About Your Retroperitoneal Lymph Node Dissection

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Time to Read: About 30 minutes

This guide will help you get ready for your retroperitoneal lymph node dissection (RPLND) surgery at MSK. It will also help you know what to expect as you recover.

Use this guide as a source of information in the days leading up to your surgery. Bring it with you on the day of your surgery. You and your care team will use it as you learn more about your recovery.

About Your Surgery

About Your Retroperitoneal Lymph Nodes

Your retroperitoneal (REH-troh-PAYR-ih-toh-NEE-ul) lymph nodes are found in the area between your kidneys along a vein (your vena cava) and an artery (your aorta) (see Figure 1). Your vena cava carries blood to your heart. Your aorta carries blood from your heart to the rest of your body.

Figure 1. Your retroperitoneal lymph nodes

Figure 1. Your retroperitoneal lymph nodes

About Your RPLND Surgery

A RPLND is a treatment for testicular cancer. This surgery removes your retroperitoneal lymph nodes, often the first place where testicular cancer spreads to. These lymph nodes also can be affected by other types of cancer.

During your surgery, your surgeon will make an incision (surgical cut) from the bottom of your ribcage to your pubic area. They’ll remove your lymph nodes through this incision. Your surgery will take 3.5 to 5 hours.

Sperm Banking

This surgery can affect the nerves that control the way semen exits your body. Semen can go into your bladder instead of out of your penis. This is called retrograde ejaculation and can affect your fertility (ability to have biological children). For more information, read Retrograde Ejaculation. You can find it in the “Educational Resources” section of this guide.

Your surgeon will try to use methods that don’t harm your nerves, if possible. This can prevent retrograde ejaculation. However, it can still take between 1 month and several years before your nerves recover. We strongly recommend that you bank your sperm before your surgery. Your doctor and nurse will talk with you about this in more detail.

For more information, read Sperm Banking.

Getting ready for your surgery

This section will help you get ready for your surgery. Read it when your surgery is scheduled. Refer to it as your surgery gets closer. It has important information about what to do to get ready.

As you read this section, write down questions to ask your healthcare provider.

Getting ready for your surgery

You and your care team will work together to get ready for your surgery. Help us keep you safe by telling us if any of these things apply to you, even if you’re not sure.

  • I take an anticoagulant (blood thinner), such as:
    These are examples of medicines. There are others.

    Be sure your healthcare provider knows all the medicines you’re taking.
    • Aspirin
    • Heparin
    • Warfarin (Jantoven®, Coumadin®)
    • Clopidogrel (Plavix®)
    • Enoxaparin (Lovenox®)
    • Dabigatran (Pradaxa®)
    • Apixaban (Eliquis®)
    • Rivaroxaban (Xarelto®)
  • I take an SGLT2 inhibitor, such as:
    • Canagliflozin (Invokana®)
    • Dapagliflozin (Farxiga®)
    • Empagliflozin (Jardiance®)
    • Ertugliflozin (Steglatro®)
  • I take prescription medicine(s), including patches and creams. A prescription medicine is one you can only get with a prescription from your healthcare provider.
  • I take over-the-counter medicine(s), including patches and creams. An over-the-counter medicine is one you can buy without a prescription.
  • 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 (A-nes-THEE-zhuh) in the past. Anesthesia is medicine to make you sleep during a surgery or procedure.
  • I’m allergic to certain medicines or materials, including latex.
  • I’m not willing to receive a blood transfusion.
  • I drink alcohol.
  • I smoke or use an electronic smoking device, such as a vape pen or e-cigarette.
  • I use recreational drugs, such as marijuana.

About drinking alcohol

It’s important to talk with your healthcare providers about how much alcohol you drink. This will help us plan your care.

If you drink alcohol regularly, you may be at risk for problems during and after your surgery. These include bleeding, infections, heart problems, and a longer hospital stay.

If you drink alcohol regularly and stop suddenly, it can cause seizures, delirium, and death. If we know you’re at risk for these problems, we can prescribe medicine to help prevent them.

