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What to Expect From a Mastectomy and Sentinel Node Biopsy

Updated on August 21, 2018

Lack Of Informative Information!

After recovering from my surgery I was intensely curious as to how long I needed to wait to do certain tasks. You are advised not to:

  • Iron
  • Hoover
  • Lift heavy objects
  • Not to do anything that involves repetitive movements, like cleaning the floor

However, you ARE supposed to do your exercises (they give you a leaflet) with repetitions of 7 or 10 at a time. I was getting most confused as to what I could or could not do. You are supposed to use your arm and shoulder to keep it moving and to avoid a condition called "frozen shoulder", but you are not supposed to overdo it.

After a mastectomy, where the surgeon has cut you and your nerves, your feel numb. I have numbness under my armpit, under my arm (under my "bingo wing") and around my chest area where my breast once was. You feel that you can no longer rely on your senses. As breast cancer and mastectomy seems to affect older ladies, there does not seem to be a great deal of advise for younger women affected by this condition. Many things I read on the internet stated that you should rest for a week or two at least, but with two small children this is impossible. My partner works, and there is only so much others can do for you, plus you WANT to do things.

Here is my timeline of events - hopefully it will be of use to others as to what you can and cannot do. I am reasonably fit and active, but not excessively so. Just a normal mum!

That Night In The Hospital

After my surgery which took place around 14.00 - I was back in my bed on the ward by 17.30. I actually felt fine - a bit woozy - every time I sat up, I felt and was sick, but I think this was the anesthetic or the morphine.

At first you are unsure how much you can move. You are scared to move in case you pull something out. I had two drains attached to me, however, I could not see exactly where they went in, so I felt I had to move gingerly. I was unable to get up and walk about due to the sickness, however, once I had a jab to counteract this, I was able to get up from my bed and use the commode without assistance.

I was asked several times during the night to rate my pain out of 10 - I said it was a 4 initially, but then a 2 later. I did not have any more pain killers, and indeed I was surprised at how little it actually hurt. It was more the sickness and how much I was able to move that concerned me. I had a look down my top, and was surprised to see just a small plaster covering my wound. All in all, it was rather neat and tidy. I had had an image in my head of being swaddled in huge, leaking bandages, but I was not!


Day One - Returning Home

On returning home, I was well enough to:

  • Carry my hospital bag upstairs and unpack
  • Walk around the house
  • Go to the toilet alone
  • Have a wash unaided
  • Potter around and do little tidying tasks
  • Play with the children and read to them
  • Eat and drink unaided

At this stage, I still had a drain in and had to remember to carry it around. If it dropped to the floor without my holding it, it did not exactly hurt, but I did not like the thought of it hanging. I could feel it; dangling, unsupported. I realise now that I was numb from the surgery, but I did not know this at the time. I also had taken some painkillers - co-codamol - and I guess these helped. I was not in any pain at all, it just all felt a little sore and tender.

I think having the drain in - however unsightly - was actually helpful, as it reminded me and indeed my children that I had had some major surgery, and made them keep their distance. I was initially worried that they may accidentally get tangled in it, but they did not. It also MADE me take it easy, as I think I would have tried to do more too soon.

Day Two

My partner did go and sleep on the sofa as we were concerned he may roll onto the drain in the night. The next day, I got up with the children and was able to:

  • Make them toast and get them dressed
  • Empty the dishwasher (I had to do it in stages and have a little rest in between, i.e. empty top rack - sit down - empty bottom rack - sit down - then fill, but I could do it)
  • Do my basic exercises that I was advised to do

Day Three

  • The drain was removed
  • From this point on I could get about lots better, but still did not attempt to do ironing or hoovering.
  • I could cook, but not hold a knife to chop firmly
  • I could get things out of the oven with my good arm
  • Walked to the shops with no problems - I could only manage one light bag though

Day Six

  • Took my children to school
  • Could catch a bus
  • Able to go out for lunch in a restaurant wearing my soft pouch in my top. I have a "wrap around" top that was perfect as it was not too tight as I felt a bra may be
  • My three year old decided to pick today to fall down the stairs - I had to break his fall and catch him. He fell into my chest and my arm strained - but I was ok


One Seven

  • Intermediate exercises are due to begin now - I could do them all with the exception of one which made my underarm feel as if it were swollen but when I looked at it is was not
  • You are recommended to wear tops that button up down the front - I wore a large t-shirt for the first time today that did not have buttons down the front
  • Dressing over my incision scar was changed after a week. The steri strips were tugged off gently by the district nurse and it was then I realised that I felt no pain because I was numb.
  • She put a shower proof dressing over my scar - so I could finally have a shower!

Day Eight

  • I drove the car out of sheer necessity - but with hindsight, realised this was too soon. All day long after, my arm muscles felt swollen, although they are not. This is overdoing it. (The next day felt fine again)

Day Ten

  • All plasters off - my wound is exposed. It is very neat and tidy and not at all scary
  • I could have kept the plaster on, however, I chose to remove it to let the air get to it
  • I have still not attempted to shave my armpit yet...the numb feeling makes it feel odd

Day Fourteen

  • Finally went out pushing the pram

Overall Summary

All in all, it has NOT been as bad as expected. I am lucky in that no one who does not know me would even know that there was anything different about me. I am a little stiff and my arm feels swollen even though it is not. The skin feels a little stretched around the rear of my arm too, but I have been reassurred by my Cancer Nurse that it is not lymphedema so it must just be the nerves and numbness in my arm causing this.

The thing that worried me the most prior to surgery was the injection that is required with "nuclear material" to help locate the lymph node. I was expecting it to be extremely painful. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find it was not. It just felt a little like an insect sting which lasted for a few seconds. More inconvenient was the lying under the camera for around 45 minutes not moving so they can trace it.

I hope this narrative helps others who may be going through the same process. Good luck, and it is not as bad as one may initially think.

© 2012 Earthy Mother

Recovery Time?

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