About Your Total Abdominal Hysterectomy and Other Gynecologic Surgeries

About Your Surgery

This guide will help you prepare for your total abdominal hysterectomy and other gynecologic surgeries 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

In a total abdominal hysterectomy, your uterus and cervix will be removed. You may be having a hysterectomy because you have uterine, cervical, or ovarian cancer, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, heavy vaginal bleeding, or pelvic pain. Your doctor will explain why you’re having the surgery.

About Your Reproductive System

Your reproductive system includes your ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, and vagina (see Figure 1). Your uterus is located in your lower abdomen (belly) between your bladder and rectum. The lower narrow end of the uterus is called the cervix. Your ovaries and fallopian tubes are attached to your uterus.

Figure 1. Your uterus

After your hysterectomy, you will not be able to have children naturally. Menstruation will also stop. A hysterectomy doesn’t cause menopause unless your ovaries are removed. If you have questions about preserving your fertility, ask your doctor for a referral to a fertility specialist.

About Your Gynecologic Surgery

There are different types of surgeries, depending on what your doctor is treating. You may have a combination of surgeries at the same time. Your doctor will talk with you about the gynecologic surgery you’re having.

Total abdominal hysterectomy

Your surgeon will make an incision (surgical cut) on your abdomen (belly). They will remove your uterus and cervix through the incision and close up the incision with sutures (stitches).

Your surgeon may also perform 1, 2 or all 3 of the procedures listed below. If so, this is done at the same time as your hysterectomy.

Salpingo-Oophorectomy

Depending on your surgery, 1 or both of your ovaries and fallopian tubes may be removed. This is called a salpingo-oophorectomy.

If both ovaries are removed, you will go into menopause, if you haven’t already. If you’re in menopause or have already gone through it, you shouldn’t notice any changes. If you haven’t started menopause, you may experience common symptoms, including night sweats, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness. Speak with your doctor about ways to manage these symptoms.

Sentinel Lymph Node Mapping and Lymph Node Dissection

Lymph nodes are small, bean-like structures that are found throughout your body. They make and store the cells that help fight infections. Sentinel lymph nodes are the lymph nodes that are most likely to be affected if you have cancer and it has spread.

If your surgeon suspects that you may have cancer, they may do sentinel lymph node mapping and remove some of your lymph nodes, which is called a lymph node dissection. You will get anesthesia (medication to make you sleep) before these procedures.

For sentinel lymph node mapping, your surgeon will inject a small amount of dye in the area where the cancer may be. Your surgeon will discuss with you the type of dye that they will use. This dye travels to the sentinel nodes and turns them blue or green. Once the sentinel node(s) are located, your surgeon will make a small incision. They will remove the sentinel node(s) (the nodes that have turned blue or green) and the nodes will be examined to see if they contain cancer cells.

Colon Resection

Colon resection is a surgery that is done to treat your cancer or to resect (remove) a mass near your colon. The part of your colon containing the cancer is removed. The healthy ends of your colon are then sewn back together. Your surgeon will explain which part of your colon will be removed (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Parts of the colon
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Before Your Surgery

The information in this section will help you prepare for your surgery. Read through this section when your surgery is scheduled and refer to it as your surgery date gets closer. It contains important information about what you need to do before your surgery. Write down any questions you have and be sure to ask your doctor or nurse.

Preparing for Your Surgery

You and your healthcare team will work together to prepare 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 (Coumadin®), clopidogrel (Plavix®), enoxaparin (Lovenox®), dabigatran (Pradaxa®), apixaban (Eliquis®), and rivaroxaban (Xarelto®). There are others, so be sure your doctor knows all the medications you’re taking.
  • I take prescription medications, including patches and creams.
  • I take any over-the-counter medications, 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 am allergic to certain medication(s) or materials, including latex.
  • I am 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 that you talk with your healthcare providers about your alcohol intake so that we can plan your care.

  • Stopping alcohol suddenly can cause seizures, delirium, and death. If we know you’re at risk for these complications, we can prescribe medication to help prevent them.
  • If you use alcohol regularly, you may be at risk for other complications during and after surgery. These include bleeding, infections, heart problems, and a longer hospital stay.