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. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you:
    • Get a headache.
    • Feel nauseous (like you’re going to throw up).
    • Feel more anxious (nervous or worried) than usual.
    • Cannot sleep.

These are early signs of alcohol withdrawal and can be treated.

  • Tell your healthcare provider if you cannot stop drinking.
  • Ask your healthcare provider questions about drinking and surgery. All your medical information will be kept private, as always.

About smoking

If you smoke, you can have breathing problems when you have surgery. Stopping for even a few days before your surgery can help.

Your healthcare provider will refer you to our Tobacco Treatment Program if you smoke. You can also reach the program by calling 212-610-0507.

About sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a common breathing problem. If you have sleep apnea, you stop breathing for short lengths of time while you’re asleep. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). With OSA, your airway becomes fully blocked during sleep.

OSA can cause serious problems during and after surgery. Tell us if you have or think you might have sleep apnea. If you use a breathing device, such as a CPAP machine, bring it on the day of your surgery.

Within 30 days of your surgery

Presurgical testing (PST)

You’ll have a PST appointment before your surgery. You’ll get a reminder from your surgeon’s office with the appointment date, time, and location.

You can eat and take your usual medicine(s) the day of your PST appointment.

It’s helpful to bring these things to your appointment:

  • A list of all the medicines you’re taking, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, patches, and creams.
  • Results of any medical tests done outside of MSK in the past year, if you have them. Examples include results from a cardiac stress test, echocardiogram, or carotid doppler study.
  • The names and telephone numbers of your healthcare providers.

You’ll meet with an advance practice provider (APP) during your PST appointment. They work closely with MSK’s anesthesiology (A-nes-THEE-zee-AH-loh-jee) staff. These are doctors with special training in using anesthesia during a surgery or procedure.

Your APP will review your medical and surgical history with you. You may have tests to plan your care, such as:

  • An electrocardiogram (EKG) to check your heart rhythm.
  • A chest X-ray.
  • Blood tests.

Your APP may recommend you see other healthcare providers. They’ll also talk with you about which medicine(s) to take the morning of your surgery.

Identify your caregiver

Your caregiver has 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. They’ll also help you care for yourself at home.

For caregivers

‌  Caring for a person going through cancer treatment comes with many responsibilities. We offer resources and support to help you manage them. Visit www.msk.org/caregivers or read A Guide for Caregivers to learn more.

Fill out a Health Care Proxy form

If you have not already filled out a Health Care Proxy form, we recommend you do now. If you already filled one out or have any other advance directives, bring them to your next appointment.

A health care proxy is a legal document. It says who will speak for you if you cannot communicate for yourself. This person is called your health care agent.

Talk with a member of your care team if you have questions about filling out a Health Care Proxy form.

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. To learn more, read How To Use Your Incentive Spirometer.

Do physical activity

Doing physical activity will help your body get into its best condition for your surgery. It will also make your recovery faster and easier.

Try to do physical activity every day. Any activity that makes your heart beat faster, such as walking, swimming, or biking, is a good choice. If it’s cold outside, use stairs in your home or go to a mall or shopping center.

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.

Buy 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. You can buy a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser at your local pharmacy without a prescription.

7 days before your surgery

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for taking aspirin

Aspirin can cause bleeding. If you take aspirin or a medicine that has aspirin, you may need to change your dose or stop taking it 7 days before your surgery. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Do not stop taking aspirin unless they tell you to.

To learn more, read How To Check if a Medicine or Supplement Has Aspirin, Other NSAIDs, Vitamin E, or Fish Oil

Stop taking vitamin E, multivitamins, herbal remedies, and other dietary supplements

Vitamin E, multivitamins, herbal remedies, and other dietary supplements can cause bleeding. Stop taking them 7 days before your surgery. If your healthcare provider gives you other instructions, follow those instead.

To learn more, read Herbal Remedies and Cancer Treatment.

2 days before your surgery

Stop taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil® and Motrin®) and naproxen (Aleve®), can cause bleeding. Stop taking them 2 days before your surgery. If your healthcare provider gives you other instructions, follow those instead.

