Lumpectomy Recovery: Telling My Story as a PT

Day 0: Post-Op Lumpectomy Recovery

One thing I have learned through the years about adversity is this:

Sharing our struggles can encourage and help others. 

So I’m sharing something I haven’t shared with anyone yet: I’m working my way through lumpectomy recovery.

Last week I had a lumpectomy that turned out to be more of an extra-large (XL) excision; kind of like a partial mastectomy. 

Dr. Ginger Garner | Lumpectomy Recovery: Telling My Story as a PT
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Now, as a self-employed mom of three, you might guess that it’s nearly impossible for me to just take a week off at all – much less to take a break off to heal! And even if I could get a break, I still have mom duties. Soooooo, can I get an amen from all you fellow mamas out there? Recovering after any surgery is difficult, but it’s made exponentially more difficult when you still have children living at home AND you are living through a pandemic where you are expected to hold down a full-time job AND homeschool your kids.

I have 2 teenagers and a 9 year old, and 2 of 3 of are not ideally suited to learn virtually. So, the hill I have to climb to recover – and recover well – is pretty steep.

Dr. Ginger Garner with her rescue pup, Scout, who provides the only other feminine presence in a household full of boys. Ginger is pictured here hours after her lumpectomy.
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Getting some comfort from
a fellow “She”
her rescue Lab, Scout
Day 0

So, I wanted to share what I’m doing for lumpectomy recovery from my unique vantage point as a women’s health PT AND as a patient: 

I made this video about 8 hours after surgery. I have NO surgical limitations on shoulder range of motion – but many women will. Make sure to always follow your surgeon’s recommendations.

See the video for details: 

  • Get as comfy as you can in that chest binder so you can rest. Maybe in a recliner or propped up in bed. 
  • Stay ahead of the pain. 
  • Stay hydrated to help with post-op constipation. Fluid recommendation: Drink half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces. So if you weigh 140 – that would be 70 ounces of water (not caffeine or alcohol). 
  • Eat enough fiber. My lovely mom made me homemade chicken/veggie soup – a perfect hydrating blend of fiber and protein. 
  • Keep moving, but safely! Movement encourages improved circulation, digestion, and healing. 
  • Start slow and follow surgical limitations on shoulder range of motion. Shoulder rolls can be a great place to start! 
  • Breathe! Use deep belly breathing and victorious breath. 

🚨And, what about nausea? 

  • no-sugar ginger ale (no artificial flavoring or colors), 
  • almond flour crackers (gluten can increase nausea and congestion for some people) that have fiber
  • deep abdominal breathing, 
  • P6 acupressure point compression (google it!), 
  • inhalation (not ingestion) of peppermint oil  
  • ginger or peppermint tea 

See my YouTube channel and sign up for my free yoga videos to get the breath practices I mentioned in the video.

Day 1: Post-Op Lumpectomy Recovery

It has been 24 hours since surgery. Wowzers, I am VERY sore and stiff.

BUT – I just want to encourage you. Don’t be afraid to move.

I am feeling really blessed to have this unique perspective – of being a women’s health PT AND a patient post-op lumpectomy, so here’s what I’m doing today (see video): 

  • Listening to my body so I can tell the difference between pain and effort – this is KEY. I have to balance enough therapeutic movement with NOT opening the incision or impeding healing by making swelling worse. 
  • Medical Therapeutic Yoga “Yoga Couch” with deep abdominal breathing 
  • Take a short walk outside for fresh air to help clear the “anesthesia fog” feeling and promote digestion 
  • Take a short nap! You don’t get the best sleep around surgery time and I feel really zapped. 
  • Shoulder range of motion exercises 
  • Drinking LOTS of water and “tummy tea” for digestion
  • Reading and listening to well wishes from family and friends (hearing message of support give me #hope and #courage!) 

Sending any and all women out there going through this a big virtual hug and lots of support! 

See my YouTube channel or sign up for my free videos for the breath practices and tackling constipation! Also – here’s a FREE BREATH PRACTICE you can start today.

Day 2: Post-Op Lumpectomy Recovery

It is Day 2 post-op (though I say day 3, it really isn’t) and today the WORST day for potential soreness and pain. 

But again, don’t be afraid of movement. 

