Washing hair after bilateral lumpectomy/sentinel node biopsy?

Hi, I have a date now for a bilateral lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy, 16th May.  I’m making preparations now, and wondering if (know this sounds trivial in the grand scheme of things) if I’ll be able to wash my hair myself a few days after surgery?  I know you can’t shower for 24/48 hours and that’s fine, I can use a shower head to wash what is necessary, but in terms of hair washing I’m thinking if it’s easy enough to do without raising my arms?  I’m not sure how much ‘not arm raising’ is needed, I would have thought that you could just reach up with your arms bent?!

Any advice on aftercare in general welcome! 

Thank you.

I wash my hair in the bathroom sink but the taps do get in the way a bit. You bend your head down so you might find that easier if you can stand it. I was brought up in an era of austerity when baths were once a week and showers were cold or not at all.

You also need a small plastic cup to scoop up warm water from the sink to wet your hair. After this you put on the shampoo and and put your head back in to rinse it out. Then you put some conditioner on your now clean hair, and use another bowl of water to rinse that out.

I can see why people do all of this in the shower rather than my method, but I think mine saves water.



Hello @sunlover100  

Welcome to the club no-one wants to join, you are however very welcome and trust me no question asked on here is ever considered to be silly or trivial: if it matters to you then it matters!

From recollection I don’t recall having an issue washing my hair after my SNB. I do recall that the SNB site was more painful than the lumpectomy site: I did however only have it on one side. 
As part of your aftercare you will be given a series of physio exercises to do to keep your shoulder and arms moving whilst you heal and it’s very important to follow them to the letter (but don’t overdo it!) little and often is the key and I do recall that you need to keep up with them even if you feel some pulling so the action of washing your hair is unlikely to prove anymore strenuous than these exercises 

In terms of showering you will probably have some waterproof dressings on at the start and I recall that in terms of showering I was advised to shower with my back to the shower so the water ran over my shoulder and not directly onto the surgery site  

Wishing you all the best and I hope your surgery all goes to plan

AM xxx

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Hi my team advised to not shower or wash my hair for 2 days and keep the dressing dry so I used dry shampoo on day 2 and stuck it up in a hairband ( 50s style) and I used a sponge and did a stand up wash with this and wet wipes, just raking time

Use the pain relief they give you

In terms of arm movements I started the exercises on day 1 after surgery,  it was uncomfortable but not painful apart from mild pins and needles in my hand ( which I still have after 7 weeks) and after a few days this got easier and I used my arms as normal without lifting anything heavy, or driving

I walked our dog from day 3 using my non treated arm for the lead

Just remember to wear a good bra, and rest up , your body will heal if you give it time

A good book and feet up on the sofa and your hair styling can wait

Good luck and rest 

Fingers crossed for you

Hi @sunlover100 

Your thread helped as I’ve just had a bilateral lumpectomy with sentinel node biopsy, I was lucky that I only had one incision on each side as the tumours were to the side and back. I also sympathise with the dog walking, physiotherapist told me 6/8 weeks by which time I’ll be on Chemotherapy and Herceptin. He’s a setter and only 17 months old, walks with dogmatic/Halti generally ok but some dogs he reacts to and pulls, mainly little things that barked/yapped at him when he was smaller.

I had my surgery yesterday and am black and blue. There is very few people that have bilateral lumpectomy, even when the night staff came on they asked which side! 

I found my lump in right side on April and mammogram thought it was 2.4 cm and ultrasound was 0.9cm so had MRI to confirm size and they found a 0.8cm tumour in the other breast. I’m ER+ in both but HER+ in right only so need adjuvant treatment.

How did you get on with your recovery?  What were your biopsy results? Have you linked to Breast Cancer Now Someone Like Me? I’ve held off as I wanted someone with a similar diagnosis as me and have to wait til 24 July to find out about node biopsy.

Hi naughty boob

Glad that my thread has helped a little, I have to say that it seems such a long time ago that I wrote that!  I was also black and blue the day after the operation, and like you the night staff didn’t realise I’d had bilateral surgery (don’t they check your notes?!)

I made a fairly quick recovery all things considered, although I did have a seroma which didn’t last long.  I then developed what the doctor thinks might be another one but it’s gone done too.  The first week was the hardest, trying to get comfortable at night was hard but the pain wasn’t too bad unless there was pressure on the wound.

I did manage to wash my hair after a couple of days!

As for the dog, I had arranged for her to go to the dog boarders we use for the first few days,  my husband (who has a dodgy foot) did most of the walks but a friend did help out a lot with walking her after he had finished work.  As people to help, I’m sure they will be happy to do so.

I started taking her out on my own after 4 weeks, I only have her on the lead on the road and as soon as we’re in the park/field I let her off.

Just take it easy those first few weeks.  I got my results after 6 weeks, the tumours were the same size as on the MRI scan so that was good, and luckily don’t need chemo.  I have an appointment to discuss radiotherapy on Tuesday, so will find out if i need 5 days or 15.  So, just waiting for the next stage!  I’ve started back at work this week, on a phased return and am finding it quite tiring.

I haven’t linked to someone like me yet.

I hope you recover well, ask people to help if you need it, and let us know how you get on.

Well done Sunlover. I was back disco dancing at the club up the road after what was a very short time only dancing round my handbag though. I had my walking poles with me for support but it wasn’t pole dancing.

We have a dog and honestly I am glad we started employing a dog walker. She’s now in the wars cos she got bitten by an adder on the coast to coast walk with my husband who didn’t get bitten by an adder.

Anyway £6,000 of vets bills and she’s still in the wars after a month. Such is life. There are some conditions that are on a par with breast cancer. Or maybe in Lola the dog’s case worse. Dogs can get breast cancer though, and cats can.