Here are things you can do to prevent problems before your surgery:

  • Be honest with your healthcare provider about how much alcohol you drink.
  • Try to stop drinking alcohol once your surgery is planned. If you develop a headache, nausea, increased anxiety, or can’t sleep after you stop drinking, tell your doctor right away. These are early signs of alcohol withdrawal and can be treated.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you can’t stop drinking.
  • Ask us any questions you have about drinking and surgery. As always, all of your medical information will be kept confidential.

About Smoking

People who smoke can have breathing problems when they have surgery. Stopping even for a few days before surgery can help. If you smoke, your nurse will refer you to our Tobacco Treatment Program. You can also reach the program at 212-610-0507.

About Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a common breathing disorder that causes a person to stop breathing for short periods of time while sleeping. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). With OSA, the airway becomes completely blocked during sleep. It 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 machine (such as a CPAP) 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 doctor or nurse at your next appointment, or you can call your doctor’s office.
  • Exercise and eat 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. Your nurse will give you a pathway with goals for your recovery. It will help you know what to do and expect on each day during your recovery.
  • Start eating and moving around as soon as you can. The sooner you’re able to eat, get out of bed, and walk, the quicker you will be able to get back to your normal activities.

Within 30 Days of Your Surgery

Presurgical Testing (PST)

Before your surgery, you will 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 will meet with a nurse practitioner (NP) who works closely with anesthesiology staff (doctors and specialized nurses who will give you medication to put you to sleep during your surgery). Your NP will review your medical and surgical history with you. You will have tests, including an electrocardiogram (EKG) to check your heart rhythm, a chest x-ray, blood tests, and any other tests necessary to plan your care. Your NP may also recommend 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 if you bring the following with you to your PST appointment:

  • A list of all the medications you are taking, including 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 doctor(s).

Complete a Health Care Proxy Form

If you haven’t already completed a Health Care Proxy form, we recommend you complete one now. A health care proxy is a legal document that identifies the person who will speak for you if you’re unable to communicate for yourself. The person you identify is called your health care agent.

If you’re interested in completing a Health Care Proxy form, talk with your nurse. If you have completed one already, or if you have any other advance directive, bring it with you to your next appointment.

Do Breathing and Coughing Exercises

Practice taking deep breaths and coughing before your surgery. You will be given an incentive spirometer to help expand your lungs. For more information, read How to Use Your Incentive Spirometer.If you have any questions, ask your nurse or respiratory therapist.

Exercise

Try to do aerobic exercise every day, such as walking at least 1 mile (1.6 kilometers), swimming, or biking. If it’s cold outside, use stairs in your home or go to a mall or shopping market. Exercising will help your body get into its best condition for your surgery and make your recovery faster and easier.

Eat a Healthy Diet

You should eat a well-balanced, healthy diet before your surgery. If you need help with your diet talk with your doctor or nurse about meeting with a dietitian.

10 Days Before Your Surgery

Stop Taking Vitamin E

If you take vitamin E, stop taking it 10 days before your surgery, because it can cause bleeding. For more information, read Common Medications Containing Aspirin and Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs).

Hibiclens skin cleanser

Purchase Hibiclens® Skin Cleanser

Hibiclens is a skin cleanser that kills germs for 24 hours after using it (see Figure 3). Showering with Hibiclens before surgery will help reduce your risk of infection after surgery. You can buy Hibiclens at your local pharmacy without a prescription.

Purchase Supplies for Your Bowel Preparation, if Needed

Your surgeon may instruct you to clean out your bowels before your surgery. Your nurse will tell you how. You will need to purchase the following supplies for your bowel preparation at your local pharmacy. You don’t need a prescription.

  • 1 (238-gram) bottle of polyethylene glycol (MiraLAX®)
  • 1 (64-ounce) bottle of a clear liquid

This is also a good time to stock up on clear liquids to drink the day before your surgery, if you need to. For a list of clear liquids that you can drink, see the table in this section.

7 Days Before Your Surgery

Stop Taking Certain Medications

If you take aspirin, ask your surgeon if you should continue. Aspirin and medications that contain aspirin can cause bleeding. For more information, read Common Medications Containing Aspirin and Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs).

Stop Taking Herbal Remedies

Stop taking herbal remedies or supplements 7 days before your surgery. If you take a multivitamin, talk with your doctor or nurse about whether you should continue. For more information, read Herbal Remedies and Cancer Treatment.

