Caring for a Loved One Having Cancer Surgery

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Taking care of a person with cancer means caring for them, both in a practical sense and in an emotional sense. If the person you’re caring for needs surgery to treat their cancer, you may need to help them get ready before the procedure, be their advocate during recovery, and help them adjust to daily life again after the surgery is complete.

These tasks may seem daunting, but the information below can help you support your loved one in the best way possible.

Before surgery

At the appointments leading up to the surgery, be an extra set of eyes and ears. Write down important items that need to be handled before the surgery takes place, and make sure your loved one is getting all their questions answered. You may want to help them fill out informed consent forms or make lists of important health information, such as medicines they are taking or allergies they may have.

Go with them to appointments and talk to the care team in advance, too, about what kind of care might be needed after surgery. This can help you prepare and get answers to your questions. When the date of surgery is near, you can also help the patient prep for surgery by following any pre-procedure directions given.

Immediately after surgery

Your loved one may need to recover for a while in a hospital after surgery. It’s a good idea to use this time talk to the doctors and nurses about what care might be needed at home now that the results of the surgery are known.

Before you leave, be sure you understand how to care for any surgical wounds or drains, and what things to look for that might need attention right away. Find out what activity and diet restrictions they may have, as well as what treatment or rehabilitation they might still need. Be sure to know who to call if problems come up, and confirm when the doctors want to see the patient again once you leave the facility.

The return home

Every operation is different and every patient is different, so at-home recovery times after surgery can vary. If you or other family members need help caring for your loved one after they come home, ask the doctors about what kind of home care help is available, and make sure you take breaks to avoid getting overwhelmed.

Know that some operations, such a mastectomy or a limb removal, may require the patient to learn new ways of doing things. If this is the case, help your loved one find the right kind of physical or occupational therapy, and help them get to and from appointments. Join your loved one for doctor visits and remind them of the progress they’ve made.

Last of all, do what you can to celebrate the milestones in the healing process as they come. Just being a cheerleader or a shoulder to cry on can do much to help your loved one recover during this time.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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