This guide will help you get ready for your distal pancreatectomy at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK). It will also help you understand what to expect during your recovery.
Read through this guide at least once before your surgery and use it as a reference in the days leading up to your surgery.
Bring this guide with you every time you come to MSK, including the day of your surgery. You and your healthcare team will refer to it throughout your care.Back to top
About Your Surgery
A distal pancreatectomy (PAN-kree-uh-TEK-toh-mee) is a surgery to remove a tumor from the body or tail of your pancreas. Your pancreas is located in the back of your abdomen (belly) behind your stomach and above your small intestine (see Figure 1).
About your pancreas and spleen
Your pancreas makes enzymes that help digest the food you eat, including fats. It also makes insulin and glucagon, which are hormones that help regulate your blood sugar levels. Your pancreas has 3 parts: the tail, the body, and the head.
Even though part of your pancreas will be removed during your surgery, there’s usually enough of it left after your surgery to make hormones (insulin and glucagon) and enzymes.
- If your pancreas doesn’t make enough digestive enzymes after your surgery, you may have diarrhea. If this happens, you may need to take enzyme pills when you eat.
- If your pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin after your surgery, you may have high blood sugar. This is rare. If you have high blood sugar after your surgery, your healthcare team will help you.
Your spleen is located next to your pancreas. It makes white blood cells that help your body fight infections. Your spleen also filters your blood, stores blood cells, and destroys old blood cells. Your spleen may need to be removed if the tumor involves blood vessels that supply your spleen.
During your surgery
Your surgeon will make an incision (surgical cut) to see your pancreas and spleen clearly. Your surgeon will decide the size of the incision and if a minimally invasive technique, which makes very small incisions and uses cameras for guidance, is appropriate for you.
During your surgery, your surgeon will explore your pancreas and spleen and decide how much to remove. The part of your pancreas that remains will be closed with sutures (stitches) or staples (see Figure 2).
Your surgery will take 2 to 4 hours.
Before Your Surgery
The information in this section will help you get ready for your surgery. Read through this section when your surgery is scheduled and refer to it as your surgery date gets closer. It has important information about what you need to do before your surgery.
Write down your questions and be sure to ask your healthcare provider.
Getting ready for your surgery
You and your healthcare team will work together to get ready for your surgery. Help us keep you safe during your surgery by telling us if any of the following statements apply to you, even if you aren’t sure.
- I take a blood thinner. Some examples are aspirin, heparin, warfarin (Jantoven®, Coumadin®), clopidogrel (Plavix®), enoxaparin (Lovenox®), dabigatran (Pradaxa®), apixaban (Eliquis®), and rivaroxaban (Xarelto®). There are others, so be sure your healthcare provider knows all the medications you’re taking.
- I take prescription medications (medications prescribed by a healthcare provider), including patches and creams.
- I take over-the-counter medications (medications I buy without a prescription), including patches and creams.
- I take dietary supplements, such as herbs, vitamins, minerals, or natural or home remedies.
- I have a pacemaker, automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (AICD), or other heart device.
- I have sleep apnea.
- I have had a problem with anesthesia (medication to make you sleep during surgery) in the past.
- I’m allergic to certain medication(s) or materials, including latex.
- I’m not willing to receive a blood transfusion.
- I drink alcohol.
- I smoke.
- I use recreational drugs.
About drinking alcohol
The amount of alcohol you drink can affect you during and after your surgery. It’s important to talk with your healthcare providers about how much alcohol you drink. This will help us plan your care.
- If you stop drinking alcohol suddenly, it can cause seizures, delirium, and death. If we know you’re at risk for these complications, we can prescribe medications to help keep them from happening.
- If you drink alcohol regularly, you may be at risk for other complications during and after your surgery. These include bleeding, infections, heart problems, and a longer hospital stay.
Here are things you can do before your surgery to keep from having problems:
- Be honest with your healthcare providers about how much alcohol you drink.
- Try to stop drinking alcohol once your surgery is planned. If you develop a headache, nausea (feeling like you’re going to throw up), increased anxiety, or can’t sleep after you stop drinking, tell your healthcare provider right away. These are early signs of alcohol withdrawal and can be treated.
- Tell your healthcare provider if you can’t stop drinking.
- Ask your healthcare provider questions about drinking and surgery. As always, all of your medical information will be kept confidential.