Watch a Virtual Tour

This video will give you an idea of what to expect when you come to Memorial Sloan Kettering’s main hospital on the day of your surgery.

2 Days Before Your Surgery

Stop Taking Certain Medications

Stop taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) and naproxen (Aleve®). These medications can cause bleeding. For more information, read Common Medications Containing Aspirin and Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs).

1 Day Before Your Surgery

Note the Time of Your Surgery

A clerk from the Admitting Office will call you after 2:00 pm the day before your surgery. The clerk will tell you what time you should arrive at the hospital for your surgery. If you’re scheduled for surgery on a Monday, you will be called on Friday. If you don’t receive a call by 7:00 pm, please call 212-639-5014.

MSK Presurgical Center (PSC)
1275 York Avenue (between East 67th and East 68th Streets)
New York, NY
B elevator to 6th floor

Follow a Clear Liquid Diet, if Needed

You may need to follow a clear liquid diet the day before your surgery. A clear liquid diet includes only liquids you can see through. Examples are listed in the table below.

While you’re on this diet:

  • Don’t eat any solid foods.
  • Make sure to drink plenty of liquids other than water, coffee, and tea. Try to drink at least 1 (8-ounce) glass of clear liquid every hour while you’re awake.
Clear Liquid Diet

 

Drink

Do Not Drink

Soups

  • Clear broth, bouillon
  • Clear consommé
  • Packaged vegetable, chicken, or beef broth mixes

Any products with any particles of dried food or seasoning

Sweets and

Desserts

  • Gelatin, such as Jell- O®
  • Flavored ices
  • Hard candies such as Lifesavers®

All others

Beverages

  • Clear fruit juices, such as white cranberry, grape, apple
  • Soda, such as 7-Up®, Sprite®, Coke®, Diet Coke®, ginger ale, seltzer
  • Gatorade®
  • Black coffee
  • Tea
  • Water
  • Juices with pulp
  • Nectars
  • Milk or cream
  • Alcoholic beverages

Start Bowel Preparation, if Needed

You may also need to do a bowel preparation in order to empty your bowels before surgery. If you need to do this, your nurse will tell you.

On the morning before your surgery, mix all 238 grams of MiraLAX with the 64 ounces of clear liquid until the MiraLAX powder dissolves. Once the MiraLAX is dissolved, you can put the mixture in the refrigerator, if you prefer.

The MiraLAX will cause frequent bowel movements, so be sure to be near a bathroom the evening before your surgery or procedure.

At 5:00 pm on the day before your surgery, start drinking the MiraLAX bowel preparation. Drink 1 (8-ounce) glass of the mixture every 15 minutes until the container is empty. When you’re finished drinking the MiraLAX, drink 4 to 6 glasses of clear liquids. You can continue to drink clear liquids until midnight, but it is not required.

Apply zinc oxide ointment (Desitin®) to the skin around your anus after every bowel movement. This helps prevent irritation.

At 7:00 pm on the day before your surgery, take your antibiotics as instructed.

At 10:00 pm on the day before your surgery, take your antibiotics as instructed.

Shower With Hibiclens

The night before your surgery, shower using Hibiclens. To use Hibiclens, open the bottle and pour some solution into your hand or a washcloth. Move away from the shower stream to avoid rinsing off the Hibiclens too soon. Rub it gently over your body from your neck to your waist and rinse.

Don’t let the solution get into your eyes, ears, mouth, or genital area. Don’t use any other soap. Dry yourself off with a clean towel after your shower.

Sleep

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

Do not eat or drink after midnight

 

The Morning of Your Surgery

Shower With Hibiclens

Shower using Hibiclens just before you leave for the hospital. Use the Hibiclens the same way you did the night before.

Don’t use any other soap. Don’t put on any lotion, cream, powder, deodorant, makeup, or perfume after your shower.

Take Your Medications as Instructed

If your doctor or NP instructed 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 and the surgery you’re having, this may be all, some, or none of your usual morning medications.

Two hours before your scheduled arrival time, drink the Clearfast® carbohydrate drink your doctor or nurse gave you. After you finish the Clearfast, do not eat or drink anything else. This includes water, hard candy, and gum.

