Rock climbing / sport following mastectomy

I have to have a mastectomy and am due to discuss options for reconstruction with a plastic surgeon next week. I’m pretty small chested and think recon may not be possible without enlarging my other breast as well, which I’m not sure I want to get into.

I’m an active rock climber and wondered if there were any other climbers or sportswomen out there who can tell me what it’s like trying to do sport that uses your arm and upper body after a mastectomy.

Anyone who chose reconstruction and recovered okay to climb/ do sport again?
Anyone who didn’t choose reconstruction and how they find it wearing a prothesis while climbing/ doing sport?

Any tips or advice gratefully received.


I can help with this.

I’m not a climber perse, more a scrambler. Am based in the Lakes so plenty of opportunity.

I didn’t do reconstruction myself as I had to have bilateral mastectomy and it would have been too long an op.

Apparently those of us who are younger do recover faster, so to put it into perspective I’m 33.

I think the biggest part of the surgery re climbing/scrambling/upper body strength is actually the effect on your pectoral muscles and shoulders as the breast tissue actually extends a little around your back.

I was able to go out walking as soon as the drains were out (1 week), heavy lifting, even a shopping bag was out of bounds for 6 weeks. I failed miserably at doing that, ie not lifting anything, just couldn’t remember not to. Because I’m pretty stretchy (and I expect you will be too if you’re like any of the climbers I know) I found the exercises they give you very easy to do, too easy in fact and after a bit of googling I found an excellent site with slightly more demanding exercises.

Google for the words:

Staying Abreast

some good examples of the kind of exercises you’ll need to do to regain strength, I say strength but in reality it’s more a case of mobility as I found the biggest problem was that the underarm area was so numb after the lymph nodes came out that it was hard to know what was too much.

So in essence you need to take it really slowly but increase a little every day. It’s 4 months since my op and I don’t think I could actually pull my whole body weight up yet but I can scramble again just about so I would say you’ll probably need to take it gently for about a year but there’s no reason I can see why you wouldn’t be able to climb again.

There is lymphoedema to consider though, you need to be careful with surface of your arm, ie no gashes from swinging from one foothold to another, and if you do (cause yeah right we’re never going to cut ourselves again) make sure you have antiseptic with you. And that’s another reason to build up gently.

Are you having all the lymph nodes taken during the op, or are you having a prophelactic mastectomy, ie you don’t have cancer in the breast.

I had a sampling of nodes taken, eg just 4 from each side and I’m really glad I did this because while they can take them all out they can’t glue em back in so I decided that I would risk the second op to have them all removed if the cancer had spread to them, but despite having an aggressive tumour in each breast both sides were clear lymph node wise. So I got to keep the rest of them which means that I have poorer lymphatic drainage than before but I do still have some.

That one’s not an easy decision but I wasn’t really aware of the impact that could have up front on those of us who like to be energetic in that way so thought I should warn you about that.

The final thing is the pectoral muscles, it feels tight across the chest for the first month but the exercises help improve that but the breast tissue does sit on top of your chest muscles so dependent on margins etc they may have to take a little muscle (they did a little on my right side just to be sure) which can affect the lenght of time to recover.

So the golden rule seems to be little and often and you get there.

Do you climb on indoor walls or the risky outside? Whereabouts if you don’t mind me asking?

Hope I haven’t overwhelmed you but I was really upset at the idea of not being able to scramble ghylls ever again and no one seemed to be able to give me advice on it properly so I’ve kind of worked out my own plan based on knowing my body and adapting.

I don’t imagine the recon will make much difference apart from the fact that they may be taking tissue from another part of your body which will also need to heal too.

Wearing prosthetics is fine but actually you know I prefer to not wear them when out in the hills because I don’t have to, and frankly my boobs always got in the way of my backpacks etc. I can now wear mens packs, harnesses etc. And my new best friend is my snugpack response pack bum belt thing as it keeps the weight on the hips and can take everything I need, coat, water, full chemo kit (anti bac wash etc) and they’re only a tenner, best bag a girl could ever have IMO.

