, and unable to move their arms/upper body well. I was nervous I’d struggle with that too.
I gingerly reached up with one arm (when no nurses were looking – I knew I wasn’t supposed to be doing that… and I do not recommend attempting to reach overhead when you are less than an hour out of surgery hahaha), and I was (pleasantly) surprised to find that I wasn’t feeling pain. I felt tight and stiff, but at least it didn’t hurt to move.
I don’t tell you this to make you think it’ll all be unicorns and rainbows after surgery. I feel really grateful that I was feeling so good, and I think I owe a lot of that to all the prep I did leading up to surgery (subtle shout-out to PREHAB). Many of us may wake up feeling pain, and many of us feel okay – every body is different. A lot of us feel like we’re starting from scratch after surgery, and THAT’S OKAY. You’ll have mobility restrictions for awhile, but there are some gentle things you can usually start doing at home, if you are feeling up to trying! You can check out the REHAB section of our Prehab, Rehab, Rebuild Program for those ideas.
The other thing I feel super passionately about is getting a referral to see a Physical Therapist after surgery. Unfortunately, many of the women I’ve spoken to in The Breastie community were not offered this right away, and had to advocate for themselves and request that they be sent to PT. At the hospital I work at, all patients scheduled for a mastectomy are automatically given a referral for PT, and I think it makes a huge difference in comfort, recovery time, and quality of life.
Obviously I’m a little biased, but as someone who has been on both sides of this, I cannot stress how helpful it is to work with a PT to help you recover from surgery. A good PT can provide so much: education, manual therapy (nice hands on stuff to get you moving), therapeutic exercises (tailored to your body and your needs), lymphedema risk reduction and/or management, and a means of physical, social, and emotional support. Your PT will often spend much more time with you than most other healthcare providers can, and it’s a wonderful relationship to have.
You do not have to work through recovery alone – we are here for you.
Disclaimer: You should always consult with your medical team before attempting any of these exercises or any new exercise activity in general. Particularly if you just had surgery, make sure you are cleared by your medical team before trying any new activities or exercises. These exercises are designed as general advice/knowledge, not specific treatment. These are exercises that have worked for us (myself, Paige, and Joslynn), but every body is different, so make sure you listen to yours! What works for me may not work for you. A good Physical Therapist is a valuable tool if you need more specific guidance and treatment – you can find a PT in your area using the APTA or AAOMPT websites.