If you smoke, you can have breathing problems when you have surgery. Stopping even for a few days before surgery can help. If you smoke, your healthcare provider will refer you to our Tobacco Treatment Program. You can also reach the program by calling 212-610-0507.
About sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is a common breathing disorder that causes you to stop breathing for short periods of time while sleeping. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). With OSA, your airway becomes completely blocked during sleep. OSA can cause serious problems during and after surgery.
Please tell us if you have sleep apnea or if you think you might have it. If you use a breathing device (such as a CPAP device) for sleep apnea, bring it with you the day of your surgery.
About Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS)
ERAS is a program to help you get better faster after your surgery. As part of the ERAS program, it’s important to do certain things before and after your surgery.
Before your surgery, make sure you’re ready by doing the following things:
- Read this guide. It will help you know what to expect before, during, and after your surgery. If you have questions, write them down. You can ask your healthcare provider at your next appointment, or you can call their office.
- Exercise and follow a healthy diet. This will help get your body ready for your surgery.
After your surgery, help yourself recover more quickly by doing the following things:
- Read your recovery pathway. This is a written educational resource that your healthcare provider will give you. It has goals for your recovery and will help you know what to do and expect on each day during your recovery.
- Start moving around as soon as you can. The sooner you’re able to get out of bed and walk, the quicker you’ll be able to get back to your normal activities.
Within 30 days of your surgery
Presurgical Testing (PST)
Before your surgery, you’ll have an appointment for presurgical testing (PST). The date, time, and location of your PST appointment will be printed on the appointment reminder from your surgeon’s office.
You can eat and take your usual medications the day of your PST appointment.
During your appointment, you’ll meet with a nurse practitioner (NP) who works closely with anesthesiology staff (specialized healthcare providers who will give you anesthesia during your surgery). Your NP will review your medical and surgical history with you. You may have tests, such as an electrocardiogram (EKG) to check your heart rhythm, a chest x-ray, blood tests, and any other tests needed to plan your care. Your NP may also recommend that you see other healthcare providers.
Your NP will talk with you about which medications you should take the morning of your surgery.
It’s very helpful to bring the following things to your PST appointment:
- A list of all the medications you’re taking, including prescription and over-the-counter medications, patches, and creams.
- Results of any tests done outside of MSK, such as a cardiac stress test, echocardiogram, or carotid doppler study.
- The name(s) and telephone number(s) of your healthcare provider(s).
Identify your caregiver
Your caregiver plays an important role in your care. Before your surgery, you and your caregiver will learn about your surgery from your healthcare providers. After your surgery, your caregiver will take you home when you’re discharged from the hospital. They’ll also help you care for yourself at home.
Complete a Health Care Proxy form
If you haven’t already completed a Health Care Proxy form, we recommend you complete one now. If you have completed one already, or if you have any other advance directives, bring them to your next appointment.
A health care proxy is a legal document that identifies the person who will speak for you if you can’t communicate for yourself. The person you identify is called your health care agent.
Talk with your healthcare provider if you’re interested in completing a health care proxy. You can also read the resources Advance Care Planning and How to Be a Health Care Agent for information about health care proxies, other advance directives, and being a health care agent.
Do breathing and coughing exercises
Practice taking deep breaths and coughing before your surgery. Your healthcare provider will give you an incentive spirometer to help expand your lungs. For more information, read the resource How to Use Your Incentive Spirometer. If you have any questions, ask your healthcare provider.
Try to do aerobic exercise every day. Aerobic exercise is any exercise that makes your heart beat faster, such as walking, swimming, or biking. If it’s cold outside, use stairs in your home or go to a mall or shopping center. Exercising will help your body get into its best condition for your surgery and make your recovery faster and easier.
Follow a healthy diet
Follow a well-balanced, healthy diet before your surgery. If you need help with your diet, talk with your healthcare provider about meeting with a clinical dietitian nutritionist.
7 days before your surgery
Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for taking aspirin
If you take aspirin or a medication that contains aspirin, you may need to change your dose or stop taking it 7 days before your surgery. Aspirin can cause bleeding.
Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Don’t stop taking aspirin unless they tell you to. For more information, read the resource Common Medications Containing Aspirin, Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), or Vitamin E.
Stop taking vitamin E, multivitamins, herbal remedies, and other dietary supplements
Stop taking vitamin E, multivitamins, herbal remedies, and other dietary supplements 7 days before your surgery. These things can cause bleeding. For more information, read the resource Herbal Remedies and Cancer Treatment.