Any questions you fire away.


Forgot to mention that I started going out everyday after I was diagnosed and the nurses and surgeons reckoned that it really helped because I was a lean fit healthy person (although I was a smoker until a week before which is apparently not enough time for your lungs to recover LOL).

So if you’re fitter than me (and I’ve never been able to haul my whole body up) then I think you could reasonably expect to heal faster, but be so very careful if you’re taking pain killers, don’t want to overdo it while you’re numb if you know what I mean.

I started pushing myself a little bit more when I stopped taking the paracetemol after the op, which was after about a week.

Anyway lots of love and you will recover whatever your choice re recon.


Hi Abi
How nice to cyber speak to another climber!. I had loads of questions when I was diagosed and sadly couldn’t find anyone to answer them. Hopefully I’ll be able to help you here. I am an avid climber and also run a bit too. I was diagnosed in Jan this year and had WLE & SNB followed by Mastectomy and immediate recon and level 2 node clearance as I was 1 pos. Have just completed x3 FEC x3 TAX, just started Herceptin, will be on Tamox and am aged 38 with 3 kids (9, 7 & 5yrs).
When I was discussing recon with the surgeons I mentioned my climbing and they recommended DIEP recon over LD flap (sorry if this is all jargon - it’s amazing how as a patient you pick it up so quickly!!) so as not to compromise climbing. The DIEP was a big op (over 8 hours) and initially it was quite painful as I didn’t have much tummy to tuck so I was pulled soooo tight!. However the node clearance gave me the most grief as I couldn’t lift my arm higher than my shoulder blade and it was really sore. I must admit at that point I wondered if I would ever climb again!!. Anyway as Angie says the exercises they give you are so so important and the more you do them (even though you don’t feel like it) the better/easier it gets. If it’s any consolation I really felt that I was slow off the blocks immediately post op but I did turn a massive corner around the 6 weeks mark, I did my first climb indoors at 9 weeks post op!!! (took some serious negotiating with the plastic surgeon who looked at me like I was mad!!!) I top roped only for the first 4- 6 weeks so there was no fall risk and since then have been lead climbing as normal. I am going to Portland in a months time to Chesil beach with some mates to give a psychological 2 fingers to the chemo now it’s done!!!. I had a check up with the breast surgeon the other week and he was shocked to see how good my range of arm movement is now (totally normal) and I am sure the climbing has helped it as it forces you to stretch as you know. Regarding the lymphodema, I am considered high risk as I had 22 nodes out. Some physios were really negative about my climbing with one even suggesting I give it up!.However the surgeons were pretty chilled in their approach so I visited a lymphodema clinc for advice and they were really positive about my approach to life and agreed with my life goes on attitude. I have been fitted with a compression garment sleeve that I wear when climbing and this also acts as protection from rope burns/scrapes etc.
The other thing is you don’t mention if you are having chemo but I had a portacath fitted which has been an absolute godsend so my climbing has been unaffected and I have continued to run no probs. I managed to run 10K regularly whilst on FEC but the TAX has been yuk and I haven’tbeen able to keep up much running or climbing but am hoping to get back to it soon.
Sorry this has turned into such an essay!!! but really hope this helps. I found the shock of diagnosis so stressful and all the implications of BC my sport has really helped me through this and helped me regain a sense of ‘normality’ if that can ever be possible. I think Angie’s advice above about listening to your body is spot on.
Good luck with everything

Hi Abi
I have had bi-lat mastectomies and reconstruction using back muscl (LD) and implants. I was quite small breasted before and have stayed the same size more or less.

I had first op done in January (left side) and I had second op (right mast & recon) 5 weeks ago. I have been driving and walking dogs for a week now. My hobby is horse riding and I havn’t done any riding or mucking out yet, but in January I was back to daily sweeping, carrying bales of hay and buckets of water etc within 8 weeks.

My surgery was preventative so I had the advantage of no chemo etc and I am 40. My mum had double mastectomy without recon and doesnt wear any prosthesis.

