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In Treatment For Cancer

Cancer Surgery 101

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Surgery can be scary when you take into account stories of surgeons leaving equipment before closing a patient's incision or people getting disease resistant infections in a hospital and losing a leg. The reason you hear about these stories is because they are the exception, not the rule. You can help assure that your surgery and recovery go well by considering the following:

  • Learn about your surgical procedure
    • What will the surgeon do?
    • Why is the surgery proposed?
    • What will the side effects of the surgery be?
  • Learn what you should do or not do before surgery. For instance:
    • Foods to eat -- or avoid.
    • Vitamins, minerals or other supplements to take - or avoid.
    • Exercise to help build your body. When asking about exercise, it may help to use the word "prehab" with your health care provider. One way to look at prehab is as armor to help the mind and body prepare for the coming battle.
    • Drugs to stop taking - such as anti-inflammatory drugs.
    • Ask whether you will need to be given blood during the surgery ("transfused.") If so, you can give your own blood ahead of time. You can also ask family and friends to donate and specify that the donation is for you. This is known as "directed donation." Directed donation saves money and adds further asurance to the safety of the blood you may be given duing surgery. This is known as a "belt and suspenders" approach to our already safe blood supply. 
    • Tests you need to take. You may need standard surgery tests in addition to the cancer tests you already took. The doctor will let you know whether the tests may be performed ahead of time or the day of the surgery. Common tests include: Blood tests, Electrocardiogram (EKG) to evaluate your heart, and a Chest X ray to check lungs
  • Think about what you would want to happen medically if you need medical care and become unable to speak for yourself. You will be asked by the hospital admissions person whether you have a Living Will and other advance directives which cover these issues. If not, you will be offered the form the hospital uses. Completing advance directives doesn't mean that they will be needed. However, they do let you stay in control if the unexpected happens.
  • Learn how to stay safe and be comfortable in the hospital. Among other steps to take, even in world class hospitals, it is helpful to have a family member or friend stay with you as much as possible to act as a patient advocate. While you're at it, Survivorship A to Z also has information on how to save money in a hospital and how to make your room feel more friendly.
  • Plan ahead for your needs when you are discharged from the hospital. For example, if you will need home care, start putting away valuable items, credit cards and cash. If you will need a hospital bed or other equipment, how will you get it and where will you put it?

NOTE: When you are discharged from the hospital, it is advisable to do the following:

  • Check your bill, even if you have insurance. A large percentage of hospital bills have errors which are usually in the hospital's favor.
  • Get a discharge plan that tells you what was done in the hospital and what you should be doing and not doing during recovery - as well as a date for a follow up visit with your surgeon and perhaps other doctors.


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