2 days before your surgery
Stop taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Stop taking NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) and naproxen (Aleve®), 2 days before your surgery. These medications can cause bleeding. For more information, read the resource Common Medications Containing Aspirin, Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), or Vitamin E.
1 day before your surgery
Note the time of your surgery
A staff member from the Admitting Office will call you after 2:00 pm the day before your surgery. If your surgery is scheduled for a Monday, they’ll call you on the Friday before. If you don’t get a call by 7:00 pm, call 212-639-5014.
The staff member will tell you what time to arrive at the hospital for your surgery. They’ll also remind you where to go.
This will be the following location:
Presurgical Center (PSC) on the 6th floor
1275 York Avenue (between East 67th and East 68th Streets)
New York, NY 10065
B elevator to 6th floor
Shower with a 4% chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) solution antiseptic skin cleanser (such as Hibiclens®)
4% CHG solution is a skin cleanser that kills germs for 24 hours after you use it. Showering with it before your surgery will help lower your risk of infection after surgery. Your nurse will give you a bottle to use before your surgery.
The night before your surgery, shower using a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser.
- Use your normal shampoo to wash your hair. Rinse your head well.
- Use your normal soap to wash your face and genital area. Rinse your body well with warm water.
- Open the 4% CHG solution bottle. Pour some into your hand or a clean washcloth.
- Move away from the shower stream. Rub the 4% CHG solution gently over your body from your neck to your feet. Don’t put it on your face or genital area.
- Move back into the shower stream to rinse off the 4% CHG solution. Use warm water.
- Dry yourself off with a clean towel after your shower.
- Don’t put on any lotion, cream, deodorant, makeup, powder, perfume, or cologne after your shower.
Go to bed early and get a full night’s sleep.
Instructions for eating before your surgery
Do not eat anything after midnight the night before your surgery. This includes hard candy and gum.
The morning of your surgery
Instructions for drinking before your surgery
Finish the ClearFast preop® drink your healthcare provider gave you 2 hours before your scheduled arrival time. Do not drink anything else, including water.
Do not drink anything starting 2 hours before your scheduled arrival time. This includes water.
Take your medications as instructed
If your healthcare provider told you to take certain medications the morning of your surgery, take only those medications with a sip of water. Depending on what medications you take, this may be all, some, or none of your usual morning medications.
Shower with a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser (such as Hibiclens)
Shower with a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser before you leave for the hospital. Use it the same way you did the night before.
Don’t put on any lotion, cream, deodorant, makeup, powder, perfume, or cologne after your shower.
Things to remember
- Wear something comfortable and loose-fitting.
- If you wear contact lenses, wear your glasses instead. Wearing contact lenses during surgery can damage your eyes.
- Don’t wear any metal objects. Remove all jewelry, including body piercings. The equipment used during your surgery can cause burns if it touches metal.
- Don’t put on any lotion, cream, deodorant, makeup, powder, perfume, or cologne.
- Leave valuable items (such as credit cards, jewelry, and your checkbook) at home.
- If you’re menstruating (have your monthly period), use a sanitary pad, not a tampon. You’ll get disposable underwear, as well as a pad if needed.
What to bring
- Sneakers that lace up. You may have some swelling in your feet. Lace-up sneakers can accommodate this swelling.
- Your breathing device for sleep apnea (such as your CPAP device), if you have one.
- Your Health Care Proxy form and other advance directives, if you completed them.
- Your cell phone and charger.
- Only the money you may want for small purchases (such as a newspaper).
- A case for your personal items (such as eyeglasses, hearing aid(s), dentures, prosthetic device(s), wig, and religious articles), if you have one.
- This guide. Your healthcare team will use it to teach you how to care for yourself after surgery.
Where to park
MSK’s parking garage is located on East 66th Street between York and First Avenues. If you have questions about prices, call 212-639-2338.
To reach the garage, turn onto East 66th Street from York Avenue. The garage is located about a quarter of a block in from York Avenue, on the right-hand (north) side of the street. There’s a tunnel that you can walk through that connects the garage to the hospital.
There are also other garages located on East 69th Street between First and Second Avenues, East 67th Street between York and First Avenues, and East 65th Street between First and Second Avenues.
Once you’re in the hospital
When you get to the hospital, take the B elevator to the 6th floor. Check in at the desk in the PSC waiting room.
