11 tips to boost recovery after breast cancer surgery

Dr Sumayya Ebrahim shares 11 tips to boost your recover after breast surgery.

Be realistic about pain

Everyone experiences pain differently. Be honest about what you’re feeling. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to adjust your medication if you’re not comfortable. Remember to take your medication regularly. It’s easier to sit on top of pain than it is to wait for it to hit, then try to control it.

If you have drains in your chest wall to reduce swelling and fluid collections, these will be removed. Make sure you have taken painkillers at least half an hour before removal. This pain can be serious. Thankfully this process is quick.

Have the correct recovery gear

Wearing the correct clothes and mastectomy bras afterwards can make a huge difference. Avoid shirts that need to be pulled over your head as arm movement will be limited. Button down shirts and pyjamas work best.

Be mentally prepared

Patients often tell me how shocked they are when they look down and see scars, bruising and drains. They, somehow, expect to see their old familiar breasts. You need to mentally prepare yourself for the change.

Know lymphoedema may occur

Some nerve damage is always expected. Numbness and tingling can  be temporary or even long-term. A common side effect of extensive surgery is lymphoedema (swelling). Fluid collects when lymph nodes are removed.

It is essential to start physiotherapy as soon as your doctor allows it. This not only reduces fluid accumulation but prevents the limitation of arm and shoulder movements that can occur. The physiotherapist will also teach you breathing techniques that help clear lungs from a build-up of secretions after a general anaesthetic.

Be kind to yourself

Allow yourself time to recover. Try not to take on too much too soon. Your family will survive if they must do dishes or housework.

If friends and relatives offer to help with meals and lifts, accept graciously. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help.

Surround yourself with a support system. Caring family and friends are on hand to give encouragement. Don’t shut them out; this is difficult for them too.

Sleep enhances healing

Never under estimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Studies have shown that when post-surgical patients are exposed to silence and jazz music; they not only slept better but also tended to need less pain medication1.

Get mobile fast

The earlier you start moving again after surgery, the faster your recovery. You should get out of bed every two to three hours; even if it’s just to walk to the bathroom. The more you move, the less the risk of developing a thrombosis or blood clot in your legs or lungs. At first, you may need your caregiver next to you, in case you need help or feel woozy from painkillers.

Drink, drink, drink

Taking in enough water is vital after surgery. This helps to flush the kidneys of by-products of anaesthetic medication. It also helps to lessen constipation that’s aggravated by pain medication. Stay away from carbonated or caffeinated drinks.

Avoid smoking

Ideally, you should stop smoking at least six weeks before surgery. Even passive smoking will impair wound healing.

Celebrate your success

This is a super important part of the healing process. Making it through surgery may be your end goal or just the beginning of your treatment journey. Whatever it is, if you made it that is a reason for celebration. Book a massage, or a pedicure, or ask friends to join you for ‘tea and laughter’ to rejoice that you’re alive!

Have an attitude of gratitude

Say thank you to the people who have supported you. Say thank you to yourself for being as awesome as you are! True, heartfelt gratitude stimulates dopamine production in the body that boosts mood and improves immunity2.




Dr Sumayya Ebrahim is a gynaecologist in private practice in Johannesburg. 
She is also a blogger. Check out her blog “vaginations by Dr E” on www.vaginations.co.za

MEET OUR EXPERT – Dr Sumayya Ebrahim

Dr Sumayya Ebrahim is a gynaecologist in private practice in Johannesburg. She is also a blogger. Check out her blog Vaginations by Dr E on www.vaginations.co.za