To learn more, read How To Check if a Medicine or Supplement Has Aspirin, Other NSAIDs, Vitamin E, or Fish Oil.

1 day before your surgery

Note the time of your surgery

A staff member will call you after the day before your surgery. If your surgery is scheduled for a Monday, they’ll call you the Friday before. If you do not get a call by , call 212-639-5014.

The staff member will tell you what time to get to 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)
B elevator to 6th floor

Follow a High-Fat Diet

You’ll need to follow a high-fat diet the day before your surgery. A high-fat diet includes dairy products (cheeses, whole milk), avocado, meats, and baked goods.

Shower with a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser, such as Hibiclens

Shower with a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser before you go to bed the night before your surgery.

  1. Wash your hair with your usual shampoo and conditioner. Rinse your head well.
  2. Wash your face and genital (groin) area with your usual soap. Rinse your body well with warm water.
  3. Open the 4% CHG solution bottle. Pour some into your hand or a clean washcloth.
  4. Move away from the shower stream. Rub the 4% CHG solution gently over your body from your neck to your feet. Do not put it on your face or genital area.
  5. Move back into the shower stream to rinse off the 4% CHG solution. Use warm water.
  6. Dry yourself off with a clean towel.

Do not put on any lotion, cream, deodorant, makeup, powder, perfume, or cologne after your shower.

Sleep

Go to bed early and get a full night’s sleep.

Instructions for eating and drinking before your surgery

  • Stop eating 8 hours before your arrival time.
    • Your healthcare provider may tell you to stop eating earlier. If they do, follow their instructions.
  • 8 hours before your arrival time, do not eat or drink anything except these clear liquids:
    • Water.
    • Soda.
    • Clear juices, such as lemonade, apple, and cranberry juices. Do not drink orange juice or juices with pulp.
    • Black coffee or tea (without any type of milk or creamer).
    • Sports drinks, such as Gatorade®.
    • ClearFast or Ensure® Pre-Surgery drink.
    • Gelatin, such as Jell-O®.
    You can keep having these until 2 hours before your arrival time.

The morning of your surgery

Instructions for drinking before your surgery

 Stop drinking 2 hours before your arrival time. This includes water.

Take your medicines as instructed

A member of your care team will tell you which medicines to take the morning of your surgery. Take only those medicines with a sip of water. Depending on what you usually take, this may be all, some, or none of your usual morning medicines.

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.

Do not 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.

What To bring

  • Your breathing device for sleep apnea (such as your CPAP device), if you have one.
  • Your incentive spirometer, 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

Memorial Hospital parking map

MSK’s parking garage is on East 66th Street between York and 1st avenues. If you have questions about prices, call 212-639-2338.

To get to the garage, turn onto East 66th Street from York Avenue. The garage is about a quarter of a block in from York Avenue. It’s on the right (north) side of the street. There’s a tunnel you can walk through that connects the garage to the hospital.

There are other parking garages on:

  • East 69th Street between 1st and 2nd avenues.
  • East 67th Street between York and 1st avenues.
  • East 65th Street between 1st and 2nd 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.

Many staff members will ask you to say and spell your name and birth date. 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 medicines you took after midnight (12 a.m.) and the time you took them. Make sure to include prescription and over-the-counter medicines, patches, and creams.

Your nurse may place an intravenous (IV) line in one of your veins, usually in your arm or hand. If your nurse does not place the IV, your anesthesiologist (A-nes-THEE-zee-AH-loh-jist) 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 if you’ve had any problems with anesthesia in the past. This includes nausea (feeling like you’re going to throw up) 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 questions you have about anesthesia.

Get ready for surgery

When it’s time for your surgery, you’ll take off your eyeglasses, hearing aids, dentures, prosthetic devices, wig, and religious articles.

You’ll either walk into the operating room or a staff member will bring you there on a stretcher. A member of the operating room team will help you onto the operating bed. They’ll put compression boots 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, your care team will place a breathing tube through your mouth into your airway. It will help you breathe. They’ll also place a urinary (Foley) catheter in your bladder. It will drain your urine (pee) during your surgery.

