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
- Have everything you need placed beside your bed and sofa or lounge chair. Examples are: remote controls, phone, magazines/books, water bottles, etc. Also, a trash can near each area will help keep your perches clean.
- Make up the sofa ahead of time with sheets, blankets and pillows. You may want to recline in the living room in the first week to get a break from your bedroom.
- Have a backscratcher handy; it is a simple but often overlooked item that can bring you great relief! Remember, you will not be able to get to those itches because your movement will be limited.
- Have common grooming items and toiletries gathered together in the bathroom. Toothpaste, toothbrush, mouthwash, contact lenses, make-up, brushes/combs, etc., can be laid out on the bathroom counter or sink area ahead of time. Or you can gather the items in a small basket to transport them to wherever you need them.
- Ask someone to open screw-top bottles and jars.
Warning!You will not be able to open screw-top bottles, which is especially important because it means medication bottles! This is one of the most critical challenges during recovery. Think of the motion of the child-proof medication caps. Just pretend you are opening one in your hand right now; hold the bottle, push the lid down and twist. You can feel your chest muscles contract. That is a BIG OUCH during mastectomy recovery! It is imperative that you have someone loosen the bottles so that they are easy to open. You can also ask the pharmacist to supply your meds without a childproof cap.
- Keep commonly used items and foods at counter level.
Dishes that are normally kept on high shelves should be stacked in a corner of the counter area or even on your stovetop. It is not clutter; it is a helpful healing strategy. A basket can be used temporarily on your counter for cupboard foods that you keep on high shelves. You cannot be reaching for things in the upper cabinets. The general rule of thumb is not to reach above your shoulder height. While reaching for a drinking glass at eye level may be manageable, any shelf higher than that poses a problem.
- Purchase smaller milk and water containers.
Quarts of milk and smaller bottles of water are so much more manageable. Do not buy gallons of milk or water for a few weeks. The pouring motion engages the chest muscles, which makes the heavy gallon containers outright painful to handle. I feel a visceral "ouch response" just thinking about it!
- Ask someone to open bottles and jars.
As reviewed above about medication bottles, you will not be able to open bottles and jars, so ask someone to open them ahead of time. Once opened, you can store items in the refrigerator. Let other family members know that beverage caps on juice, for example, will not be tight so that they do not shake containers with loose caps unknowingly.
- Use your leg and foot power!
If you happen to spill something on the floor and need to clean up, use your foot power! Toss a wet paper towel or rag onto the floor and swirl away. Hold your chest still and elbows at your side while you let your lower body do the work!
- Use caution when opening the refrigerator.
Yanking open a refrigerator door hurts! Be cautious that you so not wrench your chest muscles with the motion. Strengthen your stance while holding on to the handle with both hands (elbows to your sides); then lean back so that the weight of your body opens the door.
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!
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.
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.