When Can I Get back To Normal After Surgery?

Dr Lisa Creighton
Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon
Surgery is often the first step in treating your breast cancer. Patients frequently ask when they will be able to get back to work or back to sport. Some may even ask when can they get back to vacuuming! Your return to normal activities obviously depends on the magnitude of your surgery, your general health and what you are trying to get back to. Your treating team, including surgeons, physios, nurses and more are here to try and get you back on track as soon as possible.
The extent of your surgery will be a significant variable in your recovery. Patients who have a lump removed with or without a lymph node, will often be in hospital for the day or overnight. You are generally very comfortable with little requirement for strong pain relief. You are encouraged to take that first week easy, so it is best to stay away from the gym, the pool, the garden and the housework! Once you return to your surgeon for results, you will have further guidance about what you are suitable to do.
The more involved your surgery, the more limitations you can expect. If the breast is being removed, you will invariably have a drain. Although, you will still be quite comfortable and can move around freely, a drain will limit your activity levels. So again, no gym, pool, garden or housework. These restrictions will be in place a little longer. Reconstruction is significantly more involved surgery and will have more restrictions, particularly with heavy lifting. These restrictions can be in place in excess of six weeks.
Life without the car can be difficult. You are not legally allowed to drive on your day of surgery. I ask my patients with a drain, not to drive until the drain is out. You must be comfortable and able to drive easily before getting behind the wheel.
You may want and/or need to get back to work. Your ability to return to work after surgery depends on the extent of surgery and your type of work, eg physical work or more sedentary. As there is often more treatment to take place after surgery, a good guide is to take the week of surgery off, receive your results, and then plot out your individual treatment path with your specialist.
Regular exercise has increasingly been shown to improve the tolerability of further treatments and improves your cancer outcome and general wellbeing. Whilst a period of time off strenuous exercise is frequent, we aim to have you back exercising as soon as we can. Sometimes this requires formal guidance from a physio or exercise physiologist. If you are not an exerciser, now is the perfect opportunity to come up with a plan and get started.
There is so much more to healing than just your physical recovery. You must acknowledge the psychological and emotional wounds you have also incurred. Some of these wounds heal with time and with support from friends and family. Some require more structured support with counselors, psychologists and support groups. Help is at your fingertips and all of your team members can point you in the right direction. You just have to be open to asking for help.

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