Good luck in your decision.
Jackie x

Hi all

Thanks so much for replying to my post - I was worried I wouldn’t get any replies and have to try going through the climbing forums which are mainly full of men! Good to know there are women out there who’ve been through this and are still getting out there and doing active stuff.

I didn’t really explain my situation. I’ve got DCIS, discovered following a biopsy and they’ve tried a WLE but couldn’t isolate it, so have been told I have to have the full MX. I’ve also got to have an SNB, just to check nothing spread there. So long as the path results from that comes clear, I shouldn’t have to have chemo or rads.

After the biopsy, I was climbing after 10 days, and pushing my grade at that - got half way up Do Not Direct, an E1 5b in White Ghyll, Langdale, before the heavens opened and we had to ab off and have a very soggy walk back to the car park! After the WLE, I was sport climbing in the Yorkshire Dales after a week - not majorly pushing it but onsighting 6a+. The weather’s so rubbish, since then I’ve not got out to do much and no chance for trad. I’m 41, but pretty fit, so that maybe helped the healing though I find the general aneasthetic knocks me out for a couple of days. I’ve had a bit of pain and bruising, but nothing I couldn’t cope with.

My surgeon has told me that recovery from a simple MX and SNB would be the same as the WLE, with maybe a bit of soreness in the arm - so to be honest your postings shocked me a bit as I think he’s maybe being a bit hopeful there? I’ve been told there would be no muscle taken, I’d have to stay in overnight, but the drains would be out the next day and I’d then be sent home. Obviously, if I go for recon then it’s a bigger op and would be longer recovery.

I’ve a few specific comments/ questions if that’s okay …

Angie: Thanks for the details re your recovery and particularly the link to the exercises - I’ve got those in my favourites now. I’m based in West Yorkshire and climb all over, Lakes, North Wales, Dales mainly but also South Wales and South Coast too. And abroad when I need to find some sunshine! Maybe we can meet up for a scramble once this is over and I’m back fit enough. Good tip about the bum bag - I’ve told my partner he might have to be carrying the rucksack for a bit!

There’s been no mention of lymphoedema risk for me having a SNB - so I was a bit shocked that you say your lymph drainage isn’t as good as before. What does that mean in reality - swelling/ soreness/ inability to heal scrapes and cuts? And I’ve been told the op has no implication for muscle which doesn’t quite tie with your experience - I feel that I maybe now need to check all that out again. Better forewarned I guess, and this kind of info is useful to help in asking the right questions of the surgeons.

eal69eal: I’m impressed you managed to climb just 9 weeks after a DIEP and node clearance - good on you! I was surprised that was your recon option rather than implants (lat dor and tram being out due to messing with the muscle). I’d assumed that I’m too skinny for it (5’ 10’ and 9 stone), but I guess if you run and climb, you must be pretty slim too. I’ll certainly look at that option with a more open mind now. It was reassuring to hear that you’re back able to climb - are you going to be climbing at Portland or are you still suffering the effects of the chemo? I’ve only been to Portland once but would love to go back as my grade has gone up since I was there and so there’s so much more I could do now.

Do you mind me asking what sort of grade/ kind of ground you climb? I had aimed to get my first E2 this year, or at least get 10 E1s under my belt. I also wanted to redpoint my first 7a. I think that’s out of the window now. It needs good upper body strength, ability to hang in there on steep territory to place gear or read the next moves and that’s what I want to be sure I can get back to, even if these goals are put off til next year.

Climbing is just so important to me - it’s how I met my partner and it’s a huge part of our life together. This whole thing has mashed my brain so much I have to battle to get the focus to climb at the moment, but when I manage it, it does really help. I go stir crazy if I can’t get some exercise every day. So I understand what you mean about your sport helping you through this - I don’t often run but going for a big tramp in the hills is my other release.

I see you also had a WLE and SNB before you had the MX - what was your recovery like from the first op, compared to the second?

Anyway - thanks again to you all for replying.