Things to Remember

  • Don’t put on any lotion, cream, deodorant, makeup, powder, or perfume.
  • 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.
  • Leave valuables, such as credit cards, jewelry, or your checkbook at home.
  • Before you’re taken into the operating room, you will need to remove your hearing aids, dentures, prosthetic device(s), wig, and religious articles.
  • Wear something comfortable and loose-fitting.
  • If you wear contact lenses, wear your glasses instead.

What to Bring

  • Your breathing machine for sleep apnea (such as your CPAP), if you have one.
  • Your portable music player, if you choose. However, someone will need to hold it for you when you go into surgery.
  • Your incentive spirometer, if you have one.
  • Your Health Care Proxy Form, if you have completed one.
  • A case for your personal items, such as eyeglasses, hearing aid(s), dentures, prosthetic device(s), wig, and religious articles, if you have it.
  • This guide. Your healthcare team will use this guide to teach you how to care for yourself after your surgery.

Parking When You Arrive

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 is a pedestrian 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.

You will be asked to state and spell your name and date of birth many times. This is for your safety. People with the same or similar names may be having surgery on the same day.

Once You’re in the Hospital

Get Dressed for Surgery

When it’s time to change for surgery, you will get a hospital gown, robe, and nonskid socks to wear.

Meet With Your Nurse

You will meet with your nurse before surgery. Tell your nurse the dose of any medications (including patches and creams) you took after midnight and the time you took them.

Your nurse may place an intravenous (IV) line into one of your veins, usually in your arm or hand. If your nurse doesn’t place the IV, your anesthesiologist will do it later once you’re in the operating room.

Meet With Your Anesthesiologist

Your anesthesiologist will:

  • Review your medical history with you.
  • Talk with you about your comfort and safety during your surgery.
  • Talk with you about the kind of anesthesia you will receive.
  • Answer any questions you may have about your anesthesia.
Prepare For Your Surgery

Once your nurse has seen you, 1 or 2 visitors can keep you company as you wait for your surgery to begin. When it’s time for your surgery, your visitor(s) will be shown to the waiting area. Your visitors should read Information for Family and Friends for the Day of Surgery.

You will 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 circulation in your legs.

Once you’re comfortable, your anesthesiologist will give you anesthesia through your IV line and you will fall asleep. You will also get fluids through your IV line during and after your surgery.

After you’re fully asleep, a breathing tube will be placed through your mouth and into your windpipe to help you breathe. You will also have a urinary catheter (Foley®) placed to drain urine from your bladder.

Once your surgery is finished, your incision will be closed with staples or with sutures. Steri-StripsTM (thin pieces of tape) will be placed directly on your incision and covered with a bandage. Your breathing tube is usually taken out while you’re still in the operating room.

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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 will learn how to safely recover from your surgery. Write down any questions you have and be sure to ask your doctor or nurse.

What to Expect

When you wake up after your surgery, you will be in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU). 

You will receive oxygen through a thin tube that rests below your nose called a nasal cannula. A nurse will be monitoring your body temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and oxygen levels.

You may have a urinary catheter in your bladder to help monitor the amount of urine you’re making. It should come out before you leave the hospital or PACU. You will also have compression boots on your lower legs to help your circulation.

You may also have a drain in your abdomen (belly). It allows fluid in the abdomen to drain.

Your pain medication will be given through an IV line or as a pill that you swallow. If you’re having pain, tell your nurse.

Your visitors can see you briefly in the PACU, usually within 90 minutes after you arrive there. A member of the nursing staff will explain the guidelines to them.

After your stay in the PACU, you may be discharged or you may be taken to your hospital room in the inpatient unit. There, your nurse will tell you how to recover from your surgery. Below are examples of ways you can help yourself recover safely.

  • You will be encouraged to walk with the help of your nurse or physical therapist. We will give you medication to relieve pain. Walking helps reduce the risk for blood clots and pneumonia. It also helps to stimulate your bowels so they begin working again.
  • Use your incentive spirometer. This will help your lungs expand, which prevents pneumonia. For more information, read How to Use Your Incentive Spirometer.

Commonly Asked Questions: During Your Hospital Stay

Will I have pain after my surgery?

Yes, you will have some pain after your surgery, especially in the first few days. Your doctor and nurse will ask you about your pain often. You will be given medication to manage your pain as needed. If your pain is not relieved, please tell your doctor or nurse. It’s important to control your pain so you can cough, breathe deeply, use your incentive spirometer, and get out of bed and walk.

