Surgery: Healing Physically & Emotionally

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Recovering from surgery means more than just tending to your wounds. Your wellness requires mental and spiritual attention too. No one understands this better than Fight CRC Ambassador Liz Dennis, who undergoes at least three surgeries annually! We asked her what she does to make her surgery experiences as comfortable as possible so you can see examples of what it looks like to embrace life before and after surgery.

Please share how surgeries have impacted your survivorship journey.

My life is very scheduled! If I want to take a trip, I have to work it around my quarterly surgeries. Not only that, I have to consider the prep and downtime, as well as all the appointments. If I have to go in early for surgery because my stents failed early, then that really messes up my life! If that’s the case and I’ve been used to March, June, Sept, and Dec….then I have to shift to February, May, Aug, and Nov and pray I had no trips planned.  My life revolves around my surgeries!

How can you make the most of your professional care team to support you in the recovery process?

I have the best professional care team!  And I will add that my insurance is there for me, which may sound odd to some. I have Blue Cross Blue Shield Federal Insurance and they call me regularly. I have a nurse assigned to me that I can call and they call me to be sure I am recovering well and if there is anything they can do for me. This is a great benefit that everyone needs to look into. I also receive phone calls from the hospital to see how I am. When you leave recovery and you are going home, be sure to have all your care instructions (especially what to look for, i.e. elevated temperature) and the number for your doctor handy to call if needed!

What forms of support from your friends, family, colleagues, etc. have been the most helpful for you?

  • I believe in prayer!  I always let my family and friends know of my surgery, I call it “Activating My Prayer Warriors.”
  • For big surgeries, midline, that require a hospital stay and no driving for six weeks, I really rely on my family and friends!  Meal trains were invaluable, too! My last big surgery was in 2011, but I’ve heard now there’s an app you can set up meal schedules through. Especially if you have children and are married, no one has time to cook!
  • I loved getting cards as well. My mom sent out a message on Facebook and I received hundreds of cards that really lifted my spirits and we wallpapered my hospital room with them. I have had a 30 day and a 40 day stay, plus numerous 1-2 week stays, so these cards were really important to me.
  • COVID has changed visitation now, but I was not a fan of visitors anyway, they took too much out of me. I did appreciate big hugs, but then people felt they needed to stay and small talk right after surgery is difficult. Know your limits and don’t be afraid to say no to visitors!

What are a few routines you keep to physically prepare for a surgery that makes recovery gentler on your body?

  • Walking is my go-to exercise! Getting outside into the fresh air and walking, maybe listening to music or listening to your favorite inspirational speaker. Be at the optimal weight! But, if your surgery is next week and you want to lose 20 pounds, do not starve yourself! Try instead to give yourself a month to follow a well-rounded eating program, stay away from processed foods, and eat whole foods! Do yoga daily if you are able! Yoga also helps with breathing, which will help you recover. You can do easier chair yoga during your recovery so you don’t have to get on the floor.
  • Get your house ready for your return before you leave that morning. I get my TV tray out, fill a Yeti cup with ice water, and set them next to my chair. I also put out Saltines or anything else I think I would want. 
  • Days before surgery I make soup and pre-make food. Friends and family also bring me food if needed.
  • Make your clothing easy. I go home with a catheter, so underwear only makes things more difficult. Yes that’s right, I go commando under my dress! Choose clothes that can slip off and slip on, don’t complicate things with underwear!
  • For my big midline surgeries that require a stay in the hospital, get your bag packed, especially during COVID when family is restricted to come see you. But pack light!  Trust me, you will not want to read, at least I don’t!  If you have an ostomy like I do, bring supplies; the hospital will supply some, but not necessarily the ones you use. 
  • Bring your favorite pillow and you can also bring your own sheets, or at very least your own pillow case. Slippers are a must, too! Because you will have an IV, it’s nice to have a blanket to act like a cape/robe. Bring your own toothbrush and toothpaste. My hospital gives me this awesome body wash, I really like it, or bring your own. You will be taking sponge baths, so maybe some supplies for that as well.
  • Bring new clothes for when you leave and keep in mind when you are discharged you will have bandages. For women, a dress works great! For men, maybe some loose fitting stretchy shorts or joggers.

What are a few routines to mentally prepare for surgery that make recovery gentler on your mind and spirit?

  • As I said before, yoga! Listen to Louise Hay, she was one of my favorites! Laugh a lot…I received a book about laughter during my recovery, and it will help leading up to surgery too.  We need to laugh! Try watching some good romantic comedies; laughing actually helps with your breathing and your mental attitude!
  • Fall asleep with the CALM App, I LOVE IT and listen every night. There are also meditation apps you can listen to throughout the day.

With COVID-19 requiring us all to social distance, are there any virtual resources you would recommend to help aid in healing?

  • Text with family! I write one update and send it separately out to all my loved ones. Too much communication can take a lot out of you though. If you need to, say how tired you are and at this time it takes too much out of you to talk on the phone or text a lot, but you will try to send out an update weekly, and that will keep people at bay. Your loved ones are just worried about you, but you have to take care of yourself too!
  • Be mindful of what you watch on TV. There are so many shows to watch that are uplifting, give you hope, and teach you so much. I just recently watched “Down To Earth” with Zac Ephron, it was amazing and I learned so much.  You can watch some incredible Ted Talks too.
  • I honestly feel the worst place to go is Facebook or any social media, especially right now!

What words of advice or encouragement do you have for those who are feeling anxious about what comes next after surgery?

I remember the day of my first surgery. My anxiety was so high! I was pacing in the prep room, I could not sit still, I was shaking, and had a hard time breathing. They had to give me a Xanax! Every now and then I get a little anxious before going under…I hate saying that I am used to it, but truth be told, I am used to it now! 

Bring headphones into the prep room and listen to your relaxing music. Put on a comedy, then laugh, laugh, and laugh some more! And don’t be afraid to ask for a prescribed relaxer, either!

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