You’ll be asked to say and spell your name and birth date many times. This is for your safety. People with the same or a similar name may be having surgery on the same day.
Get dressed for surgery
When it’s time to change for surgery, you’ll get a hospital gown, robe, and nonskid socks to wear.
Meet with a nurse
You’ll meet with a nurse before surgery. Tell them the dose of any medications you took after midnight (including prescription and over-the-counter medications, patches, and creams) and the time you took them.
Your nurse may give you medication to help with pain after surgery. If they do, they’ll give you information about the medication before you take it.
Your nurse may place an intravenous (IV) line in one of your veins, usually in your arm or hand. If your nurse doesn’t place the IV, your anesthesiologist will do it in the operating room.
Meet with an anesthesiologist
You’ll also meet with an anesthesiologist before surgery. They will:
- Review your medical history with you.
- Ask you if you’ve had any problems with anesthesia in the past, including nausea or pain.
- Talk with you about your comfort and safety during your surgery.
- Talk with you about the kind of anesthesia you’ll get.
- Answer your questions about your anesthesia.
Your doctor or anesthesiologist may also talk with you about placing an epidural catheter (thin, flexible tube) in your spine (back). An epidural catheter is another way to give you pain medication after your surgery.
Get ready for your surgery
When it’s time for your surgery, you’ll need to remove your hearing aids, dentures, prosthetic device(s), wig, and religious articles, if you have them.
You’ll either walk into the operating room or be taken in on a stretcher. A member of the operating room team will help you onto the operating bed. Compression boots will be placed on your lower legs. These gently inflate and deflate to help blood flow in your legs.
Once you’re comfortable, your anesthesiologist will give you anesthesia through your IV line and you’ll fall asleep. You’ll also get fluids through your IV line during and after your surgery.
During your surgery
After you’re fully asleep, a breathing tube will be placed through your mouth and into your windpipe to help you breathe. A urinary (Foley) catheter will also be placed to drain urine (pee) from your bladder.
Once your surgery is finished, your incision will be closed with staples or sutures (stitches). You may also have Steri-Strips™ (thin pieces of surgical tape) over your incision. Your incisions will be covered with a bandage.
Your breathing tube is usually taken out while you’re still in the operating room.Back to top
After Your Surgery
The information in this section will tell you what to expect after your surgery, both during your hospital stay and after you leave the hospital. You’ll learn how to safely recover from your surgery.
Write down your questions and be sure to ask your healthcare provider.
In the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU)
When you wake up after your surgery, you’ll be in the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU).
A nurse will be keeping track of your body temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and oxygen levels. You may be getting oxygen through a thin tube that rests below your nose or a mask that covers your nose and mouth. You’ll also have compression boots on your lower legs.
You’ll get epidural or IV pain medication while you’re in the PACU.
- If you’re getting epidural pain medication, it will be put into your epidural space (the space in your spine just outside your spinal cord) through your epidural catheter.
- If you’re getting IV pain medication, it will be put into your bloodstream through your IV line.
You’ll be able to control your pain medication using a button called a patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) device. For more information, read the resource Patient-Controlled Analgesia (PCA).
Tubes and drains
You’ll have 1 or more of the tubes and drains below. Your healthcare provider will talk with you about what to expect.
- You’ll have a Foley catheter in your urethra going to your bladder. This tube drains urine from your bladder so your care team can keep track of how much urine you’re making. Your Foley catheter is usually removed 1 to 2 days after your surgery.
- You may have a nasogastric (NG) tube in your nose going into your stomach. This tube drains the fluid that naturally collects in your stomach. It will help keep you from vomiting (throwing up). If you have a NG tube, it’s usually removed the first day after surgery.
- You may have a drainage tube in your abdomen to drain fluid from the area. If you have this drainage tube, it’s usually removed a few days after surgery, but you may still have it when you’re discharged from the hospital. Read the “Caring for Your Tubes and Drains” section for more information.
Moving to your hospital room
Some people stay in the PACU for a few hours, while other people stay overnight for observation. Your healthcare team will tell you what to expect. After your stay in the PACU, a staff member will take you to your hospital room.
In your hospital room
The length of time you’re in the hospital after your surgery depends on the type of surgery you had and your recovery. Most people stay in the hospital for 3 to 4 days after a distal pancreatectomy.