Once they finish your surgery, your surgeon will close your incisions with staples or stitches. They’ll cover your incisions with a bandage.

Your breathing tube is usually taken out while you’re still in the operating room.

Recovering after your surgery

This section will help you know what to expect after your surgery. You’ll learn how to safely recover from your surgery both in the hospital and at home.

As you read this section, write down questions to ask your healthcare provider.

In the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU)

You’ll be in the PACU when you wake up after your surgery. A nurse will be keeping track of your temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and oxygen levels. You may get oxygen through a tube resting below your nose or a mask over your nose and mouth. You’ll also have compression boots on your lower legs.

Pain Medication

You’ll get IV pain medication while you’re in the PACU.

  • 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 Patient-Controlled Analgesia (PCA).

Tubes and Drains

You’ll have a Foley catheter in your bladder to keep track of how much urine you’re making. For most people, it’s removed 3 to 4 days after surgery.

Moving to Your Hospital Room

You may stay in the PACU for a few hours. How long you stay depends on the type of surgery you had. After your stay in the PACU, a staff member will bring you to your hospital room. 

In Your Hospital Room

The length of time you’re in the hospital after your surgery depends on your recovery. Most people stay in the hospital for 7 days.

In your hospital room, you’ll meet one of the nurses who will care for you during your stay. Soon after you get there, a nurse will help you out of bed and into your chair.

Your healthcare providers will teach you how to care for yourself while you’re healing from your surgery.

Managing Your Pain

You’ll have some pain after your surgery. At first, you’ll get your pain medication through your 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 is not 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 can help you recover faster.

You’ll get a prescription for pain medication before you leave the hospital. Talk with your healthcare provider about possible side effects. Ask them 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.

Read Frequently Asked Questions About Walking After Your Surgery to learn more about how walking after surgery can help you recover.

Read Call! Don't Fall!to learn what you can do to stay safe and keep from falling while you’re in the hospital.

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. You can find it in the “Educational Resources” section of this guide.
  • Do coughing and deep breathing exercises. A member of your care team will teach you how.

Eating and Drinking

You won’t be able to eat anything for 2 to 3 days after your surgery. After 2 to 3 days, you’ll start taking sips of water and progress to clear liquids. You’ll then start a 5-gram low-fat diet.

If you have questions about your diet, ask to see a clinical dietitian nutritionist.

Showering

You can shower daily once your doctor says it’s OK. Taking a warm shower is relaxing and can help ease muscle aches.

If you have a bandage over your incision, you can remove it before you shower. Use soap when you shower and gently wash your incision. Pat the areas dry with a towel after showering. Leave your incision uncovered unless there is drainage. Call your doctor if you see any redness or drainage from your incision.

Do not take tub baths until you discuss it with your doctor at the first appointment after your surgery.  

Planning for Discharge

Your first appointment after surgery will be 3 to 4 weeks after your surgery. Your nurse will give you instructions on how to make this appointment, including the phone number to call.

During this appointment, your doctor will discuss your pathology results with you in detail.

Leaving the Hospital

Before you leave, look at your incision with one of your healthcare providers. Knowing what it looks like will help you notice any changes later.

On the day of your discharge, plan to leave the hospital around 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 them with you before you leave.

If your ride is not at the hospital when you’re ready to leave, you may be able to wait in the Patient Transition Lounge. A member of your care team will give you more information.

At Home

Read What You Can Do to Avoid Fallingto learn what you can do to keep from falling at home and during your appointments at MSK.

Filling Out Your Recovery Tracker

We want to know how you’re feeling after you leave the hospital. To help us care for you, we’ll send questions to your MyMSK account. We’ll send them every day for 10 days after you’re discharged. These questions are known as your Recovery Tracker.

Fill out your Recovery Tracker every day before midnight (12 a.m.). It only takes 2 to 3 minutes to complete. Your answers to these questions will help us understand how you’re feeling and what you need.

Based on your answers, we may reach out to you for more information. Sometimes, we may ask you to call your surgeon’s office. You can always contact your surgeon’s office if you have any questions.