Hi Abi
Glad to have been able to help. You sound like a mega climber! shame we don’t live near each other!. My climbing ability doesn’t sound a patch on yours but I love it and am hooked!!!. I hardly ever get outdoors so most of mine is done in the climb centre. We are based in greater London and my husband works long hours and with the 3 kids I just don’t get the opportunity to get outside much. I’m really only 6a+ prob a bit higher on a top rope. It’s great fun though isn’t it, even the indoor stuff. Re:- the whole lymph node thing if you are having SNB I’d guess your recovering would be pretty quick, especially as you are so fit. I found my underarm a little tight and sore for a few weeks after but I didn’t use it as much as I should and to be honest I was so overwhelmed at the time with the diagnosis and then found out I had to have full node clearance I didn’t really help myself in my recovery after the SNB and then went straight into the big op 4 weeks later. Thats great news that you shouldn’t need chemo or rads, good luck with everything. xxx

Hi there - wondered how things were going for my fellow climbers and scramblers? I didn’t reply to the last post as everything kicked off - took decision not to do recon, got a date for the op and decided to use the two weeks til the op in France climbing in the Gorges du Tarn. Came back and got one day here climbing at Malham (in the rain!) and redpointed my 7a - at least one climbing goal ticked this year!

Had a bit of a nightmare op, got a haematoma, had to have seven blood transfusions, a second op to stem the bleeding and so spent a week in hospital. Gave my bloke a bit of a scare. Recovery was slow to begin with as I was so weak, but doing okay now. I’ve not started climbing and have been told that I should wait until 12 weeks post op at least - but re-reading eal69eal’s experience, maybe I need to talk to the physios again.

My surgeon told me there was no chance of me getting lymphodema, but the physios and nurses have said otherwise, so I’m pretty confused and just taking things easy to be on the safe side. My arm has been aching and heavy and feels hot after I’ve been for a walk and stuff, but the physio says that’s just things reconnecting and responding to exercise and I shouldn’t worry. Hard not to worry when it feels so much is at stake.

My partner and I are thinking of opening a climbing wall - but it would be dreadful to have to work in one and not be able to climb myself!

Be good to hear news of your ongoing recovery and to hear that you’ve been out getting up hills, ghylls and routes.


Hi Abi
what luck finding you here again! I haven’t been on the site for ages so it’s weird to log on and find this fresh post. Gosh girl you sound like you’ve been through the mill. You poor thing!. I too had a haematoma but it was after my lumpectomy but nothing as dramatic as needing transfusions. It’s interesting that your surgeon told you there was no chance of lymphodema. Both my PS and BS were very non plussed about my chances of lymphodema even though I had 22 nodes out but like you the physios were really concerned about my climbing. In the end I took myself off to a lymphodema clinic to speak with the people who had the most experience and they fitted me with a sleeve to wear whilst climbing citing prevention better than managing it if it did happen. The ladies at the lymphodema clinic were really understanding and I just explained that I accepted there is an element of risk of getting it with the climbing but you know, life goes on and all that and I felt that if I gave it all up then the BC will have won. I wear my sleeve and have had no probs with swellling or even pain. I am really conscious of placing my feet when I climb and it’s made me a better climber (although you sound much better than me! I admit I had really bad habits of hauling myself up the wall using mostly arms!!!) . I’ve gone up a grade since my op although bouldering feels weird on my stomach muscles so I take it easy and will ask the PS when I go for a follow up appt in Dec.
I can’t see any reason why you couldn’t carry on with your climbing and no reason at all why you couldn’t open your own centre. Sounds Fab!
Good luck with it
PS: Portland was amazing, I will definitely return one day!!!

Hello mountain girls,

Guess I’m more of a hillwalker/scrambler than rock climber, but did manage Ben Ledi after 4 x EC. Which was a beautiful day. Tax started shortly after and not too much chance of clambering about with joint pain and neuropathy etc. Grrr.

Am going to do some tai chi to improve balance and co-ordination, get a bit of fitness back, and then hit my local (indoor, unfortunately, there aren’t many crags in London) climbing club: “Women with Altitude”

Hope you’re all out enjoying a bit of lovely autumn in the hills before the clocks change…

L x

Hi there - welcome to Lanterna - our numbers are swelling, maybe we should start a new post mastectomy climbing club!

