Chemotherapy week 12 - tips for recuperating from surgery

"Your mother is a medical marvel"

This is a direct quote from my mum's cancer specialist nurse when 9 days after a major 9 hour abdominal operation to debulk all cancer from her body, she was discharged.  The surgical team estimated on average 10-14 days recovery in hospital before discharge.  Her wound, at 18 inches long stretched from her chest vertically, around the belly button to her groin.  Remember, she's 70!  I think she is a medical marvel but I also saw the hard work that she put into her recovery, and the care and attention which we, the nurses and the surgical team all invested.

The days after surgery will undoubtedly be filled with drips, monitors, injections and tablets,  It is a critical time and the patient will just want to rest.  Show your support, stand back while the medical staff do their work and let the patient get past the intensive critical care they need to a stable place. When my mother was moved out of ICU and was in a stable condition, the surgeons, her daughters could only help her so much.  Recovery and recuperation was up to her.  So I wanted to share some tips on a healthy recovery post surgery whether it be abdominal, gynaecological or otherwise.

Hydration.  As soon as the medical team allow it, drink plenty of fluids.  Water, orange and apple juice.  Surgery and pre-surgery preparation leaves the body dehydrated and as soon as your body becomes hydrated, there will be one less drip in your arm.

Diet.  Again, the hospital will want to get you to return to solid food slowly so as not to shock the system.  Food will generally be introduced gradually in the following manner:
    1. Water through a sponge - initial hours post surgery
    2. Small sips of water through a straw - 12 hours post surgery
    3. Liquid diet for 3 days post surgery such a soup, orange and apple juice.
    4. Soft food between 4-6 days post surgery such as mashed potato.
    5. Smaller portions of food from day 7 onwards and a slow introduction back to a normal diet from then onwards.
This will really, really vary on the individual and how they are recovering.  My mum did get very frustrated at the continued delivery of bland, pasty mashed potato and we still laugh about her shock when she lifted the silver plate cover to find REAL food under there for her.  Like water in a Sahara desert.  But the medical team will prescribe vitamin supplements or drinks like Ensure where valuable nutrients; minerals and vitamins are provided should they be required.  If you find you have little appetite and no interest in food or feel nauseous then ask to speak to a dietitian who will be able to give you advice.  Diet is also essential for the next point.

Bowel movements/ stools and all things poo.  Learn to start discussing it, describing it, looking at it and talking about it because the doctors and nurses sure will ask!  Poo is an essential part of our bodily functions and a fantastic gauge of how our body is feeling, especially after any surgery on the bowel such as a Colostomy or Ileostomy.  After any surgery, it will take a while for the bodily functions to return to normal but the hospital will definitely  want to see normal bowel movements before discharge.  It took 6 days post surgery, to get a perfectly formed, solid piece of poo from my mum.  There was lots of watching and waiting and surgeons frantically searching stoma bags for poo but finally, hallejulah, a solid, beautiful, poo.  And when I told the surgeon, he high fived my mum! It's lovely to have a surgeon who is just as delighted to see a piece of poo as we are!  We recognised the importance of this milestone and moments such as this should be celebrated to aid and encourage recovery post-operatively.  My mother and I have a very open relationship, we discuss anything, she will talk to me about her poo and I welcome it.  She's therefore comfortable to tell me when she's in pain and needs help too.  

Exercise.  Diet, exercise and bowel movements all go hand in hand.  Exercise encourages movement in the body, aids recovery, builds strength, reduces blood clots and contributes to a positive and optimistic outlook.  Depending on the scale of the surgery, the first few days may require that you be confined to bed with drips and monitors obstructing your movement.  Small movements though may still be possible in bed.  
  1. Try wriggling your fingers to reduce post operative swelling
  2. Flex your wrists to move the muscles
  3. Point your toes forward like a ballerina and then pull the ankles up again
  4. Try raising and lowering your legs
Listen to your body and do as much as you feel is possible without hurting yourself  but do it as soon as is possible.  As the drips and bags were removed from my mum, we waited until there were more than 2 of us and then took my mum for a walk around the ward.  It took 2 of us as there were many bags of fluid and drips to push but a simple walk around the ward really made her feel more emotionally upbeat though a little tired.

Goals and support.  The surgeon, my mum and myself truly believe that her recovery was a team effort.  The surgeon stood for 9 hours and painstakingly removed all evident of disease.  We supported and encouraged my mums recovery but my mum was the one that endured the 9 hour surgery, numerous needles and medication to be injected and ingested.  There was hard work all round with a single common goal.  Try to make sure you and the staff in charge of your recovery are aware of the plan for the day.  What needs to be done?  Exercise?  Food?  Blood test?  X-rays? Removal or disconnection of tubes?  Hospitals are not hotels, recovery should be regarded as work for which you get as much as you put in,  Have a plan, work at it and this will help to keep your mood up.

Finally, listen to your body, how you are feeling will guide your treatment and speed of recovery. If you are in pain, tell the doctors, if you want to walk ask for help.  Be selfish, lean on loved ones and keep your strength.

Best wishes to anyone in hospital.  My heart goes out to you and your loved ones.


I'm extremely excited to be able to say that I've been nominated and shortlisted for Carer blogger of the year within the Health Unlocked 2017 Health Blogger Awards.  I'd appreciate it if you could vote for my blog here.


  1. Were in a very similar spot treatment wise. About bowel function before discharge. My mum was discharged 5 days after surgery & no bowel function at all until day 10 so she wS left to manage this very frustrating and at times painful and distressing part at home. Which surprised me as it destracted a lot from her overall recovery. It was a horrible period.

    1. Should add well done to yours on duch a good recovery. Its a really tough call when facing further chemo isnt it.

    2. Thanks for commenting. Bowel function is something which can be very uncomfortable and is so important to health so I never wish to brush it aside and am keen to share tips in this area! Discharge after 5 days is amazing - best wishes to you & those close to you


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