Dr. Ginger Garner on violin - Lumpectomy Recovery
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getting some music therapy
Day 2

I am really blessed to be a PT, so I want to share what I am working on with post-op lumpectomy recovery in hopes that it will help you too: 

  • My surgeon gave me the green light to shower today. With help, that really helped loosen up tight, sore muscles and fascia so that I can range my shoulder more easily. 
  • Getting a good night’s rest. Despite increased pain, I’m sleeping better. This is because I’m staying ahead of the pain with a little higher Tylenol dose at night. 
  • More on sleep – see the positioning I am using to get comfortable in the video.
  • One more sleep tip – talk to your doctor about adding magnesium citrate and/or 1 mg of melatonin. The magnesium can help with constipation too! 
  • Continuing to gently range the shoulder without interrupting the incision
  • Added partner-assisted massage to the neck, shoulder, upper and middle back. 
  • I have a bit of subcutaneous emphysema, so breathing is a little harder, but I’m using yogic breathing (see video 2) for that. 
  • Move. I am getting short walks in of less than a mile each day. 
  • Rest. In addition to 7-8 hours of solid sleep a night, I am also still not working yet. It’s HARD for me not to do this, but I’m succeeding so far (except for making these short video posts 😉

One more resource – a free guided body scan mediation from Diana Winston.

Day 3: Post-Op Lumpectomy Recovery

It is Day 3 Post-Op and yessss, I believe I have turned a corner! 

I am feeling so much compassion and empathy for ALL women who go through mastectomy or lumpectomy right now – because TOO many don’t get physical therapy. 

Women NEED PT after a major surgery like this – and I’d like to point out the work of a dear friend doing work in this area Susannah Haarmann. If you don’t know her yet. Dr. Haarmann is doing great work in the area of breast cancer PT, and she has free and paid online courses to help women out who may or may not have access to PT after surgery. 

Here’s what I am working on today: 

  • Still wearing the binder – I wore an alternative for about an hour while I washed it, and the increase in swelling was significant. I will continue to wear it until the swelling resolves. 
  • Shoulder range of motion – I don’t want to open the incision (mine is glued), so I am taking it easy (still) on shoulder movement above my head. 
  • Using my left arm – I am limiting lifting to anything more than a dish or glass, or maybe a vase of flowers. No above the head lifting either. 
  • Neck range of motion and massage – Everything will begin to stiffen up significantly if you don’t move. 
  • Shoulder blade range of motion – This little bone and the muscles around it are KEY to getting your shoulder and neck function back. 
  • Passive lengthening of soft tissue around the ENTIRE left chest, arm, head. 
  • Back/spine soft tissue massage and motion 
  • I also got in a dry heat infrared sauna today, which helps the liver do its job of self-detox’ing the body, since I can’t get up my heart rate to sweat. 

See the video to see how I’m accomplishing these things! 

Day 7: Post-Op Lumpectomy Recovery

The GOOD NEWS today can be summed up in ONE WORD: BENIGN! 

I got the pathology report back and what a relief. 

The NOT SO GREAT NEWS is I have a seroma. Setback. However, I’m staying positive. 

Dr. Ginger Garner - Lumpectomy Recovery, Seroma
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seroma setback at day 7

In addition to what I’ve already showed you, I also added the following to my post-op lumpectomy recovery: 

  • Soft tissue work and myofascial release – a REALLY important tip here – don’t add this without ALSO adding lymphatic massage and drainage. 
  • Manual lymphatic drainage 

⚠️BUT this NEW seroma diagnosis is going to require me to take a few steps back in order to move forward: 

  • Never ignore swelling. A seroma is a complication or side effect from surgery. It can be common but it isn’t NORMAL. Always have swelling evaluated. 
  • If you do have a seroma, it may need to be drained. My surgeon JUST removed 100 cc’s of bloody fluid – but no infection!
  • I need to elevate the arm above the heart, rest, do lymphatic drainage to minimize surrounding swelling, and do gentle lower (not upper) arm range of motion. 
  • Shoulder issues will occur if I don’t resume PT. Early intervention is CRITICAL to prevention. My surgery involved dissection of the pectoralis and lats, which complicates things. 
  • Peri-scapular “lockdown” – this means the muscles surrounding the scapula are becoming tight and short, and when they do that – you won’t be able to get full shoulder motion.
  • Ultimately my FULL RECOVERY depends on PT after this seroma resolves. 

💕Doing these videos has been hard for me – raw and vulnerable are the words that come to mind. But, also good. I feel better knowing I may be helping even 1 other woman out there going through this…

💕One more thing – I REALLY appreciate all your support and love – YOUR WORDS have given me courage and strength, and I really need it right now. 💕

Stay tuned for Part 2, Coming Soon!

**These are suggestions for educational purposes only and do not constitute physical therapy. You should get the approval of your surgeon before doing this or any movement or exercise program after surgery.**

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