When you’re taken to your hospital room, you’ll meet one of the nurses who will care for you while you’re in the hospital. Soon after you arrive in your room, your nurse will help you out of bed and into your chair.
While you’re in the hospital, your nurses will teach you how to care for yourself while you’re recovering from your surgery. You can help yourself recover more quickly by doing the following things:
- Read your recovery pathway. Your nurse will give you a pathway with goals for your recovery, if you don’t already have one. It will help you know what to do and expect on each day during your recovery.
- Start moving around as soon as you can. The sooner you’re able to get out of bed and walk, the quicker you’ll be able to get back to your normal activities.
Read the resource Call! Don't Fall! to learn about what you can do to stay safe and keep from falling while you’re in the hospital.
Managing your pain
You’ll have some pain after your surgery. At first, you’ll get your pain medication through your epidural catheter or IV line. You’ll be able to control your pain medication using a PCA device. Once you’re able to eat, you’ll get oral pain medication (medication you swallow).
Your healthcare providers will ask you about your pain often and give you medication as needed. If your pain isn’t relieved, tell one of your healthcare providers. It’s important to control your pain so you can use your incentive spirometer and move around. Controlling your pain will help you recover better.
If you had a minimally invasive surgery, you may have pain in your shoulder. This is called referred pain. It’s caused by the gas that was put into your abdomen during your surgery, and it’s normal. If you have pain in your shoulder, tell one of your healthcare providers.
You’ll get a prescription for pain medication before you leave the hospital. Talk with your healthcare provider about possible side effects and when to start switching to over-the-counter pain medications.
Moving around and walking
Moving around and walking will help lower your risk for blood clots and pneumonia (lung infection). It will also help you start passing gas and having bowel movements (pooping) again. Your nurse, physical therapist, or occupational therapist will help you move around, if needed.
Exercising your lungs
It’s important to exercise your lungs so they expand fully. This helps prevent pneumonia.
- Use your incentive spirometer 10 times every hour you’re awake. For more information, read How to Use Your Incentive Spirometer.
- Do coughing and deep breathing exercises. A member of your care team will teach you how to do them.
Eating and drinking
For 1 to 2 days after your surgery, you won’t be able to eat solid foods. You’ll follow a clear liquid diet. After that, you’ll slowly go back to eating your regular diet. Read your pathway and talk with your care team for more information.
An inpatient clinical dietitian nutritionist will visit you in your hospital room to plan your diet with you before you’re discharged.
Caring for your tubes and drains
Your nurse will help you care for your tubes and drains while you’re in the hospital.
If you have a drainage tube in your abdomen, your healthcare team will keep track of how much fluid is draining from the tube. Once the amount is low enough, they’ll remove the tube. This usually happens a few days after surgery, but you may still have the drainage tube when you’re discharged from the hospital. Your healthcare team will tell you what to expect.
If you’ll still have the drainage tube when you’re discharged, your nurse will teach you how to care for it at home. They’ll also give you the supplies you’ll need. Your case manager may also arrange for a home care nurse to visit you at home to help you.
You’ll be able to shower on the first day after your surgery. A member of your healthcare team will help you.
Leaving the hospital
By the time you’re ready to leave the hospital, your incision will have started to heal. Before you leave the hospital, look at your incision with one of your healthcare providers. Knowing what your incision looks like will help you notice any changes later.
On the day of your discharge, plan to leave the hospital around 11:00 am. Before you leave, your healthcare provider will write your discharge order and prescriptions. You’ll also get written discharge instructions. One of your healthcare providers will review these instructions with you before you leave.
If your ride isn’t at the hospital when you’re ready to be discharged, you may be able to wait in the Patient Transition Lounge. A member of your healthcare team will give you more information.
Read the resource What You Can Do to Avoid Falling to learn about what you can do to stay safe and keep from falling at home and during your appointments at MSK.
Your first appointment after surgery will be 10 to 14 days after you leave the hospital. Your nurse will give you instructions on how to make this appointment, including the phone number to call.
Managing your pain
People have pain or discomfort for different lengths of time. You may still have some pain when you go home and will probably be taking pain medication. Some people have soreness, tightness, or muscle aches around their incision as they recover. This doesn’t mean that something is wrong. But, if it doesn’t get better, contact your healthcare provider.
Follow the guidelines below to help manage your pain at home.
- Take your medications as directed and as needed.
- Call your healthcare provider if the medication prescribed for you doesn’t ease your pain.
