What To Expect Right After Surgery

You'll probably need help for a time in caring for your incision and doing chores and errands. If you have a drain in place, you'll be asked to avoid driving for a week or two. It's also important to avoid heavy lifting, or pushing and pulling.

If you're not going to have immediate reconstruction after a mastectomy, a nurse will give you a soft temporary breast form to wear inside of a surgical bra. In six to eight weeks, you can be fitted for a prosthesis (artificial breast). You will also be fitted at that time for a mastectomy bra that has a pocket in it to securely hold the prosthesis in place. Your doctor will discuss what to expect following your surgery. Possible effects depend on the procedure you've had.

Many women will face one or more of the following:

Discomfort. Some post-op swelling and bruising are common. You'll be given a prescription painkiller; check with your doctor before taking other meds.

Drain-care issues. If you've had a mastectomy or node dissection (surgical removal of the lymph nodes in order to assess the possible spread of cancer), you'll probably leave the hospital with thin tubes in your chest and/or underarm that are connected to a small drain to siphon excess fluid. A nurse will show you how to care for them. The drains will be removed after about a week.

Incision worries. It's important to keep your bandages dry and clean. Consider when to show your incision to your partner. Usually sooner is better than later, because involving your partner can be healing for both of you. It is also important for you to look at your incision, as well.

Odd sensations. Some women who've had mastectomies notice strange sensations in the missing breast and affected arm, much as people who have had amputations can have "phantom" sensations.

What to watch for

Infection. If you experience marked redness or swelling around your incision site, a foul-smelling discharge or a fever of 101ºF or higher, contact your doctor.

Fluid buildup. If fluid collects near the surgery site and causes swelling, contact your surgeon. You may need to have the fluid drained. If you had lymph nodes removed, lymph fluid may build up, causing some swelling under your arm.


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