7 Tips for Recovering from a Mastectomy

  • Woman in hospital bed
    Focus on Getting Better
    Having a mastectomy to treat breast cancer is a big step. Now it's time to recover. Above all else, follow the take-home instructions your doctor gave you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or voice your concerns. And before you leave the hospital, be sure to talk with the doctors and nurses who treated you. Get the answers you need. Then use these tips to make your recovery as smooth and painless as possible.

  • Rear view of children and father washing dishes at kitchen sink
    1. Learn to Let It Go
    You might find it hard to let other people do for you. But it’s critical that you rest the first week home from the hospital. Do too much and you might have a setback in your recovery.. Accept help from friends and family. Let them cook, clean, do laundry, and run your errands. Keep your cell phone next to you so you can text or call if you need someone to do something.

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    2. Take Your Meds
    Your doctor probably sent you home with pain medicine and prescription refills. Follow the directions for these drugs precisely. It helps to use a pillbox with a section for each day of the week. But if you don’t have one, keep a written log of what drugs you took and when. That way you won’t skip a dose or take too much by mistake. And remember: Taking pain meds does not make you a weak person. You’ve had major surgery. Pain pills can help you recover faster.

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    3. Exercise Your Shoulder and Arms
    A physical therapist at the hospital may have shown you exercises to do. These can help get your shoulders and arms strong again. If no one showed you the exercises, ask your doctor or nurse to refer you to someone who can teach them to you. Ask for a variety of exercises. Having a variety to rotate through will ensure you won’t get bored and stop doing them. Be sure you learn how to do the exercises properly. And be sure to ask how often to do them.

  • Woman sitting on bed holding coffee cup
    4. Learn to Say No
    Your family and friends will call and stop by to see how you feel. Their concern is genuine. But too many phone calls and visitors can be tiring. You need to rest. So be polite but firm. Ask friends and family to limit calls and visits. Post updates on a blog or Facebook page. That's an easy way to keep everyone informed about your progress. If you can’t do it, ask a friend or loved one to do it for you.

  • Lady Walking
    5. Be on the Move
    When you first come home from the hospital, the idea of exercising might seem crazy. However, you need regular physical activity to boost your mood and fight fatigue. When you’re ready, start slow. Go for a 10- or 15-minute walk. Slowly add more time till you’re up to an hour a day. It might help to work with a personal trainer. That person can help you come up with an exercise plan that works for you.

  • Fresh organic vegetables on a table
    6. Eat Right
    Surgery takes a lot out of you. To get your strength back, you need to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. This also helps you fight fatigue. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and dairy will deliver the vitamins and minerals you need. It also will help you maintain your weight. Be sure to drink lots of fluids too. If you have diarrhea or are vomiting from your cancer treatment, you may need extra fluid to replenish what you’ve lost.

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    7. Sleep Tight
    Getting enough quality sleep is important for your recovery. It can be difficult to sleep on your side after a mastectomy. It’s especially hard if you had a double mastectomy. For a while, you might find it more comfortable to sleep in an oversized, upholstered chair or recliner. If you need to sleep on your back, it may help to prop yourself up with about four pillows. Body pillows are also effective.

7 Tips for Recovering from a Mastectomy

About The Author

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 1
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.