Do daily exercises
After a mastectomy or if you have surgery to your armpit, your surgeon and physiotherapist will ask you to do regular exercises to help you recover. Your arm may feel stiff on the side where your breast was removed. Simple arm exercises can help to
- give you back your full range of movement (also important for radiotherapy treatment)
- relieve pain and stiffness
- reduce swelling
After surgery, do the exercises until you have full movement back in your arm and shoulder. Ideally, you should do these twice a day.
To start with, the exercises are quite gentle. The aim is to get your arm and shoulder moving as it was before the surgery. You can begin each session by circling your shoulders, to get the muscles moving. Other early exercises are brushing or combing your hair, putting your arms behind your back and touching your shoulder with your hand. As you get stronger and more confident, you can do more of the exercises and gradually increase the range of movements.
Have a look at this excellent video:
Talk to your surgeon or physiotherapist if you have ongoing problems with arm or shoulder pain, stiffness or swelling.
If you have had breast reconstruction surgery the exercises you do are different and depend upon the type of reconstruction you have had. Check with your surgeon and physiotherapist!
Stay physically active
Tiredness and weakness is finally being recognised as one of the most common side effects from cancer treatment. It’s called: Cancer Related Fatigue. The reasons for it are multifold: the cancer itself drains your energy, the treatment is intense and often toxic, but also the lack of normal physical activity during treatment leads to loss of fitness.
It is encouraging that taking regular exercise can help to combat it. More and more research is showing that exercise during and after treatment is safe and helps recovery after cancer. Regular exercise can reduce stress and give you more energy.
But how much, and how often, and what exercise is suitable for me?
To be beneficial, exercise should be 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, of moderate intense activity such as walking, cycling or dancing. You should get warm and increase your heartbeat without getting out of breath. This level of activity is helpful for people even during treatment.
Everyone is different and exercise needs to be tailored to individual people, taking into account your diagnosis and treatment (weightlifting shortly after breast surgery), other problems (diabetes, cancer in the bones) and not least: what you love to do and feel is possible in terms of time, travel and costs! A physiotherapist or biokineticist can help you on your way.
Have a look at the pyramid and see what daily exercise you can easily incorporate in your life.
Exercise can also be helpful in a number of cancer related side effects:
- neuropathy (pins and needles, problems with balance): aerobic exercise helps with the recovery of the damaged nerve ends by increasing blood flow.
- osteoporosis (thinning of the bones): weight bearing exercise means running or rowing or anything where your bones are doing some work. This type of exercise may protect you against osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). Osteoporosis is a concern for many post menopausal women who have had hormone dependent cancers and so cannot take hormone replacement therapy.
- depression/anxiety: many women with breast cancer battle with depression; regular exercise, possibly in a group, leads to less anxiety and need for medication.
Keep your pace
A very important advise to women fighting cancer is to listen to your body. But how can you do that, juggling a family, doctor’s appointments, medication, work obligations and loosing a breast at the same time?
- set your pace: this is about you, take the time you need and be direct to your husband, children and work colleagues of what you Make a list of what you want and need.
- keep involved: do what you want to do and can do at work and at home, and leave the rest to others (shopping, cooking). Set clear boundaries to prevent guilt and miscommunication. Learn to say “no, not now”.
- plan your day to conserve energy: and plan for 30 mins of exercise.
- learn to listen to your body: practice relaxation techniques or yoga (plenty of great apps http://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/top-yoga-iphone-android-apps#2 and classes) or mindfulness (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19Dkf3KJqIY)
- learn how to engage in physical contact again with your spouse or partner: touch, talk and stroke, and go slow. http://www.breastcancer.org/tips/intimacy/changes , http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/coping-with-cancer/coping-physically/sex-sexuality-and-cancer/sex-and-cancer-for-women
- simply be beautiful: spend time on feeling feminine, spoil yourself with clothes or a massage or a lovely wig: going through cancer is an assault on your body, and (learning to) love your body is helpful to survive cancer.
This great advice was shared with us by the fabulous physiotherapist Liesbeth Raymakers