How to make recovery from surgery more comfortable

How to make recovery from surgery more comfortable

If you need to undergo surgery for cancer treatment, being prepared in advance can make your recovery at home more comfortable. Brooke Latterell, ANP-BC, a nurse practitioner at Piedmont, discusses practical items to have when you get home, post-surgery nutrition, caregiver support, proper rest and physical activity, and when to call your doctor post-surgery.

Items to have at home after surgery

While your medical team will give you specific recovery instructions based on your individual circumstances, these items can be helpful to have when you return home from surgery:

  • A thermometer to monitor for fever

  • Comfortable, loose-fitting clothing, such as pajama pants with an elastic or drawstring waistband

  • Extra pillows for support

  • High-protein snacks and meals

  • Mild pain relievers or pre-filled prescribed pain medicine (follow your doctor's recommendations)

  • Stool softeners if you are prone to constipation, as anesthesia and narcotics can cause constipation (follow your doctor's recommendations)  

  • The best contact number for your surgeon's office in case you need to reach them

Post-surgery nutrition

"Protein is essential for your healing process," says Latterell.

She recommends focusing on small, frequent, protein-based meals. Foods that are high in protein include:

  • Beans

  • Chicken

  • Cottage cheese

  • Eggs

  • Fish

  • Greek yogurt

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Protein drinks, such as Ensure or Boost

  • Quinoa

She also suggests limiting your junk food intake. While your body is healing, it needs nourishing, vitamin-rich foods.

"Limit your intake of 'empty calories,' which are foods that will fill you up, but don't offer many nutritional benefits," she says. "These include candy, chips and carbonated beverages."

Caregiver support

It is wise to have a plan for support after surgery, such as who will be available to help with meal preparation, transportation after surgery and your other basic needs as you recover.

"Caregiver support is key to your healing process," explains Latterell. "Friends and family want to help their loved ones after surgery. You should allow them to bring meals, clean, cook, help take care of children and/or provide transportation for follow-up appointments so that you can focus on eating well, resting and healing."

Rest and physical activity after surgery

Proper rest and movement are an important part of post-surgery recovery.

"Rest when you are fatigued, but try not to sleep for long periods during the day as this can alter your sleep-wake cycles and keep you awake during the night," she says.

Once your doctor gives you the okay, it is important to move your body, even when you are tempted to stay on the couch. Physical activity will increase blood circulation, boost your mood and help with healing.

"Walking is key to your recovery," says Latterell. "It is critical to take several walks during the day. Our bodies can become debilitated very quickly when they are not used and this can only prolong your recovery."

When to contact your physician

Though depends on the type of surgery you had, in general, you should call your physician if you experience:

  • An increase in pain

  • Chills

  • Fever over 101 degrees

  • Increased redness, warmth or drainage from the incision site

  • Uncontrolled pain

Read more healthy lifestyle tips for your cancer journey.


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