Cancer Surgery Recovery
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|Recovering From Sedatives
Depending on the sedatives or anesthetic the woman received and how her body reacts to them, she may be instantly alert or remember very little for the first 24 hours after cancer surgery. Sooner or later she will start to notice the tubes still inserted, the bandages and the pain. An IV tube may remain inserted for administering fluids, antibiotics and possibly pain relief medications. If it is not needed the nurse removes the IV but may leave the catheter inserted in the skin. This is a precaution in case the IV needs to be reinserted again. Depending on the surgery, some tubes will be put in place to keep the surgical area drained of fluid or blood so it does not build up and cause pain or stress to the incision. The tube may be attached to a portable suction device which can be opened and emptied periodically. If the patient needs to keep the suction in place when she goes home, a nurse will teach her how to use it. When drainage is no longer needed a doctor will remove the tube. It may feel like a long piece of string being pulled from under the skin and it helps to breathe deeply as it is being removed. The point of incision closes immediately. Women who undergo major gynecologic surgery (for ovarian cancer or cervical cancer for example) will also have a Foley catheter inserted through the opening of the bladder (urethra) to drain their urine. Once the tube is inserted a small balloon on the end will be inflated with water to keep it in place. This means she will not have to worry about bedpans for a few days as the catheter is attached to a portable drainage bag. When it is time to remove it, the balloon is deflated and the catheter slips out. Some women report having to 'relearn' how to urinate again after it is removed.
Wounds and Scars
Research shows that nearly 50 percent of patients, including those who are given some sort of pain therapy, still experience moderate to severe pain after surgery. Although pain may be expected, studies show that it can actually slow the healing process down. Fortunately there are new methods these days for reducing postoperative pain. These include patient controlled analgesia (PCA). PCA delivers medications by IV into the patient's vein when they press a button. Sometimes it results in less drugs being taken because the patient can stay ahead of the pain, rather than waiting for a nurse to administer it when things get bad. Powerful narcotics may also be prescribed in the first few days.
Although it may be the last thing you want to do, eating and drinking is an important part of the recovery process. Initially you may be given clear liquids and ice chips. Before moving to solids the doctors will want to check that your digestive tract is working normally (this is normally the last part of the body to recover after surgery drugs). You may have to urinate into a container to check the amount you are passing and signs for bowel activity will need to be noted (such as passing gas). Until this happens the patient is kept on a liquid diet.
Lung Problem Prevention
Preventing Blood Clots
Once you are considered well enough to go home - and this will depend on if you are eating and walking and the results of postoperative tests - be sure to ask your healthcare team:
1. Choice of treatment: A lumpectomy will heal faster than mastectomy for example.
2. The health and age of the patient before surgery.
3. Whether radiation therapy or chemo (see chemotherapy guide) was also given.
Studies show that the psychological effects of cancer treatments can last much longer - that is the impact it has on a person's emotions and lifestyle. This is particularly the case if an amputation was involved (such as a mastectomy) or if there is a risk of recurrence. They may become more anxious around the anniversary of their original diagnosis and can be reluctant to plan ahead for anything. Talking to close friends or family, or a counselor can help to ease some worries.
If you are worried about a recurrence and would like to lower your risks, read our cancer prevention section. Eating a balanced diet and including cancer fighting foods may certainly help. Taking regular exercise, quitting smoking if you do smoke and drinking alcohol in moderation is also important. Finally, be sure to check out if there are any books on cancer which may help with practical advice. Survivor guides are always uplifting.
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