Good to hear you’ve gone up a grade, eal69eal - that’s brilliant news and really encouraging for me.I guess stomach muscles will take a while to heal and get strong again after the op you had, and climbing and bouldering in particular really finds them out. Mine are going to be weak as anything even without an op after all this time off - I need to start my pilates class as well!

I’m due to see my physio in early November - I’m keeping on with the standard exercises til then but will ask her about starting climbing and hopefully get some sort of plan/ timescale to work to - or referred to a lymphodema clinic for a sleeve. You’re right - life has to go on and I’m desperate to get all the important things, of which climbing is one, back into mine.

Anyway, I registered for my Climbing Wall Award today, the qualification that will let me teach people indoors how to climb - in the belief that this will all come right in the end.

All the best

Abi xx

It’s great to meet you all on-line, although I’m a bit late for the party (as usual!).

I hope things have improved alot since your op AbigailC, would be good to hear how you are doing.
I just posted a question about Kayaking post op and got sent here by eal69eal - thanks for that.
Was wondering what the ‘compression garment sleeve’ was. Mentioned it to my BC nurse today and she wondered whether it was the sleeve you are given when you get Lymphoedema or something else? She’s up for getting me one.

I’m going to have a mast. and reconstruction, but still deciding exactly what. Seems I can’t have DIEP so it’s either just an implant or an implant plus back flap (sorry still haven’t got my head round the terminology). I’m keen on the latter cos it looks like it gives a more natural look, but worried about weakening my arm. Its my stronger side and I want to get back on the water as soon as I can.

Got a bit freaked today when my nurse said she recommended not carrying anything with a straight arm cos of the SNB - going to be tricky to avoid that when carrying a laden kayak! I’m going to have to learn to take less kit!

Lanterna - I just looked up ‘Women with Altitude’. I’ve tried climbing a little bit a couple of times but find it a bit daunting, but doing some climbing on a wall would be good. I’m living in islington at the moment while i have my treatment, so I’m close by… would you like to meet up sometime? I love walking, but can’t wait to get into more hill climbing when I can.

hope everyone is doing ok with the shorter days!


Hi Tirrick

I am posting a link to a BCC publication about breast reconstruction which you may find helpful to read, you can read it via the following link:

You are also welcome to call our confidential helpline if you need any further support and information on 0808 800 6000, it’s open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm and Sat 9am-2pm.

Best wishes

Hi Fellow climbers
Just thought I’d touch base and say hi an see how everyone’s doing. I loved my Portland experience sooooo much! I’ve just booked a trip to Chamonix in April to go ice climbing! (Ice axe & crampons here I come!). Will still be on Herceptin and still have a portacath in so the hardest bit was getting insurance but 2 policies later I’m there and can’t wait. Am planning on trekking to Everest base camp and climbing island peak (6500M) as a Breastcancer fundraiser but will pobably be 2010 or 2011. Wondered if anyone was thinking of doing the same and would like to join me? You’ve all got 2 years to decide/organise/save !!! - I’m serious, let me know…
Meanwhile hope you are all doing well and that your indoor climbing dream is on it’s way Abi

OH and I have toyed with the idea of wandering around the valleys up to base camp but no way I’m going above that personally .We could take pictures of you climbing into the distance if you like LOL.

But on a serious note I know a guy who’s a nepalese guide and knows the locals to hook up with, he spends 6 months a year here in Askham, he’s at home in Nepal at the moment. He runs river tours out there.

If you’re serious I can get his details if you want.


Bumping this up as promised


Thanks, perfect.

Hi Abigail!


i was curious how things have progressed for you pertaining to your climbing post mastectomy? It has been two years for me since reconstruction and even hanging on a hangboard still can be painful. Have you found anything that has helped? I feel like where the pectoral suture is will rip open sometimes if I push too hard.


hope things are going well!!