Now that the clips were out, I no longer had an excuse for avoiding the prescribed exercises. I had tried to do them on a regular basis, but the sling had made them almost impossible. I pumped my stress ball almost continuously, shrugged my shoulder up and down, and twisted my hand back and forward.
Up until this point I had told everyone how relatively easy this operation had been.
“Sure, it’s a bit painful,” I would assure enquirers. “But it’s really nothing like I had expected.”
Now the picture changed. I soon realised why the physiotherapist in the hospital had been so negative about the sling my surgeon used with all his breast cancer patients. Because of my incredibly good cosmetic result, I do not, to this day, regret wearing it, but the pain of trying to use my arm again was unbelievable. It seemed to be totally fixed in position, and the slightest effort to move it was torture.
“The best exercise of all,” assured the physiotherapist, my surgeon, and Beulah from the Cancer Association, “is to stand close to a door, and allow your fingers to walk up and down the door. Just push yourself a little further each time and in no time at all you will be back to normal.”
It sounded simple. It probably was—if I could reach the door. My arm stayed frozen to my chest as I desperately tried to force it away from my body.
“I will never be able to move this arm!” I moaned at Rob as tears streamed down my cheeks. “And until I can move my arm over my head I can’t have radiotherapy. I don’t know what to do.” I returned to my efforts with gritted teeth. You’d better get back on the beam.
After a few days of this I started to panic. It was taking too long. My appointment with the oncologist was only a few days away and I still had very little movement in my arm. The time had come to get creative. If the prescribed exercises wouldn't work, I would have to make up my own. I lay flat on my back and totally relaxed my left arm. I then gripped my left wrist with my right hand and slowly pulled the stiff arm away from my body. Without using muscles, it was easier to move the arm. Still painful, but at least easier. I devised many exercises, which I called passive exercises and spent ten minutes every hour or so working on my arm in this way. Within a few days I could touch the door. Then I started the agonising process of trying to move my fingers a little higher, a little lower. I did this exercise against a polished wooden sliding door which had markings on the wood. Each day I would strive to go one mark higher. My goal, the top of the door, seemed way out of reach, but every excruciating little step was a battle won.
"I can do this,” I would mutter, through clenched teeth, as tears streamed down my cheeks. Without any doubt, this was the worst part of the entire surgery; trying to mobilise my arm after its ten days strapped to my body.
*Some names have been changed to protect identity