Will I be able to eat?

Most people will be able to eat a regular diet or eat as tolerated. You should start with foods that are soft and easy to digest such as apple sauce and chicken noodle soup. Eat small meals frequently, and then advance to regular foods.

If you experience bloating, gas, or cramps, limit high-fiber foods, including whole grain breads and cereal, nuts, seeds, salads, fresh fruit, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower.

If you also had a colon resection, you will get clear liquids for the first few days after your surgery. Then your diet will progress to solid food. Please see the question, “Will I need to change my diet after my surgery?” in this section for more information.

Your doctor will give you dietary guidelines to follow after your surgery. Your dietitian will go over these guidelines with you before you leave the hospital.

How long will I be in the hospital?

Depending on the type of surgery you have, you may stay in the hospital for 3 to 5 days. Before you go home, you should:

  • Have your pain under control with medication.
  • Be able to get up and walk around.
  • Be able to urinate and pass gas.
  • Be able to eat some food and liquids.

Commonly Asked Questions: At Home

Will I have pain when I am home?

The length of time each person has pain or discomfort varies. You may still have some pain when you go home and will probably be taking pain medication. Follow the guidelines below.

  • Take your medications as directed and as needed.
  • Call your doctor if the medication prescribed for you doesn’t relieve your pain.
  • Don’t drive or drink alcohol while you’re taking prescription pain medication.
  • As your incision heals, you will have less pain and need less pain medication. A mild pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®) will relieve aches and discomfort. However, large quantities of acetaminophen may be harmful to your liver. Don’t take more acetaminophen than the amount directed on the bottle or as instructed by your doctor or nurse.
  • Pain medication should help you as you resume your normal activities. Take enough medication to do your exercises comfortably. Pain medication is most effective 30 to 45 minutes after taking it.
  • Keep track of when you take your pain medication. Taking it when your pain first begins is more effective than waiting for the pain to get worse.

Pain medication may cause constipation (having fewer bowel movements than what is normal for you).

How do I care for my incision(s)?

Your incision(s) will be closed with sutures, staples, or surgical glue. If you have staples, they are usually removed 10 to 14 days after surgery. You will need to come back to the clinic to have them removed. This is done in your doctor’s office and is not painful.

Tape strips called Steri-Strips will be placed across your incision(s) to make sure it stays closed. After about 14 days, these will loosen and you can remove them. Your incision(s) will stay closed.

You should check your incision(s) every day for any signs of infection until your doctor tells you it has healed. Call your doctor if you develop any of the following signs of a wound infection:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Increased pain
  • Warmth at the incision site
  • Foul-smelling or puss-like drainage from your incision
  • A temperature of 101° F (38.3° C) or higher

To prevent infection, don’t let anyone touch your incision(s). Clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before you touch your incision(s).

When can I shower?

Shower with Hibiclens until your staples are removed. Gently wash your incision(s) with Hibiclens. If you have Steri-Strips or surgical glue on your incision(s), don’t scrub it or use a washcloth on it. This could irritate your incision(s) and prevent it from healing.

Don’t let your incision(s) be wet for too long when you shower. When you’re finished with your shower, gently pat your incision(s) with a clean towel. Allow it to air dry completely before getting dressed.

When your staples are removed, your doctor or nurse will tell if you can stop showering with Hibiclens. Continue to shower at least once day for 4 weeks after your surgery with a soap like Dove® or Ivory®.

Don’t take tub baths or go swimming until your doctor says it is okay.

What are the most common symptoms after a hysterectomy?

It’s common for you to have some vaginal spotting or light bleeding, which can occur for about 4 to 6 weeks after your surgery. You should monitor this with a pad or a panty liner. Don’t use tampons or place anything in your vagina for 8 weeks. If you’re having heavy bleeding, such as if you’re bleeding through a pad every 1 to 2 hours, call your doctor right away.

It’s also common to have some discomfort after surgery from the air that was pumped into your abdomen (belly) during surgery. To help with this, walk, drink plenty of liquids and make sure to take the stool softeners you received.

When can I resume sexual activity?

Don’t have vaginal intercourse for 8 weeks after your surgery. Some people will need to wait longer than 8 weeks, so speak with your doctor before resuming sexual intercourse.

