Category Archives: physical therapy after mastectomy

If your hand is swelling, take off your ring.

What is your worst fear post-cancer?  This is an easy one.  Of course 99.9% of us would say reoccurrence.  But beside cancer coming back, which of course trumps everything else, is this:

Life Debilitating Issues

Very quickly most women accept, but don’t talk about, the number one fear.  Because most of us don’t really have a choice.  That fear would be losing any sensation in our breasts.  Now granted, we don’t need breast sensation for everyday life, but it certainly is debilitating when it comes to our sex life for sure.

The second fear, of course I’m assuming this because this would be my fear, and that is lymphedema.  Nothing made me more scared pre-mastectomy than seeing pictures and hearing horror stories of lymphedema.  I’ve always been crazy scared of life being debilitating post-cancer.

So a few months ago, one week post-surgery, I had just finished painting my daughters room, when I realized my hand was swollen.  Eek!  I immediately started crying to Jeremy.  You all think I’m really strong but really I’m a big’ol woos. 

I'm showing this picture because this is the one I sent to my plastic surgeon. His first response. Take off the rings. It takes a Harvard education to realize you should TAKE OFF YOUR RINGS WHEN YOUR HAND IS SWELLING...LOL!

There’s a really long story here about me freaking out, and how poorly I handle a little swelling.  But you might fall asleep.  I did learn something through it that I’ll share with you:

A.  Remain calm.  If you’ve never had swelling before, chances are it will resolve itself.

B.  Wrap the swelling and elevate.  I put my compression sleeve on because that is the only thing I’d been given.  It did nothing for the swelling in my hand.  Your local drugstore has tape that sticks a little when you wrap it.  You can unwrap it and re-wrap it.  So wrap in so it’s snug but not too tight.

C.  See your family doctor.  Mine was concerned it might be an infection so he prescribed antibiotic.  But a family doctor can also refer you to physical therapy or a lymphedema specialist. 

D.  Be purposeful about getting that referral.  Here’s why:

For a year or so I’ve had reoccurring pain in my hands.  Both sides.  It felt like the skin hurt on the back of my hands and lower arms and then under my armpits.  I let it go because any time I mentioned it, no one seemed to know what it was.  I started to think it was just something I should learn to live with, after all “I had mastectomies, right.”  I just figured it was the way it was.  I couldn’t possibly hope to be pain-free, right?

Wrong!

That is terribly wrong think’in.  Don’t live with pain.  Haven’t I always said you need to be your own advocate?  Why don’t I take my own advice?  The pain in my arm was probably a sign of circulation issues, even if no one else had experienced that pain.  My hand swelled because it was tired of being ignored.  Another symptom I had was numbness and tingling in my hands….again, just thought I needed to learn to live with it.

I started physical therapy for “thoracic outlet syndrome” almost 6 weeks ago and I haven’t had pain or swelling since.  We’re still working on the numbness.  I can’t tell you what a relief it has been to be pain-free.  Some of the things she’s working on with me is posture.  Without a double mastectomy we have poor posture, but women who have had mastectomies or breast work tend to try to hide it by bad posture.  I’m learning to stand up straight, and who knew I had muscles in my back that needed to be strengthened!

So the moral of this story is: don’t live with pain ladies.  Seek help. 

Oh….and take off your ring if your hand swells!

Advertisements
Tagged , , ,

Mastectomy Reality

Mastectomy.  One of the most vile words in the English language.  At least that’s how I feel about it.  Not a pleasant thought comes to mind when someone says this word.  But here’s the deal.  I’ve been hearing from women lately who are about ready to have mastectomies.  So here are my few words of encouragement for you.

1.  You are very brave.  You may feel like you don’t have a decision in the matter, but you do.  You could seriously tell them to get lost.  But you will be brave, and you will go and you will lay down, and you will allow them to put needles in you and allow them to drug you, so they can do their job…..and just the fact that you arrived at the hospital means you are very, very brave.

2.  The wait is excruciating.  I can’t say this is the worst part, because you will have an incredible amount of pain afterwords, but anticipating deformity is nothing anyone finds especially kind on the emotional well-being.  Once it is over, you can get busy getting better.  Of course, I waited 6 months for my surgery because IBC is treated with chemo first.  So my wait was a bit longer than normal, so I remember it well.

3.  Your armpits and shoulders will be incredibly tight and sore, where they aren’t numb.  My friend Mary came to visit me the day after my mastectomies.  She had a mastectomy a few years earlier and she graciously swung her arms around for me to show me that complete movement was attainable.  You will need to be diligent and you will probably need to request physical therapy.  For some reason doctors don’t really offer this up.  It should be as standard as talk about reconstruction but you know our culture…..looks above anything else!  I had barely any movement in my arms after my surgery, and just a few days ago Mary and I were talking about that tight muscle or tendon in the armpit that was excruciatingly tight after the surgery.  We were commiserating together.  Her answer was massage.  Gentle yoga is also really great.  You can get complete movement back, just give it time and keep stretching!  And a lot of the numbness in the armpits will decrease as well. 

4.  Don’t wait too long to look.  My doctor quickly took off my gauze and I was a little angry at her because this was only a day after my surgery.  I really felt like I wasn’t ready to see.  But now I look back on it and I do believe she knew what she was doing.  She was giving me a glimpse of my new reality.  And I needed to come to grip with my new reality.  I needed to see and accept the change in my appearance.  There’s no sense waiting around to emotionally accept your new normal.

5.  Lymphedema is not as common as it sounds on the internet.  I don’t know the statistics, but I remember reading on the internet about how it was so common and looking at gruesome pictures that made me SO scared!  And no one can promise you that you won’t get lymphedema  Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason and it will just show up.  But you can keep your weight down, exercise and take precautions, and hopefully it won’t happen.  I know very few women who have serious lymphedema after mastectomies, so I hope this brings you some peace of mind.

Tagged , ,

Doing Better

I’m doing better since I started taking the pain meds again and the physical therapy is helping a bunch!  The therapist confirmed what I suspected…..the big bulge under my armpit is in fact a very tight muscle….which is keeping me from raising my arms fully.  So she showed me how to do some massage and stretching exercises.  We noticed a difference as she did it.  I left feeling great.  I go twice a week and she said its really critical I work on this before radiation because radiation will effect my skin/movement as well.

Advertisements