Caring for someone having surgery
If someone you care about is having surgery to treat cancer, it could be an anxious and uncertain time for you too. It can be difficult to watch someone go through this experience – you may want to help them, but not know how.
Learn more about:
You may want to offer to be the support person. This involves providing practical and emotional help to the person with cancer before, during and after surgery. Some of the ways you can help include:
You can accompany the person to appointments and help them make an informed decision about their treatment. Once they decide to have surgery, you can help them follow any instructions they are given, organise their personal items and paperwork, and provide transport to and from the hospital.
On the day of surgery
The staff can take your contact details and call you when the surgery is finished. The nursing staff can usually give you an idea of how long the wait will be. If it is too far to go home, you may want to go outside for a walk and some fresh air, or meet a friend or family member at a café for support.
When the person returns home, you can help with physical tasks (such as washing, dressing and meal preparation), and provide emotional support. Listen to the person’s concerns and feelings, and help them manage their expectations about recovery.
Being a carer can bring a sense of satisfaction, but it can also be challenging and stressful. It is important to look after your own physical and emotional wellbeing.
For information about services that can help you with the practical and emotional aspects of your caring role, see Caring for someone with cancer, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or contact the Carer Gateway (call 1800 422 737).
Seeing someone after surgery can be frightening and overwhelming. They may have drains, drips or monitors attached, and the anaesthetic may make them groggy, pale, sick and confused. Most people soon return to their usual self. Each hospital has different visiting policies, and there may be restrictions due to COVID-19.
As a general guide:
In some situations, such as when a child or a person with special needs has surgery, nursing staff may allow visitors into the recovery room. There are strict rules in these circumstances. Often only one visitor at a time is permitted; you should wash your hands or use hand sanitiser before entering the room; and you may only be allowed to stay for a brief time.
Intensive care or high dependency unit
Visiting hours are more limited and visitors are usually restricted to immediate family members. Staff will need to let you into the unit. You may also have to wear special clothing, and wash your hands when entering and leaving.
Regular hospital ward
If the person is moved to a hospital ward, you will need to follow usual hospital visiting hours and procedures. The medical team can give you updates about the person’s recovery and when they are likely to be discharged.
Podcast: How to Help Someone with Cancer
Prof Elisabeth Elder, Specialist Breast Surgeon, Westmead Breast Cancer Institute and University of Sydney, NSW; Chanelle Curnuck, Dietitian – Dietetics and Nutrition, Sir Charles Gairdner Osborne Park Health Care Group, WA; Department of Anaesthetics, Perioperative Medicine and Pain Medicine, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jessica Feeney, Nurse Unit Manager, Breast, Endocrine and Gynaecology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; A/Prof Richard Gallagher, Head and Neck Surgeon, Director of Cancer Services and Head and Neck Cancer Services, St Vincent’s Health Network, NSW; John Leung, Consumer; Rohan Miegel, Senior Physiotherapist – Cancer Care, Flinders Medical Centre, SA; A/Prof Nicholas O’Rourke, University of Queensland and Head of Hepatobiliary Surgery, Royal Brisbane Hospital, QLD; Lucy Pollerd, Social Worker, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Suzanne Ryan, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Department of General Surgery, Sunshine Coast University Hospital, QLD; Rebecca Yeoh, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland.
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Family and friends
Learn how we can help you navigate cancer as a carer, family member or friend
At any stage after a cancer diagnosis, you may experience times of distress and feel a range of strong emotions, such as disbelief, fear, sadness, anxiety and anger. Learn more.