It seems like such a small thing – but one of the biggest challenges in my recovery has been lifting restrictions. Immediately surgery, my surgeon made it clear I should not attempt to lift anything over 5 lbs. This is a pretty common post-op instruction. After my single mastectomy surgery, I had limited use of my right arm thanks to the combination of drains, stiches, and swelling. But even after my drains came out, the weight restrictions persisted for a lot longer than I anticipated. Even now, 3 months post-surgery, I am still working back to my pre-op capabilities.
As an active, (otherwise) healthy adult, the restrictions on my right arm have been far more frustrating than I expected – and I only had restrictions on ONE SIDE of my body. Women who have double mastectomies have even more challenges!
For any friend, family member or caregiver wanting to be helpful – below are the top five household chores that became nearly impossible to achieve without the help of another human:
- Carrying laundry baskets
One of the first chores I wanted to reclaim post-surgery was taking care of my own laundry. Would my teenage daughter remember to hang-dry the delicates and separate whites from colors?!? (Answer: NO) On average, the weight of a laundry basket filled with clothes is about 10 lbs. One of the best, most genuinely helpful things you can do for a patient recovering from surgery is their laundry.
- Pouring Milk
This is so phenomenally frustrating, but a gallon of milk weighs 5 lbs. Be sure to stock the fridge with smaller size containers to make self-service easy and achievable for a patient. I don’t know anyone who wants to ask for help pouring milk into their coffee.
- Carrying grocery bags
The average weight of a plastic grocery bag filled with groceries is 20 lbs. (Obviously, this goes up or down depending on the groceries.) Even online grocery orders need to get from the front door to the fridge and pantry. I was so excited to be independent a few weeks post-surgery that I pulled a stitch carrying my groceries from the front door into the house. This single activity turned my breast black and blue and added weeks to my recovery timeline. It was so very stupid adding unnecessary time and pain to my recovery. Remind patients that you are available to pop over and help with this simple task – it is so small, but so necessary!
- Bringing in packages
The average household receives over 20 packages every year – chances are a few of those will arrive during a patient’s recovery. Bringing in packages, and especially helping patients open them and dispose of the cardboard is such a simple task – yet incredibly helpful!
- Walking the dog
Our family dog is an 80 lb Labrador Retriever. Patients with large dogs will no doubt need help taking their dog for walks until they regain arm control and strength. Offering to temporarily take over dog walking is one of those small tasks with big impact. Better yet, bring the patient along – getting outside, breathing in a bit of fresh air, and moving the body is another way to support their recovery.
Working around a 5 lb weight limit can be tricky – but hopefully the above provides caregivers thoughtful ideas about how to help cancer patients overcome weight restrictions with real and meaningful suggestions.