Ways to Expedite Healing After Surgery
Knowing what to expect is key
Recovering from cancer surgery requires patience, preparation, and a commitment to following medical advice. While it may take time to fully recover , there are recommended guidelines that improve your chances of an easier road to recovery.
How quickly you recover from cancer surgery depends on several factors, including the type of surgery you had and your overall health. If you have undergone cancer surgery, it is crucial to understand the recovery process, what to expect during your recovery and how you can aid the process. Here are some common things you can do regardless of the type of surgery you are having :
Talk to your doctor: Your surgeon will be the best person to provide you with detailed information on your recovery process. Ask them about the expected timeline for your recovery, what activities you should avoid, and what to do if you experience any complications.
Ask for written instructions: Ask your surgeon or healthcare team to provide you with written instructions for your recovery process. This can include information on medications, wound care, and any follow-up appointments.
Join a support group: Joining a cancer support group can provide you with emotional support and information about the recovery process from people who have undergone similar surgeries. Your healthcare team may be able to recommend a support group in your area.
Follow a healthy lifestyle: Eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and getting enough sleep can help improve your overall health and speed up your recovery.
Attend follow-up appointments: Attend all follow-up appointments with your healthcare team to monitor your progress and address any concerns you may have.
Knowing what type of recovery process to expect will also help you plan how much time you’ll have to take off from home responsibilities or work. Give yourself the time to heal but know that getting back on your feet, at a pace that is comfortable to you and approved by your surgery care team is critical to the recovery process. Immediately post surgery don't drive, exercise or engage in strenuous activities until your surgeon gives you the all clear.
Walking is a gentle way to return to physical activity. It will help you return to all of your normal activities faster.
Walking after surgery is one of the most important things you can do for your recovery. A quick walk around your home every hour or two can help prevent serious complications like a blood clot and pneumonia. It helps to get your digestive tract moving and improve blood circulation. Your care team may have you try to walk or begin some light physical therapy exercises either the same day or the day after surgery. Eating, drinking, urinating and having a bowel movement are critical to recovery because the digestive tract is one of the last parts of the body to recover from anesthesia drugs and pain medications which slow down intestinal function.
Managing pain is an important step to faster recovery.
The most common side effect from surgery is pain. If pain is not under control it can cause other complications. For example, if you're in too much pain to cough, you put yourself at risk for pneumonia. If you're in too much pain to walk, you're at risk for blood clots. Let your care team know if you’re experiencing pain so they may help decrease your discomfort either with medicine, nerve blocks or other pain management techniques.
Keeping pain under control after surgery is crucial. Optimized postoperative pain control has been shown to reduce patient suffering, reduce hospital length of stay, aids in earlier mobilization and ability to perform activities of daily living. Don't wait for your pain to become intolerable before asking for another dose; maintaining a steady level of the medication in the bloodstream keeps pain manageable. Although some people fear they'll get hooked on pain medications such as opioids or they consider medication a sign of weakness, or they don’t like how they feel after taking pain medications, it is important to keep your pain at a tolerable level to help the recovery process. Here are a few things to help you with effective pain management.
Take your pain medication regularly, as prescribed. To reduce the need for opioids, make sure you talk to your surgical care team about your pain management plan which can include multiple treatment modes. Non-prescription pain medication like Tylenol or Advil can help ease pain that is not severe enough to require prescription drugs but not improved enough to warrant no pain medication at all. In cases where oral opioids are prescribed, it will likely be only for the first few days after surgery. Wash down your pain medication with ample fluid as some pain medications can lead to dehydration and constipation, and water will ease those symptoms.
Brace your surgical incision. Bracing just means holding your incision/surgery site when you do anything that can cause stress on the site, including standing up, sneezing and coughing. Minimizing the stress on your incision will reduce the pain you feel at the site and reduce your chances of severe complications, like wound opening.
Pain can be a normal part of the healing process, but worsening pain or pain that is beyond what you've been told to anticipate may be a sign of a serious problem. Make sure you let your surgery care team know if the pain worsens. Your nurse will teach you how to cough and breathe deeply, and you'll be shown how to use an incentive spirometer to help expand your lungs. Coughing and deep breathing loosen secretions that may accumulate in your throat or lungs and can help prevent pneumonia. Deep breathing also increases circulation and helps your body eliminate the anesthetics that were used for surgery. Refer to this checklist to help you talk about your post surgical pain to your cancer care team.
Restful sleep promotes healing.
Your body does most of its healing and repairing while you’re asleep, making it essential for you to try and get more sleep than usual. During the deepest phases of sleep, blood flow to muscles increases. Since blood carries oxygen and nutrients, this helps the muscles heal. During sleep, cells in the body produce proteins. These proteins are the building blocks for the formation of new cells needed during the healing process. A good night’s sleep can work wonders and help the body make the needed repairs for recovery.
Immediately after surgery while you are still in the hospital, your sleep may be affected due to many reasons.
If lights are keeping you awake, a sleep mask may help.
If you are struggling with noise, ask the nursing staff to decrease the noise level or consider using earplugs or a white noise machine.
If the temperature is an issue, ask about changing the thermostat to a comfortable temperature before going to sleep.
You may sleep better sitting up in a comfortable chair or with extra pillows, especially if you have sleep apnea or you snore. Elevating your head can often decrease these symptoms and allow for more restful sleep.
If medications are interfering with sleep, ask your healthcare provider if they can adjust the dose or switch you to another drug.
Once you transition to home, it can be helpful:
To sleep in a dark, quiet room without electronics. This will help you relax and fall asleep more easily.
To invest in a firm body pillow that can support your back, hips, and knees as you sleep making it easier to stay in the same position throughout the night.
To sleep in a reclining chair for the first week since to lie down and get your back up can be quite painful for the first few days after many different types of surgery. If you don’t have one, ask a friend or family member if you can borrow one and arrange to pick it up before your surgery so it’s waiting for you when you come home from the hospital.
To use a step stool to get in and out of bed and make it easier to move your muscles without straining them.
Apart from pain, other common side effects of surgery include fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, swelling or bruising at the surgical site, infection at the surgical site, drainage at the site for which there may be temporary drains inserted in the body, and numbness at the site which is usually temporary but can be permanent.
Lastly, it's important to have a support system in place during the recovery process. Surgery and healing is a process, sometimes a long one. It is important to understand what the goals of the surgery are and manage your expectations. Friends and family can provide emotional support and help with daily tasks, such as cooking and cleaning, which can be challenging for some patients during the recovery period. Remember, every person's recovery process is unique, and it's essential to be patient with yourself and take your time during your recovery. Follow your healthcare team's instructions closely and reach out to them if you have any questions or concerns.
Reason to Hope
Immunotherapy given before surgery caused liver cancer tumors to die off in one-third of the patients enrolled in a first-of-its-kind clinical trial. Mount Sinai researchers reported that this may kill not only the tumor, but also microscopic cancer cells that surgery would miss and that could later cause the cancer to recur or metastasize. DOI: 10.1016/S2468-1253(21)00385-X