Recovery after surgery involves healing, both physically and emotionally, and the time taken varies from person to person. It is important after you leave hospital that you follow any instructions you are given about caring for your wound. This will vary from hospital to hospital and the care your wound requires will also depend on the kind of surgery you had.
After a few days or weeks, you may have more discomfort and stiffness as you begin to move your arm more and become more active. This usually improves naturally over time. If you are still experiencing pain which is not controlled by pain relief, contact your breast care nurse or your GP for advice.
The wounds should heal within two to three weeks. However, it may take several months for your affected breast and arm to feel ‘normal’ again, particularly if you have had surgery under your arm.
Surgery to the armpit can affect the lymph vessels that drain lymph fluid from the arm. This can result in a build up of lymph fluid causing swelling soon after the operation. Initial swelling will usually settle over time as the unaffected lymph vessels open and increase drainage.
Occasionally, this swelling can be long term and may never completely go away, although it can usually be controlled. This is known as lymphoedema and can occur weeks or months after surgery, or even years, later.
How to prevent lymphoedema:
Fatigue is something that most people will experience at some point during or after their treatment. This could be as a result of chemotherapy and/or the accumulated effects of other treatments.
Fatigue is different from normal tiredness and is more extreme and unpredictable. It can make a significant difference to how you feel and how you cope with everyday life.
Where possible, try to take things easy and don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t do as much as you used to.
Take time to relax and unwind. This will help reduce stress and speed up recovery. Treat yourself to a relaxing massage, watch a feel-good movie, read a book, lie on the grass and stare at the clouds - whatever makes you feel relaxed and revived.
Activity & Exercise
Once you get home from hospital, try to do a little more physical activity each day. Try not to set yourself enormous tasks and remember to rest in between them; your body needs time and energy to recover.
Generally, you should be back to your usual level of activity after three to six months, depending on your individual circumstances. Some people may find that it takes longer and this will also depend on any further treatments you have.
Depending on your individual circumstances, you will be encouraged to start gentle exercises for your arm and shoulder one or two days after your surgery and increase to more challenging exercises over time.
Regular exercise will help:
- Increase your range of movement
- Prevent any long-term problems with arm and shoulder movement, stiffness and problems with your posture
- Reduce the risk of lymphoedema
Nutrition — giving your body the nutrients it needs — is important for everyone. When combined with exercising and maintaining a healthy weight, eating well is an excellent way to help your body stay strong and healthy. If you're currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer or have been treated for breast cancer in the past, eating well is particularly important for you.