I fear i am digressing.



Thanks for your reply. You’re right  about the nights staff and now I remember the physio asked which side as well! It’s so frustrating.

My husband works from home so he’ll do the dog walking for a while and we have a few friends who have offered to help as and when we need them.

Glad your tumours were as there were on the scan and no need for chemotherapy. I had been told before I had my HER+ results and 2nd tumour that radiation would only be 5 days but I’ve read it could be the full 15 as it’s bilateral, that’s a long way off for me.

The pain is bad, I don’t do well on codeine but I’m taking for 48 hours and hope to drop to paracetamol only. I had a pressure pad on one wound which caused more pain but it came off yesterday which was a relief.

Be thinking about you on Tuesday.

@Seagulls Oh dear, your poor dog. Wishing for a good recovery.

Having a dog with this has been wonderful. They are so loving. I’m convinced he could smell the cancer on my breath and yesterday he kept smelling my breath again like something had changed. Being young and a big dog he doesn’t realise how heavy he is, but he wants to snuggle up.

Hi Naughty Boob

Good to hear that you have help with dog walking (and sorry Seagull to hear about your nightmare with  your poor dog - that’s awful).  We also have a dog walker who is happy to do ad hoc days when we are both busy/tired!

Sorry to hear you’re having so much pain, I was given laxatives along with the codeine and took both together, but only for a couple of days.  If it doesn’t get better maybe check in with your breast care nurse.

That’s interesting about the bilateral cancer and length of radiotherapy treatment, I hadn’t considered that.  I’ll let you know what they say to me on Tuesday when I go, although of course there may be different factors (type of cancer, age etc) which can affect which route they choose.

Hope you start to feel better soon.

Dogs have been found to be able to smell cancer. I don’t know where I read it, but someone at a support group I went to said her dog leapt up on her breast and then she found a thickened area. She had lobular breast cancer which sometimes forms something that does’t seem like a tumour. 

@Seagulls I really believe that dogs can smell the cancer. I found my lump in early April and afterwards I realised the dog was smelling my breath quite a lot. Before I just thought he was trying to smell something I’d eaten, he’s the type of dog that if you eat he thinks he should as well. After returning from surgery on Wednesday when all the cancer should have been removed, the next day, he was smelling my breath again and again as if something was different. I’m going to keep on eye on it to see if he stops now or keeps checking.

Yes dogs have a much more acute sense of smell than we do so they can detect changes in a way we can’t. The only thing is they can’t speak! Or do biopsies. So they aren’t a complete solution to diagnosis and/or treatment. Good thing otherwise they’d be going around in surgical gowns and weird shoes on their feet

My dog is only interested if I have food on me!

@naughty boob  - I have had my appointment with the radiotherapy department now - the consultant said that I would have 5 days radiotherapy PER BREAST.  So two consecutive weeks, 10 days total.  Apparently they don’t do both breasts together as the side effects are more likely to be harder.   I had the appointment with the consultant a week ago, and have been told the treatment will be mid August at the earliest.  Delays due to equipment needing to be upgraded, scanner malfunctioning etc.  I’ll get an planning scan a week or two before that.  Makes it hard to make plans, would love to get away somewhere on holiday!

Just thought I would let you know my radiotherapy plan, as you have also got bilateral breast cancer.  Hope all is well with you!


Thanks for that information, I automatically thought they would do both together. Although I do understand the reason behind do it separately as the issues I have had after surgery on both sides. You can’t push or pull anything of any weight for 4 weeks. 

Being able to plan a holiday is so important, I’m hoping to go away end of July early August when fully recovered from surgery and before chemotherapy. A few days of normalcy is so important for your overall health. 

bBest of luck for the upcoming radiotherapy. Keep in touch. X

Well I got my dates today, 10-23rd August for radiotherapy.  Planning scan on 27th July.  Hoping also go to away early August for a few days, although where in this weather, I don’t know!  Think going abroad would be too hot and expensive at this time.

Hoping to go away in September, but it’s so hard to know how you’ll feel afterwards.

Great news you have your dates. I’m thinking of the UK whatever the weather, we have a dog so it’s all weather and dog friendly places. Not even considering going abroad due to insurance costs, maybe after all the treatment. We’ll need more specialised insurance for people with cancer which can be more costly.

I read radiotherapy be very tiring and can last a few months for some, maybe September break could be last minute, if you can.

I’ve just taken the dressings off after two weeks, they weren’t easy, very sticky and Steri strips needed soaking off. The scars are on both sides so I need to look sideways to see fully but the front view has changed due to bruising and swelling. It was very emotional. One of my friends said to see it like my boobs are in retirement, that they’d done a good job feeding my kids and now the work is done. Good way to think but I think it will take time to get used to my new normal.

It can be a shock when you take the bandages off, and there is a lot of bruising to begin with.  But that will get better, but it can take quite some time.  I feel mine look a lot better 9 weeks on!  It will take time to get used to.

I hope you can get a break booked in the UK before your chemo starts, we’re planning to visit family in Cornwall (hopefully with the dog, if they don’t mind her coming!)

Hi the forum is eventually back up with a bit of a faff having to reset password. It’s looks so different and I’m sure I’ll get used to navigating. They’ve removed the subscription to threads but I eventually not sure how found a summary tab and I found my subscriptions.
I’m now 5 weeks post surgery and I am feeling much better. Went the M&S to get some total support bras which are better than the soft tshirt bra tops I’ve been wearing 24/7. They are still a bit tender. Pathology results took 4 1/2 weeks which was torture but it’s good news. Localised to the breast with no lymph node spread, so just waiting on oncology to give me date for chemo/Herceptin to start.

How are you?