- Don’t drive or drink alcohol while you’re taking prescription pain medication. Some prescription pain medications can make you drowsy. Alcohol can make the drowsiness worse.
- As your incision heals, you’ll have less pain and need less pain medication. An over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®) will ease aches and discomfort.
- Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for stopping your prescription pain medication.
- Don’t take more of any medication than the amount directed on the label or as instructed by your healthcare provider.
- Read the labels on all the medications you’re taking, especially if you’re taking acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is an ingredient in many over-the-counter and prescription medications. But, taking too much can harm your liver. Don’t take more than 1 medication that contains acetaminophen without talking with a member of your healthcare team.
- Pain medication should help you resume your normal activities. Take enough medication to do your activities and exercises comfortably. It’s normal for your pain to increase a little as you start to be more active.
- Keep track of when you take your pain medication. It works best 30 to 45 minutes after you take it. Taking it when you first have pain is better than waiting for the pain to get worse.
Some prescription pain medications (such as opioids) may cause constipation (having fewer bowel movements than usual).
Preventing and managing constipation
Talk with your healthcare provider about how to prevent and manage constipation. You can also follow the guidelines below.
- Go to the bathroom at the same time every day. Your body will get used to going at that time. But, if you feel like you need to go, don’t put it off.
- Exercise. Walking is an excellent form of exercise.
- Drink 8 (8-ounce) glasses (2 liters) of liquids daily, if you can. Drink water, juices (such as prune juice), soups, ice cream shakes, and other drinks that don’t have caffeine. Drinks with caffeine, such as coffee and soda, pull fluid out of your body.
If you haven’t had a bowel movement in 2 days, call your healthcare provider.
If your pancreas doesn’t make enough enzymes to digest your food, you may have diarrhea. If this happens, contact your healthcare provider. You may need to take enzyme pills when you eat. Your healthcare provider will give you more information.
Caring for your incision
It’s normal for the skin below your incision to feel numb. This happens because some of the nerves were cut during your surgery. The numbness will go away over time.
The staples in your incision will be removed during your first appointment after surgery. This is usually about 2 weeks after you’re discharged. While the staples are in your incision, you may feel some tightness or a tugging feeling along your incision. This is normal. Doing gentle stretching can help.
If you go home with Steri-Strips on your incision, they’ll loosen and fall off by themselves. If they haven’t fallen off within 10 days, you can take them off.
If the area around your incision is red or puffy or if you have any drainage from your incision, contact your healthcare provider.
Shower every day. Taking a warm shower is relaxing and can help ease muscle aches. You’ll also clean your incision when you shower.
When you shower, use soap to gently wash your incision. After you shower, pat the area dry with a clean towel. Don’t rub over your incision. Leave your incision uncovered, unless there’s drainage.
Don’t take tub baths until talking with your healthcare provider at your first appointment after your surgery.
Eating and drinking
When you first start eating solid foods, you won’t be able to eat the same portions of food you did before your surgery. Try to eat 4 to 6 small meals a day.
It’s also important to drink plenty of liquids. Try to drink 8 (8-ounce) glasses of liquids every day. Don’t drink alcohol until you check with your healthcare provider.
If you need to reach a clinical dietitian nutritionist after you go home, call 212-639-7312.
Physical activity and exercise
When you leave the hospital, your incision will look like it’s healed on the outside, but it won’t be healed on the inside.
- Don’t lift anything heavier than 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms) for at least 8 weeks after your surgery.
- Ask your healthcare provider before starting strenuous exercises (such as jogging and tennis).
Doing aerobic exercise, such as walking and stair climbing, will help you gain strength and feel better. You can walk outside or indoors at your local mall or shopping center. Gradually increase the distance you walk. Climb stairs slowly, resting or stopping as needed. You can also keep doing your coughing and deep breathing exercises and using your incentive spirometer.
Fatigue is having less energy or feeling more tired than usual. It’s normal to feel fatigued after your surgery. This may last for 6 to 8 weeks after surgery, but it will get better slowly over time. Try to increase your activity level every day to help manage your fatigue. Get up, get dressed, and walk. You may need a nap during the day, but try to stay out of bed as much as possible so you’ll sleep at night.
It’s important to go back to your usual activities after surgery. Spread them out over the course of the day. You can do light household tasks. Try washing dishes, preparing light meals, and other activities as you’re able.