To learn more, read About Your Recovery Tracker.

Managing Your Pain

People have pain or discomfort for different lengths of time. You may still have some pain when you go home and may need to take pain medication. Some people have soreness, tightness, or muscle aches around their incision for 6 months or longer. This does not mean something is wrong.

Follow these guidelines to help manage your pain at home.

  • Take your medicine(s) as directed and as needed.
  • Call your healthcare provider if the medicine prescribed for you does not help your pain.
  • Do not drive or drink alcohol while you’re taking prescription pain medicine. Some prescription pain medicines can make you drowsy (very sleepy). Alcohol can make the drowsiness worse.
  • You’ll have less pain and need less pain medicine as your incision heals. An over-the-counter pain reliever will help with aches and discomfort. Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and ibuprofen (Advil® or Motrin®) are examples of over-the-counter pain relievers.
    • Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for stopping your prescription pain medicine.
    • Do not take too much of any medicine. Follow the instructions on the label or from your healthcare provider.
    • Read the labels on all the medicines you’re taking. This is very important if you’re taking acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is an ingredient in many over-the-counter and prescription medicines. Taking too much can harm your liver. Do not take more than one medicine that has acetaminophen without talking with a member of your care team.
  • Pain medicine should help you get back to your usual activities. Take enough to do your activities and exercises comfortably. You may have a little more pain as you start to be more active.
  • Keep track of when you take your pain medicine. 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. Constipation is when you poop less often than usual, have a harder time pooping, or both.

Preventing and Managing Constipation

Talk with your healthcare provider about how to prevent and manage constipation. You can also follow these guidelines.

  • 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, do not put it off.
  • Try to use the bathroom 5 to 15 minutes after meals. After breakfast is a good time to go. That’s when the reflexes in your colon are strongest.
  • Exercise, if you can. Walking is an excellent form of exercise.
  • Drink 8 to 10 (8-ounce) cups (2 liters) of liquids daily, if you can. Choose water, juices (such as prune juice), soups, and milkshakes. Avoid liquids with caffeine, such as coffee and soda. Caffeine can pull fluid out of your body.
  • Slowly increase the fiber in your diet to 25 to 35 grams a day. Unpeeled fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and cereals contain fiber. If you have an ostomy or recently had bowel surgery, ask your healthcare provider before changing your diet.
  • Both over-the-counter and prescription medications can treat constipation. Ask your healthcare provider before taking any medications for constipation. This is very important if you have an ostomy or have had bowel surgery. Follow the instructions on the label or from your healthcare provider. Examples of over-the-counter medications for constipation are:
    • Docusate sodium (Colace®). This is a stool softener (medication that makes your bowel movements softer) that causes few side effects. You can use it to help prevent constipation. Do not take it with mineral oil.

Don’t take any over-the-counter laxatives (medications that cause bowel movements). If any of these medications cause diarrhea (loose, watery bowel movements), stop taking them. You can start again if needed.

If you haven’t had a bowel movement in 2 days, call your healthcare provider.

Caring for Your Incision

Take a shower every day to clean your incision. Follow the instructions in the “Showering” section.

It’s common for the skin below your incision to feel numb. This happens because some of your nerves were cut during your surgery. The numbness will go away over time.

Call your healthcare provider’s office if:

  • The skin around your incision is very red or getting more red.
  • The skin around your incision is warmer than usual.
  • The area around your incision is starting to swell or getting more swollen.
  • You see drainage that looks like pus (thick and milky).
  • Your incision smells bad.

If you go home with staples in your incision, your healthcare provider will take them out during your first appointment after surgery. It’s OK to get them wet.

If you have Steri-Strips or Dermabond on your incision, they’ll loosen and fall or peel off on their own. If they have not fallen off after 10 days, you can take them off.

Showering

Take a shower every day to clean your incision. If you have staples or stitches in your incision, it’s OK to get them wet.

Take your bandage(s) off before you shower. Use soap during your shower, but do not put it directly on your incision. Do not rub the area around your incision.

