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Mastectomy Rehab – early days

Post surgery is always a blur. Nurses tell you a lot of information but generally you’re quite drugged up still and sleeping through half of their talk! At least I was!

Luckily, your surgeon should give you some information on movements, exercises or stretches to do post surgery.

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Range of motion excercises given by my surgeon

I was given a handout with a few range of motion exercises to do. The handout told me to try to do these movements right away and to work in a pain free range of motion.

After a mastectomy you will be pretty uncomfortable. It’s a pretty big surgery, both physically and emotionally.  If you choose immediate breast reconstruction it becomes even bigger.

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Shoulder flexion one week post mastectomy

I had a mastectomy, sentinal lymph node removal and immediate reconstruction with a tissue expander placed under my pectoralis muscle. The tissue expander was also filled slightly to begin the expansion process. I also had one drain, some people have two. Everything was sore, stiff and uncomfortable. My right shoulder range of motion was very low. I tried to move through some of the basic range of motion exercises each day, but honestly I mostly just napped!

I luckily had my drain removed after only five days! This was very exciting for me! If you’ve ever had a drain you will understand why. Once the drain was removed I felt more free, and less nervous, to move my right arm. Every day I worked on movement in a pain free range.

A week post surgery I went into the gym. I needed a feeling of normal. The first day I just stood in the gym and did my range of motion movements and some lower body stretching.

The days following I added in some easy leg exercises. My workouts looked like this:
10 repetitions each, 2-3 times through.

  • body weight squats

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    Mini band lunges

  • shoulder flexion with elbows bent
  • mini band lateral walks
  • elbow push upper body range of motion
  • mini band lunges
  • shoulder abduction with elbows bent
  • body weight glute bridges
  • shoulder flexion with arms straight (raise arms overhead)

It is very important to listen to your body. Doing any sort of activity besides walking for some people after major surgery would be too much. I had good energy and was recovering well. I knew when to not push it and rest or just go for a walk.

Mentally, for me, going to the gym and doing a small workout was a huge mental boost. I was grateful to feel well enough to try.

 

 

 

 

Moving through Mastectomy

I have tried to keep my social media posts positive, but there have been hours and whole days that I have been broken. You don’t really know what something is like until you experience it yourself.

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One day after surgery!

I had a mastectomy of my right breast, removal of sentinel lymph nodes and a tissue expander placed under my pectoralis muscle for immediate reconstruction. While I have recovered well, I have definitely been in a lot of discomfort.

Here’s some things I experienced during recover from my mastectomy.

Surgery Discomfort

I mean, you just had major surgery Meaghan! Of course it’s going to be painful!

Drain

My surgeon put in one drain to prevent the buildup of fluid (blood, lymph). He told me it could be in for up to two weeks! Drains are pains! I luckily only had one, but it disgusted me so much. I was constantly nervous I would accidentally pull on it too hard or get it caught on something. Milking it to keep the fluid moving was gross. I think I got the shakes every time I had to empty the drain’s collection ball.

My best friend bought me a button up mastectomy shirt (Recovery Tee) with pockets on the inside. I slept every night in it so that my drain stayed in one spot. Another friend who is also a breast cancer thriver gave me a drain holder lanyard for showering with. Both so useful!

I was so fortunate that I only needed my drain for five days but I was extremely nervous that it’s removal was going to be really painful. It wasn’t! It was quick and easy! However, for a few days after the area was very tender.
Having the drain removed was a big mental boost for me. I really felt good after that happened.

Sleeping

I am a side sleeper. Not after a mastectomy though! You would find me sleeping on my back propped up with pillows.
Still three weeks later it is very uncomfortable to sleep on my side. I believe this is from the tissue expander providing pressure under my pec.

Tissue Exapander

I don’t even know what to say other than, this is thing fricken uncomfortable! It feels like there is something hard in my chest and for the first two weeks there was a lot of pressure. I came out of surgery with the tissue expander filled slightly. Soon I will have more saline inserted and so begins the process of decided how large I want my reconstruction to be. How do you choose your breast size?! If anyone has any ideas please let me know! haha!