How can I prevent constipation?

You may experience constipation (trouble passing stool) after your surgery. This is a common side effect of pain medication. Gentle activity, such as walking, and drinking more water can help reduce this side effect.

To avoid constipation, take a stool softener such as docusate sodium (Colace®) 3 times a day and 2 tablets of senna (a laxative) at bedtime. Continue taking the stool softener and laxative until you are no longer taking pain medication. Drink plenty of liquids. If you feel bloated, avoid foods that can cause gas, such as beans, broccoli, onions, cabbage, and cauliflower.

How will my bowel function change after surgery?

If part of your colon has been removed, the part that is left adapts to this change. Your remaining colon will begin to adapt shortly after your surgery. During this time, you may have the following symptoms:

  • Gas
  • Cramps
  • Changes in your bowel habits (such as frequent bowel movements)

If you have soreness around your anus from frequent bowel movements:

  • Apply zinc oxide ointment (Desitin®) to the skin around your anus. This helps prevent irritation.
  • Do not use harsh toilet tissue. You can use a nonalcohol wipe instead.
  • Take medication, if your doctor prescribes it.

Will I need to change my diet after my surgery?

Parts of the colon can be removed without having a major impact on your nutritional health. However, while your remaining colon is adjusting, your body may not absorb nutrients, liquids, vitamins, and minerals as well as before your surgery. It’s important that you drink plenty of liquids and make sure you are getting enough nutrients while you are recovering from your surgery.

When is it safe for me to drive?

Don’t drive until your surgeon tells you it’s okay. This will be some time after your first follow-up appointment after your surgery. If you’re still taking your prescribed pain medication, your surgeon may want you to wait longer before driving. The pain medication can slow your reflexes and responses, making it unsafe to drive. Also, braking requires use of the abdominal muscles, so driving may increase your discomfort.

Will I be able to travel?

Yes, you can travel. If you’re traveling by plane within a few weeks after your surgery, make sure you get up and walk every hour. Be sure to stretch your legs, drink plenty of liquids, and keep your feet elevated when possible.

What exercises can I do?

Exercise will help you gain strength and feel better. Walking is an excellent form of exercise. Gradually increase the distance you walk.

Don’t go running or jogging. Don’t do pilates or yoga. Ask your doctor or nurse before starting more strenuous exercises.

When can I lift heavy objects?

Check with your doctor before you do any heavy lifting. Normally, you shouldn’t lift anything heavier than 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) for at least 6 weeks after your surgery. Ask your doctor how long you should avoid heavy lifting.

When can I return to work?

The time it takes to return to work depends on the type of work you do, the type of surgery you had, and how fast your body heals. Most people can return to work about 4 to 6 weeks after the surgery.

How can I cope with my 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 nurse, doctor, and social worker can reassure, support, and guide you. It’s always a good idea to let these professionals know how you, your family, and your friends are feeling emotionally. Many resources are available to patients and their families. Whether you are in the hospital or at home, the nurses, doctors, and social workers are here to help you and your family and friends handle the emotional aspects of your illness.

When is my first appointment after surgery?

Your first appointment after surgery will be 2 to 4 weeks after surgery. Your nurse will give you instructions on how to make this appointment, including the phone number to call. At this appointment, your doctor will discuss your test results with you in detail.

What if I have other questions?

If you have any questions or concerns, please talk with your doctor or nurse. You can reach them Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

After 5:00 pm, during the weekend, and on holidays, call 212-639-2000 and ask for the doctor on call for your doctor.

Call you doctor or nurse if you:

  • Have a temperature of 101° F (38.3° C) or higher
  • Have pain that does not get better with pain medication
  • Have redness, drainage, or swelling from your incisions
  • Have heavy vaginal bleeding
  • Have swelling or tenderness in your calves or thighs
  • Cough up blood
  • Have any shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Do not have any bowel movement for 3 days or longer
  • Have nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Have any questions or concerns

After 5:00 pm, during the weekend, and on holidays, call 212-639-2000. Ask to speak to the doctor on call for your surgeon.

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Resources

This section includes a list of MSK support services, as well as the resources that were referred to throughout this guide. These resources will help you prepare for your surgery and recover safely. Write down any questions you have and be sure to ask your doctor or nurse.

MSK Resources

Anesthesia
212-639-6840

Call with any questions about anesthesia.

