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Household Activities & Chores During Mastectomy Recovery

There are many challenges you will face handling household activities as you recover from your mastectomy, but the biggest obstacle may be your own thick-headedness when it comes to knowing your limitations.

That may sound harsh, but it is because sometimes we are our own worst enemy. The limitations placed on us are for medically sound reasons. Simply put, if you lift something too heavy or stretch too far you will rip apart some of your internal stitching and therefore compromise the integrity of the surgical wounds. Even though your external scars appear to be healed, you still have delicate sutures inside your body that you cannot see and that take longer than the outside wounds to heal properly.

Don't think you are proving anything if you push yourself to do heavy lifting or chores in the first month. You must be kind to yourself…only you have control over this. You are not proving anything if you ignore the guidelines. You are only hurting yourself and interfering with the healing process. Don't be a martyr…if you want optimal healing then be a smart patient and respect the healing process!

So how do you compensate for the limitations around the home? Preparation is essential; you can envision your limitations by holding your elbows close to your sides. This will mimic your post-op limitation and give you an idea of your restricted movement as you recover.

Here are some of the main challenges with some tips and guidelines that helped me manage them during my recovery:

Prepare your Healing Perches
Medication Bottles and Jars
Kitchen Activities & Cooking
Windows, Blinds and Drapes
Cleaning
Laundry

 

Prepare your Healing Perches

Prior to heading to the hospital, you can prepare your healing and resting areas ahead of time. Reaching, bending and stretching will be limited, so simple preparations can ease your recovery.

 

 

 

Medication Bottles and Jars

 

 

Kitchen Activities & Cooking

You certainly will be able to putter around the kitchen as you recover. Putter is the operative word here. The secret to your successful puttering in the critical first few weeks is to:

 

Windows, Blinds and Drapes

Opening windows, blinds and heavy drapes will be impossible in the early weeks after surgery. These motions are the worst possible movements for you during this time. When I had my mastectomy, it was early springtime in the Northeast. Opening and closing windows is a daily necessity when warm, delightful breezes turn chilly as the sun goes down in the evening or when it rains.

 

Here was our solution: my husband would open the living room and kitchen windows about 6 inches before he left for work each day. I would use a blanket in the mornings, but was happy to have the fresh air in the afternoons. There were about five different days during that time period when it got too chilly, so I called my neighbor over to close the windows.

If you have casement windows with a crank handle, then you are in luck. I have those on my back porch and upstairs hallway windows. They are great, and it makes me realize that those are the type we should choose when we are planning for retirement, when our age may make us weaker.

After two to three weeks, you can begin to nudge the windows open, but you must still protect your chest muscles from straining. You can do this by holding the window and instead of your arms, move your whole body by rising up on your toes. This type of motion works for heavy blinds and drapes as well. I have balloon shades constructed of heavy fabric that are raised and lowered with a chain. In the early weeks, my husband would raise these before work. After a couple of weeks, I was able to raise them, but I did not use my chest muscles. Instead I used my body by holding the chain, keeping my elbows firmly at my side and bending my knees for several pulls to get them raised. Improvise…and limit those chest muscle movements!

 

Cleaning

Heavy cleaning, especially vacuuming is a no-no. You must ask another family member or friend to do this chore or hire someone, even if it is a high school neighbor for temp job. Dusting is fine, especially just using a feather duster for the first few weeks. Any other heavy cleaning you should plan to do before your surgery (if you are reading this ahead of time) so that none of it needs to be done for at least three months afterwards.

 

Changing bed sheets is another household chore that you should not do for a few months. Again, you will need to ask a family member or friend to help with this.

Another good thing to do is to lower your expectations during your recovery. Your home may not be as clean as usual, but try to ignore it. Be patient and let your body heal.

 

Laundry

Laundry is a chore that can be managed — providing that you have someone carry the heavy loads to the washer. Loading the washer and transferring to the dryer can be done piecemeal. Items can be loaded one at a time so you are not lifting a heavy batch. When the clothes are dry, they can be removed from the dryer individually and folded into a pile. The key is to ask someone else to carry the pile back to each room, and then put them one item at a time. Another option is to carry a few items at a time and make several trips.

 

Here is a tip for transporting some small laundry loads after a few weeks. Purchase a tall mesh laundry bag; the type that can stand on its own and has handles. You can drag this mesh bag by yourself and prevent muscle strain by keeping your elbows at your side and your arms stiff (making your lower body do the work). You can also drag the mesh bag down stairs by scooting it with your foot one step at a time. This way you are not lifting it with your chest muscles.