Skin

As nerves the came back to life my skin from my armpit to my sternum felt like it was being ripped off every time something touched it (clothing, water). This slowly went away and about four weeks post surgery I no longer felt this sensation.

Shoulder Range of Motion

I have been diligently working on my right shoulder range of motion. Gentle movements have become easier and I have progressed to longer holds at my end range. Each week I see improvements, but it feels very tight and uncomfortable still at four weeks post surgery.

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One week, 10 days and two weeks post surgery shoulder range of motion.

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3 weeks post surgery shoulder range of motion.

New Body and Body Image Issues

I’m not sure how you prepare to have one or both breasts removed. My life from cancer diagnosis to surgery was fuelled by adrenaline. I don’t think I fully comprehended what I would feel like until the final bandages were removed.

I no longer have a breast or nipple on the right. It is different, weird, emotional.

I will have breast reconstruction, but it is still different. This is not a boob job. This is breast cancer.

I have a lot more to get through. More treatment, more surgeries, more recovery. For me this is really just the beginning.

I will continue to work on my fitness, strength, shoulder range of motion and positive body image. I will move through cancer.

My Cancer Journey

How did I get here? It still seems unreal.

I was around ten years old when my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I honestly don’t really remember time when she didn’t have it. Surgeries, chemo, radiation all seemed almost normal in our house. My Mom was incredible. She rarely complained. She made it out to all of our softball games, even in the rain.

She died when I was 20, shortly after her 55th birthday.

Since then I have spent a very healthy lifestyle, with the end goal of not getting cancer myself. I am fit and strong, and have spent years in the gym with a passion for lifting heavy, I teach fitness classes. I hike, paddleboard and love the outdoors. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink much. I eat very healthy. Clearly all of my work wasn’t enough.

I turned 36 years old in August. I had gone to my doctor the week before about a small lump I found in my right breast. It felt like a small pea and didn’t seem serious. The doctor agreed, but given my family history she requested I get a mammogram and ultrasound.

August 31st I walked confidently into the hospital’s medical imaging department, joking with the mammographer about my boobs being squished this way and that. One hour later, I had silent tears running down my cheeks as the radiologist took three biopsies of the tissue that was causing “a lot of concern”.

September 11th I arrived at my doctor’s office to find out the biopsy results. Invasive carcinoma. I would be having surgery within a month.

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October 19 was the longest day of my life. I had a full mastectomy of my right breast, lymph nodes removed and a spacer inserted for breast reconstruction.

Now I wait to visit the cancer clinic and find out the pathology results of the breast cancer. I am looking forward to planning the next step.

Dear Breast Cancer

Dear Breast Cancer,

I have worked my entire life to avoid you, but you still found your way into my right breast.

I have done everything you told me to do to keep you at bay: I eat very healthy, I am fit and strong, I breastfed my daughter, I don’t smoke, I rarely drink. I am a good person.

I watched you take my Mom 16 years ago and I have seen you torture the lives of others.

You make me feel that life is very unfair.

Today I will have surgery to remove you, some lymph nodes and my breast from my body. I don’t know what other treatment I will need yet but I hope that whatever it is will get rid of you for good.

I am thankful my daughter is too young to remember you bothering me. I am grateful that the best man I know vowed “in sickness and in health” to me only four months ago. I am pretty sure the love I have felt from my friends and family will kill you alone.

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Interestingly, I had “Strength” tattooed on my right side several years ago. At the time it had many meanings to me, but perhaps it was also some form of terrible foreshadowing?

People tell me lately that I’m the strongest person they know. Maybe it’s because I have been through a lot in my short life or maybe it’s because I can do pull-ups and heavy deadlifts! I am usually proud of being strong and I hope I am able to prove these people right.

But because of you I have felt anything but strong the last few weeks. You got the emotions you wanted out of me: anger, frustration, fear, guilt, extreme sadness.
Did I mention anger? I have been so angry.
But today, Breast Cancer, today I will fucking show you strength.

Sincerely,

Meaghan