Blood Donor Room
212-639-7643

Call for more information if you are interested in donating blood or platelets.

Bobst International Center
888-675-7722

MSK welcomes patients from around the world. If you are an international patient, call for help arranging your care.

Chaplaincy Service
212-639-5982

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.

Counseling Center
646-888-0200

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.

Integrative Medicine Service
646-888-0800

Integrative Medicine Service offers patients many services to complement traditional medical care, including music therapy, mind/body therapies, dance and movement therapy, yoga, and touch therapy.

Look Good Feel Better Program
800-227-2345

Learn techniques to help you feel better about your appearance by taking a workshop or visiting the program online at www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org

Patient-to-Patient Support Program
212-639-5007

You may find it comforting to speak with a cancer survivor or caregiver who has been through a similar treatment. Through our Patient-to-Patient Support Program, we are able to offer you a chance to speak with former patients and caregivers.

Patient Billing
646-227-3378

Call Patient Billing with any questions regarding preauthorization with your insurance company. This is also called preapproval.

Patient Representative Office
212-639-7202

Call if you have any questions about the Health Care Proxy Form or if you have any concerns about your care.

Perioperative Nurse Liaison
212-639-5935

Call if you have any questions about MSK releasing any information while you are having surgery.

Private Duty Nursing Office
212-639-6892

You may request private nurses or companions. Call for more information.

Resources for Life After Cancer (RLAC) Program
646-888-8106

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.

Social Work
212-639-7020

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 referring you to community agencies and programs, as well as financial resources if you’re eligible.

Tobacco Treatment Program
212-610-0507

If you want to quit smoking, MSK has specialists who can help. Call for more information.

For additional online information, visit LIBGUIDES on MSK’s library website at http://library.mskcc.org.  You can also contact the library reference staff at 212-639-7439 for help.

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External Resources

Access-A-Ride
877-337-2017

In New York City, the MTA offers a shared ride, door-to-door service for people with disabilities who are unable to take the public bus or subway.

Air Charity Network
877-621-7177

Provides travel to treatment centers.

American Cancer Society (ACS)
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

A comprehensive resource for education, tools, and events for employees with cancer.

CancerCare
800-813-4673

Provides counseling, support groups, educational workshops, publications, and financial assistance.

275 Seventh Avenue (Between West 25th & West 26th Streets)

New York, NY 10001

Cancer Support Community

Provides support and education to people affected by cancer.

Caregiver Action Network
800-896-3650

Provides education and support for those who care for loved ones with a chronic illness or disability.

Corporate Angel Network
866-328-1313

Free travel to treatment across the country using empty seats on corporate jets.

fertileHOPE
855-220-7777

Provides reproductive information and support to cancer patients and survivors whose medical treatments have risks associated with infertility.

Gilda’s Club
212-647-9700

A place where men, women, and children living with cancer find social and emotional support through networking, workshops, lectures, and social activities.

Good Days
877-968-7233

Offers financial assistance to pay for copayments during treatment. Patients must have medical insurance,meet the income criteria, and be prescribed medication that is part of the Good Days formulary.

Healthwell Foundation
800-675-8416

Provides financial assistance to cover copayments, health care premiums, and deductibles for certain medications and therapies.

Joe’s House
877-563-7468

Provides a list of places to stay near treatment centers for people with cancer and their families.

LGBT Cancer Project

Provides support and advocacy for the LGBT community, including a online support groups and a database of LGBT friendly clinical trials.

National Cancer Institute

800-4-CANCER (800-422-6237)

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.

Needy Meds

Lists Patient Assistance Programs for brand and generic name medications.

NYRx

Provides prescription benefits to eligible employees and retirees of public sector employers in New York State.

Partnership for Prescription Assistance
888-477-2669

Helps qualifying patients without prescription drug coverage get free or low-cost medications.

Patient Access Network Foundation
866-316-7263

Provides assistance with copayments for patients with insurance.

Patient Advocate Foundation
800-532-5274

Provides access to care, financial assistance, insurance assistance, job retention assistance, and access to the national underinsured resource directory.

RxHope
877-267-0517

Provides assistance to help people obtain medications that they have trouble affording.

SHARE
866-891-2392

Offers support groups for survivors of breast, metastatic breast, and ovarian cancer in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.

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