Your body is an excellent guide for telling you when you’ve done too much. When you increase your activity, monitor your body’s reaction. You may find you have more energy in the morning or the afternoon. Plan your activities for times of the day when you have more energy.
While your incision is healing, you may not be able to twist your body as well as normal. This can make it hard for you to drive. You also shouldn’t drive if you’re taking pain medication that may make you drowsy. During your first appointment after surgery, your healthcare provider will tell you if it’s safe for you to start driving again.
You can ride in a car as a passenger at any time after you leave the hospital.
Going back to work
Talk with your healthcare provider about your job and when it may be safe for you to start working again. If your job involves lots of movement or heavy lifting, you may need to stay out a little longer than if you sit at a desk.
If you’re traveling a long distance, try to get up once an hour to walk around. This will help prevent blood clots. Remember to drink around 8 (8-ounce) glasses of liquids every day, even when you’re traveling.
Managing your feelings
After surgery for a serious illness, you may have new and upsetting feelings. Many people say they felt weepy, sad, worried, nervous, irritable, and angry at one time or another. You may find that you can’t control some of these feelings. If this happens, it’s a good idea to seek emotional support.
The first step in coping is to talk about how you feel. Family and friends can help. Your healthcare providers can reassure, support, and guide you. It’s always a good idea to let us know how you, your family, and your friends are feeling emotionally. Many resources are available to you and your family. Whether you’re in the hospital or at home, we’re here to help you and your family and friends handle the emotional aspects of your illness.
MyMSK (my.mskcc.org) is your MSK patient portal account. You can use MyMSK to send and receive messages from your healthcare team, view your test results, see your appointment dates and times, and more. You can also invite your caregiver to create their own account so they can see information about your care.
If you don’t have a MyMSK account, you can visit my.mskcc.org, call 646-227-2593, or call your doctor’s office for an enrollment ID to sign up. You can also watch our video How to Enroll in MyMSK: Memorial Sloan Kettering's Patient Portal. For help, contact the MyMSK Help Desk by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 800-248-0593.Back to top
When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider
Contact your healthcare provider if:
- You have a fever of 100.5 °F (38 °C) or higher.
- You have chills.
- You’re having shortness of breath.
- The skin around your incision is warmer than normal.
- The skin around your incision is getting more red.
- The area around your incision is starting to swell.
- Swelling around your incision is getting worse.
- You have pus-like (thick, yellowish, or foul-smelling) drainage from your incision.
- You have any sudden increase in pain or new pain.
- You have nausea and vomiting.
- You have diarrhea.
- You have constipation that isn’t relieved within 2 days.
- You have any new or unexplained symptoms.
- You have any questions or concerns.
Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, contact your healthcare provider.
After 5:00 pm, during the weekend, and on holidays, call 212-639-2000 and ask to speak to the person on call for your healthcare provider.Back to top
This section contains a list of support services that may help you get ready for your surgery and recover safely.
Write down your questions and be sure to ask your healthcare provider.
MSK support services
Call if you have questions about your hospital admission, including requesting a private room.
Call if you have questions about anesthesia.
Blood Donor Room
Call for more information if you’re interested in donating blood or platelets.
Bobst International Center
MSK welcomes patients from around the world. If you’re an international patient, call for help arranging your care.
At MSK, our chaplains are available to listen, help support family members, pray, contact community clergy or faith groups, or simply be a comforting companion and a spiritual presence. Anyone can request spiritual support, regardless of formal religious affiliation. The interfaith chapel is located near the main lobby of Memorial Hospital and is open 24 hours a day. If you have an emergency, please call the hospital operator and ask for the chaplain on call.
Many people find that counseling helps them. We provide counseling for individuals, couples, families, and groups, as well as medications to help if you feel anxious or depressed. To make an appointment, ask your healthcare provider for a referral or call the number above.
Food Pantry Program
The food pantry program provides food to people in need during their cancer treatment. For more information, talk with your healthcare provider or call the number above.
Integrative Medicine Service
Integrative Medicine Service offers many services to complement (go along with) traditional medical care, including music therapy, mind/body therapies, dance and movement therapy, yoga, and touch therapy.
You can visit our library website or speak with the library reference staff to find more information about your specific cancer type. You can also visit LibGuides on MSK’s library website at libguides.mskcc.org.
