By: Gwen Spector BSN, RN, COCN, CCP
GI Cancer and Sarcoma Nurse Navigator
Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Medical City Plano
Having surgery can be frightening and overwhelming. These are some general tips to help you get prepared for your surgery.
Before the Day of Your Surgery
Make sure you understand all of the instructions you are given. These include when to stop eating, drinking and smoking and when to stop taking medications that thin your blood. Keep written instructions in a place you can easily find them and read them ahead of time so you are prepared. Check with your doctor for special instructions if you take medications for diabetes or any other serious medical problems.
Write down questions when you think of them so you can discuss them with your doctor. It's important for you to understand what will happen and feel comfortable with what your doctor tells you. You normally get to see your surgeon before you go back to the operating room in case you have any last minute questions.
Get familiar with your insurance coverage. Know that you will get separate bills from doctors such as the anesthesiologist and radiologist. Insurance can be confusing. Don't hesitate to call your insurance company for assistance with understanding your plan. Financial counselors at the hospital are often available to work out a payment plan for you, if needed.
If you are employed, contact your manager and human resources department as soon as you know when you are having surgery. You may have to fill out forms if you are eligible for short term disability and/or FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act). FMLA protects you from losing your job while you are out due to surgery and cancer-related appointments and hospitalizations.
Work with your doctor to improve your physical health.
- If you are not having surgery immediately, ask your doctor about physical therapy programs in your area that can help you improve your physical endurance, flexibility, and strength. This is known as prehabilitation.
- Nutrition is extremely important before any surgery. If you have lost weight and/or muscle from your cancer or cancer treatment, you are at higher risk for problems after surgery. Your doctor may have you start drinking nutritional supplements like Ensure or ask you to go see a dietitian.
- Start breathing exercises at home to help get your lungs ready for surgery. You will also be asked to do these exercises after surgery. You should stop smoking if you smoke.
- Reduce your risk of getting sick by avoiding people with contagious infections. Notify your doctor immediately if you do become ill with a fever, cough or any sign of infection.
Make arrangements for assistance during your recovery:
- Arrange for someone to take you home from the hospital. Transportation by taxi or public transportation is not allowed by most hospitals.
- Arrange for help to care for your home while you are away and when you get home, including cleaning, meals and caring for children and pets. Call on family, friends, coworkers or members of your religious or community organizations to help. There are websites that allow people to sign up for these tasks: Lotsa Helping Hands, Meal Train, and Take them a Meal.
- Prepare your home for your return from the hospital. Your doctor will give you diet and activity restrictions. Buy groceries to get you through your initial recovery. Remove potential safety hazards like electric cords that are in the way, rugs that are not secured down and cluttered pathways.
- Most hospitals have discharge planners to help you with equipment and services you may need when you leave the hospital such as rehab and home health. These have to be ordered by the doctor and approved by insurance. If you feel you will need special care after surgery, discuss this with your doctor.
On the Day of Your Surgery
Follow the diet instructions for when to stop eating and drinking or your surgery may be postponed.
You may be asked to shower with special soap before your surgery. Do not apply lotions, powders or fragrance to your body. Be careful not to shave near the site of the surgery.
You should have a main contact/spokesperson already designated before your surgery. Hospitals normally limit visitors to 2 people at a time in pre-op and intensive care rooms. Check with your hospital regarding their visitor rules.
Bring only the items you need and were told to bring to the hospital. Have someone keep them for you while you are hospitalized. All jewelry, including wedding rings and piercings, are required to be removed for surgery. You should bring cases, labeled with your name, for contacts, glasses, hearing aids and removable dental appliances. If you are on a CPAP machine or have an assisted walking device, ask if you should bring them.
Disclaimer: This blog discusses general information and does not take the place of the instructions provided by your doctor or hospital.
Getting Ready for Cancer Surgery ACS American Cancer Society - Getting Ready for Cancer Surgery
Surgery Medline Plus - Surgery
What to expect when having surgery Cancer.net - What to Expect When Having Surgery