After you shower, pat the area dry with a clean towel. Leave your incision uncovered, unless there’s drainage. Call your healthcare provider if you see any redness or drainage from your incision.

Do not take tub baths until you talk with your healthcare provider at the first appointment after your surgery. 

Eating and Drinking

Eating a balanced diet with lots of calories and protein will help you heal after surgery. Try to eat a good protein source (such as meat, fish, or eggs) at each meal. You should also try to eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Follow a low-fat diet for 2 weeks after your surgery. After that, you can slowly increase the amount of fat in your diet to an amount that you can tolerate. For more information, read Minimal-Fat Diet. You can find it in the “Educational Resources” section of this guide.

Do not eat nuts, corn, or popcorn for 1 year after surgery, because these foods are hard to digest.

You’ll also need to avoid all laxatives.

It’s also important to drink plenty of liquids. Choose liquids without alcohol or caffeine. Try to drink 8 to 10 (8-ounce) cups of liquids every day.  

Do not drink alcohol while you’re taking pain medications.

If you have questions about your diet, ask to see a clinical dietitian nutritionist.

Physical Activity and Exercise

When you leave the hospital, your incision may look like it’s healed on the outside. It will not be healed on the inside. For the first 12 weeks after your surgery:

  • Do not lift anything heavier than 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms).
  • Do not do any high-energy activities, such as jogging and tennis.
  • Do not play any contact sports, such as football.

Doing aerobic exercise, such as walking and stair climbing, will help you gain strength and feel better. Walk at least 2 to 3 times a day for 20 to 30 minutes. You can walk outside or indoors at your local mall or shopping center.

It’s common to have less energy than usual after surgery. Feeling tired (fatigue) is common after surgery, and may last for 6 to 8 weeks. Increase your activities each day as much as you can. Always balance activity periods with rest periods. Rest is an important part of your recovery.

Driving

Ask your healthcare provider when you can drive. Most people can start driving again 1 month after surgery. Do not drive while you’re taking pain medication that may make you drowsy.

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. They’ll tell you when it may be safe for you to start working again based on what you do. If you move around a lot or lift heavy objects, you may need to stay out a little longer. If you sit at a desk, you may be able to go back sooner.

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. Your healthcare provider can refer you to MSK’s Counseling Center. You can also reach them by calling 646-888-0200.

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. We’re here to help you and your family and friends handle the emotional aspects of your illness. This is true whether you’re in the hospital or at home.

Contact Information

Monday through Friday from to , call your healthcare provider’s office.

After , during the weekend, and on holidays, call 212-639-2000. Ask to talk with to the person on call for your healthcare provider.

Using MyMSK

MyMSK (my.mskcc.org) is your MSK patient portal. You can use it to send and read messages from your care team, view your test results, see your appointment dates and times, and more. You can also invite your caregiver to make their own account so they can see information about your care.

If you do not have a MyMSK account, you can sign up at my.mskcc.org. You can get an enrollment ID by calling 646-227-2593 or your doctor’s office.

Watch How to Enroll in MyMSK: Memorial Sloan Kettering's Patient Portal to learn more. You can also contact the MyMSK Help Desk by emailing [email protected] or calling 800-248-0593.

When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider

Call your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever of 100.5 °F (38 °C) or higher.
  • You have chills.
  • You have nausea or vomiting.
  • You have diarrhea or constipation.  
  • You have any new swelling in your legs.
  • You’re having trouble breathing.
  • The skin around your incision is very red or getting more red.
  • The skin around your incision is warmer than usual.
  • The area around your incision is starting to swell or getting more swollen.
  • You see drainage that looks like pus (thick and milky).
  • Your incision smells bad.
  • You have any questions or concerns.

Support services

This section has a list of support services. They may help you as you get ready for your surgery and recover after your surgery.

As you read this section, write down questions to ask your healthcare provider.

MSK support services

Admitting Office
212-639-7606
Call if you have questions about your hospital admission, such as asking for a private room.

Anesthesia
212-639-6840
Call if you have questions about anesthesia.

Blood Donor Room
212-639-7643
Call for information if you’re interested in donating blood or platelets.

