Recovering from Breast Surgery

October 26, 2017 | by Josh Jenisch

Coming home after breast cancer surgery can provoke a jumble of emotions. While it’s a relief to be out of the hospital, you might feel sadness, shock and frustration over having certain limitations — at least for now. 

How to cope?

The first step is to simply accept these feelings and not put pressure on yourself, said Ruby Bañuelos Calhoun, M.S.W., clinical social worker at City of Hope.

“Keep in mind it hasn’t been that long since the shock of diagnosis, so allow yourself to feel all these emotions — they’re natural reactions,” she said. “Don’t push yourself. It’s important to give yourself time to heal and accept the fact that you’ll have some physical limitations at first.”

Some women feel guilty if they can’t take care of their family, but as much as you might want life to return to normal right away, step back and let friends and family help with cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning and other chores.

Feel free to put the focus on yourself — it’s the best way to heal.  And know that there are plenty of resources available to help the process along.

Onward and upward

During the active part of recovery — surgery through radiation or chemo treatment — City of Hope provides a number of support services, including a state-of-the-art physical therapy department.

“Patients can make appointments for occupational and physical therapy if their physician feels it’s necessary,” Calhoun said.  “And a City of Hope dietitian can recommend a healthy, nutritious diet. These are questions that I strongly encourage patients to ask of their physicians during a clinic appointment.”  

Offering a relaxing respite, the Positive Image CenterSM provides salon services including hair cuts and cosmetic consultations, along with wig fittings and styling. Comfortable postsurgery clothing, head scarves and cosmetics are available in the boutique. And expert counseling and prosthesis fittings help you get your old look back ASAP.  

For mastectomy patients who need to have their wounds drained, City of Hope can provide up to two home nursing visits, Calhoun said. Beyond that, it’s necessary to enlist family to help out.  But if that isn’t possible, your social worker can help with outside resources for home care and other services.

 “The American Cancer Society is a really great resource for connecting people with community services they might need,” Calhoun said.

Reaching for a lifeline

Although it’s natural to experience intense emotions, there are times during recovery when it might become too overwhelming to cope. That’s when patients need to reach out for professional help.

“Everybody will have good days and bad days,” Calhoun said. “It becomes serious when there are only bad days and you can’t cycle through your normal range of emotions.”

Withdrawing from family and friends, extreme anxiety, lack of appetite, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much are all signs of debilitating depression. “When you experience these emotional issues, it’s important to seek professional counseling,” Calhoun said. “Support groups or therapists can definitely help.”

Women often try too hard to stay strong and positive for their families, but neglecting your true feelings and burying emotions is self-defeating. It’s important to find someone you trust, and talk openly about what you’re going through.    

“Your social worker is always available if you need someone to talk to,” Calhoun said. “It always helps to talk and try to problem-solve together. And don’t be afraid to cry when you need to. Don’t hold back, because it’s a natural and healthy way to express emotions.”

To learn how to support City of Hope’s research and treatment of women’s cancers, visit To connect with fellow breast cancer fighters, caregivers and supporters alike, visit, an online community. It is a space for everyone who has been touched by cancer to make connections, share their stories, offer support and seek advice.


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