Patient and Caregiver Education
Visit the Patient and Caregiver Education website to search our virtual library. There, you can find written educational resources, videos, and online programs.
Patient and Caregiver Peer Support Program
You may find it comforting to speak with someone who has been through a treatment similar to yours. You can talk with a former MSK patient or caregiver through our Patient and Caregiver Peer Support Program. These conversations are confidential. They may take place in person or over the phone.
Call if you have questions about preauthorization with your insurance company. This is also called preapproval.
Patient Representative Office
Call if you have questions about the Health Care Proxy form or if you have concerns about your care.
Perioperative Nurse Liaison
Call if you have questions about MSK releasing any information while you’re having surgery.
Private Duty Nursing Office
You may request private nurses or companions. Call for more information.
Resources for Life After Cancer (RLAC) Program
At MSK, care doesn’t end after active treatment. The RLAC Program is for patients and their families who have finished treatment. This program has many services, including seminars, workshops, support groups, counseling on life after treatment, and help with insurance and employment issues.
Sexual Health Programs
Cancer and cancer treatments can have an impact on your sexual health. MSK’s Sexual Health Programs can help you take action and address sexual health issues before, during, or after your treatment.
- Our Female Sexual Medicine and Women’s Health Program helps women who are dealing with cancer-related sexual health challenges, including premature menopause and fertility issues. For more information, or to make an appointment, call 646-888-5076.
- Our Male Sexual and Reproductive Medicine Program helps men who are dealing with cancer-related sexual health challenges, including erectile dysfunction. For more information, or to make an appointment, call 646-888-6024.
Social workers help patients, family, and friends deal with issues that are common for cancer patients. They provide individual counseling and support groups throughout the course of treatment, and can help you communicate with children and other family members. Our social workers can also help refer you to community agencies and programs, as well as financial resources if you’re eligible.
Tobacco Treatment Program
If you want to quit smoking, MSK has specialists who can help. Call for more information.
MSK’s Virtual Programs offer online education and support for patients and caregivers, even when you can’t come to MSK in person. Through live, interactive sessions, you can learn about your diagnosis, what to expect during treatment, and how to prepare for the various stages of your cancer care. Sessions are confidential, free, and led by expert clinical staff. If you’re interested in joining a Virtual Program, visit our website at www.mskcc.org/vp for more information.
External support services
In New York City, the MTA offers a shared ride, door-to-door service for people with disabilities who can’t take the public bus or subway.
American Cancer Society (ACS)
Offers a variety of information and services, including Hope Lodge, a free place for patients and caregivers to stay during cancer treatment.
Cancer and Careers
A resource for education, tools, and events for employees with cancer.
275 Seventh Avenue (Between West 25th & 26th Streets)
New York, NY 10001
Provides counseling, support groups, educational workshops, publications, and financial assistance.
Cancer Support Community
Provides support and education to people affected by cancer.
A place where men, women, and children living with cancer find social and emotional support through networking, workshops, lectures, and social activities.
Offers financial assistance to pay for copayments during treatment. Patients must have medical insurance, meet the income criteria, and be prescribed medication that’s part of the Good Days formulary.
LGBT Cancer Project
Provides support and advocacy for the LGBT community, including online support groups and a database of LGBT-friendly clinical trials.
Provides reproductive information and support to cancer patients and survivors whose medical treatments have risks associated with infertility.
Look Good Feel Better Program
This program offers workshops to learn things you can do to help you feel better about your appearance. For more information or to sign up for a workshop, call the number above or visit the program’s website.
National Cancer Legal Services Network
Free cancer legal advocacy program.
National LGBT Cancer Network
Provides education, training, and advocacy for LGBT cancer survivors and those at risk.
Lists Patient Assistance Programs for brand and generic name medications.
Provides prescription benefits to eligible employees and retirees of public sector employers in New York State.
Patient Advocate Foundation
Provides access to care, financial assistance, insurance assistance, job retention assistance, and access to the national underinsured resource directory.
This section contains the educational resources that were referred to throughout this guide. These resources will help you get ready for your surgery and recover safely after surgery.
Write down your questions and be sure to ask your healthcare provider.
- Advance Care Planning
- Call! Don't Fall!
- Common Medications Containing Aspirin, Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), or Vitamin E
- Herbal Remedies and Cancer Treatment
- How to Use Your Incentive Spirometer
- Patient-Controlled Analgesia (PCA)
- What You Can Do to Avoid Falling