Bobst International Center
332-699-7968
We welcome patients from around the world and offer many services to help. If you’re an international patient, call for help arranging your care.

Counseling Center
www.msk.org/counseling
646-888-0200
Many people find that counseling helps them. Our Counseling Center offers counseling for individuals, couples, families, and groups. We can also prescribe medicine to help if you feel anxious or depressed. Ask a member of your care team for a referral or call the number above to make an appointment.

Food Pantry Program
646-888-8055
We give food to people in need during their cancer treatment. Talk with a member of your care team or call the number above to learn more.

Integrative Medicine Service
www.msk.org/integrativemedicine
Our Integrative Medicine Service offers many services to complement (go along with) traditional medical care. For example, we offer music therapy, mind/body therapies, dance and movement therapy, yoga, and touch therapy. Call 646-449-1010 to make an appointment for these services.

You can also schedule a consultation with a healthcare provider in the Integrative Medicine Service. They’ll work with you to make a plan for creating a healthy lifestyle and managing side effects. Call 646-608-8550 to make an appointment for a consultation.

MSK Library
library.mskcc.org
212-639-7439
You can visit our library website or call to talk with the library reference staff. They can help you find more information about a type of cancer. You can also visit the library’s Patient and Health Care Consumer Education Guide.

Nutrition Services
www.msk.org/nutrition
212-639-7312
Our Nutrition Service offers nutritional counseling with one of our clinical dietitian nutritionists. Your clinical dietitian nutritionist will talk with you about your eating habits. They can also give advice on what to eat during and after treatment. Ask a member of your care team for a referral or call the number above to make an appointment.

Patient and Community Education
www.msk.org/pe
Visit our patient and community education website to search for educational resources, videos, and online programs.

Patient Billing
646-227-3378
Call if you have questions about preauthorization with your insurance company. This is also called preapproval.

Patient Representative Office
212-639-7202
Call if you have questions about the Health Care Proxy form or concerns about your care.

Perioperative Nurse Liaison
212-639-5935
Call if you have questions about MSK releasing any information while you’re having surgery.

Private Duty Nurses and Companions
917-862-6373
You can request private nurses or companions to care for you in the hospital and at home. Call to learn more.

Rehabilitation Services 
www.msk.org/rehabilitation 
Cancers and cancer treatments can make your body feel weak, stiff, or tight. Some can cause lymphedema (swelling). Our physiatrists (rehabilitation medicine doctors), occupational therapists (OTs), and physical therapists (PTs) can help you get back to your usual activities.

  • Rehabilitation medicine doctors diagnose and treat problems that affect how you move and do activities. They can design and help coordinate your rehabilitation therapy program, either at MSK or somewhere closer to home. Call Rehabilitation Medicine (Physiatry) at 646-888-1929 to learn more.
  • An OT can help if you’re having trouble doing usual daily activities. For example, they can recommend tools to help make daily tasks easier. A PT can teach you exercises to help build strength and flexibility. Call Rehabilitation Therapy at 646-888-1900 to learn more.

Resources for Life After Cancer (RLAC) Program
646-888-8106
At MSK, care does not end after your treatment. The RLAC Program is for patients and their families who have finished treatment.

This program has many services. We offer seminars, workshops, support groups, and counseling on life after treatment. We can also help with insurance and employment issues.

Sexual Health Programs
Cancer and cancer treatments can affect your sexual health, fertility, or both. MSK’s sexual health programs can help you before, during, or after your treatment.

Social Work
www.msk.org/socialwork
212-639-7020
Social workers help patients, families, and friends deal with common issues for people who have cancer. They provide individual counseling and support groups throughout your treatment. They can help you communicate with children and other family members.

Our social workers can also help refer you to community agencies and programs. If you’re having trouble paying your bills, they also have information about financial resources. Call the number above to learn more.

Spiritual Care
212-639-5982
Our chaplains (spiritual counselors) are available to listen, help support family members, and pray. They can contact community clergy or faith groups, or simply be a comforting companion and a spiritual presence. Anyone can ask for spiritual support. You do not have to have a religious affiliation (connection to a religion).

MSK’s interfaith chapel is located near Memorial Hospital’s main lobby. It’s open 24 hours a day. If you have an emergency, call 212-639-2000. Ask for the chaplain on call.

Tobacco Treatment Program
www.msk.org/tobacco
212-610-0507
If you want to quit smoking, MSK has specialists who can help. Call to learn more.

Virtual Programs
www.msk.org/vp
We offer online education and support for patients and caregivers. These are live sessions where you can talk or just listen. You can learn about your diagnosis, what to expect during treatment, and how to prepare for your cancer care.

Sessions are private, free, and led by experts. Visit our website to learn more about Virtual Programs or to register.

External support services

Access-A-Ride
web.mta.info/nyct/paratran/guide.htm
877-337-2017
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.

Air Charity Network
www.aircharitynetwork.org
877-621-7177
Provides travel to treatment centers.

American Cancer Society (ACS)
www.cancer.org
800-ACS-2345 (800-227-2345)
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
www.cancerandcareers.org
646-929-8032
A resource for education, tools, and events for employees with cancer.

CancerCare
www.cancercare.org
800-813-4673
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
www.cancersupportcommunity.org
Provides support and education to people affected by cancer.

Caregiver Action Network
www.caregiveraction.org
800-896-3650
Provides education and support for people who care for loved ones with a chronic illness or disability.

Corporate Angel Network
www.corpangelnetwork.org
866-328-1313
Offers free travel to treatment across the country using empty seats on corporate jets.

Good Days
www.mygooddays.org
877-968-7233
Offers financial assistance to pay for copayments during treatment. Patients must have medical insurance, meet the income criteria, and be prescribed medicine that’s part of the Good Days formulary.

HealthWell Foundation
www.healthwellfoundation.org
800-675-8416
Provides financial assistance to cover copayments, health care premiums, and deductibles for certain medicines and therapies.

Joe’s House
www.joeshouse.org
877-563-7468
Provides a list of places to stay near treatment centers for people with cancer and their families.

LGBT Cancer Project
www.lgbtcancer.com
Provides support and advocacy for the LGBT community, including online support groups and a database of LGBT-friendly clinical trials.

LIVESTRONG Fertility
www.livestrong.org/we-can-help/fertility-services
855-744-7777
Provides reproductive information and support to cancer patients and survivors whose medical treatments have risks associated with infertility.

Look Good Feel Better Program
www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org
800-395-LOOK (800-395-5665)
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 Institute
www.cancer.gov
800-4-CANCER (800-422-6237)

National LGBT Cancer Network
www.cancer-network.org
Provides education, training, and advocacy for LGBT cancer survivors and those at risk.

Needy Meds
www.needymeds.org
Lists Patient Assistance Programs for brand and generic name medicines.

NYRx
www.health.ny.gov/health_care/medicaid/program/pharmacy.htm
Provides prescription benefits to eligible employees and retirees of public sector employers in New York State.

Patient Access Network (PAN) Foundation
www.panfoundation.org
866-316-7263
Gives help with copayments for patients with insurance.

Patient Advocate Foundation
www.patientadvocate.org
800-532-5274
Provides access to care, financial assistance, insurance assistance, job retention assistance, and access to the national underinsured resource directory.

Professional Prescription Advice
www.pparx.org
888-477-2669
Helps qualifying patients without prescription drug coverage get free or low-cost medicines.

Red Door Community (formerly known as Gilda’s Club)
www.reddoorcommunity.org
212-647-9700
A place where people living with cancer find social and emotional support through networking, workshops, lectures, and social activities.

RxHope
www.rxhope.com
877-267-0517
Provides assistance to help people get medicines they have trouble affording.

Triage Cancer
www.triagecancer.org
Provides legal, medical, and financial information and resources for cancer patients and their caregivers.

Educational resources

This section lists the educational resources mentioned in this guide. They will help you get ready for your surgery and recover after your surgery.

As you read these resources, write down questions to ask your healthcare provider.

Last Updated

Friday, February 2, 2024

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