- Cancer Information
- Cancer treatment
- Recovery after surgery
- What to expect when you return home
What to expect when you return home
When you get home, be guided by your doctor’s instructions, but these general suggestions may help. If you don’t have support from family, friends or neighbours, ask your nurse or a social worker at the hospital whether it is possible to get help at home while you recover.
Learn more about:
- Pain relief
- Wound care
- Drains and stomas
- Eating and drinking
- Daily activities
- Scar management
- Take pain medicine as prescribed by your health care team.
- Strong pain medicine is usually used for only a short time after surgery as it can make you feel confused, sick or constipated.
- If your pain isn’t controlled, becomes worse, or if the medicine causes side effects, talk to your surgeon, the nurse listed on your discharge paperwork, or your GP.
- If your pain is severe, consider going to the emergency department.
- See Pain and cancer and listen to our podcast episode on Managing Cancer Pain.
- Follow any instructions you are given about how to care for the wound.
- If the wound is left open, clean it with mild soap and warm water and pat it dry. Avoid putting lotions or perfumes on the wound and the area around it.
- If you have dressings, you might need to keep them dry while you shower.
- Your doctor or nurse will remove any stitches or staples at a follow-up appointment.
- If adhesive strips have been used, they should fall off within a few weeks, or you will be told when to remove them. Removing the strips too soon might cause the wound to open.
- Any bruising around the surgical site will fade over a few weeks.
- Avoid touching the wound or picking at scabs.
Drains and stomas
- Some people go home with a temporary drain or tube near the surgical site to collect extra fluid leaving the body.
- Before you leave the hospital, nurses will show you how to look after the drains at home until they are ready to come out. You may need to record how much fluid collects in the bag attached to the drain.
- Some people go home with a stoma. A stomal therapy nurse will see you after the operation to teach you how to look after the stoma.
Eating and drinking
- Your health care team may instruct you to follow a special diet.
- Some people feel sick after surgery. When you feel like eating, try basic foods such as rice and toast before going back to your usual diet.
- Eat fibre and drink plenty of water to avoid constipation, and avoid alcohol, especially if you are taking pain medicine.
- To help your body recover from surgery, eat a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods.
- A dietitian can help with any eating issues.
- For more on this, see Nutrition and cancer.
- Unless you’ve been told otherwise, you will be able to shower. Gently wash your body and pat yourself dry. Depending on the type of surgery you had, you may not be able to take a bath for a few weeks after surgery.
- Strong pain medicines and long periods in bed can make you constipated. Avoid straining when going to the toilet. Talk to your treatment team about taking laxatives if needed.
- Some people have trouble controlling their bowel or bladder after some types of surgery. Incontinence is usually temporary. For support, see a continence nurse or call the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66.
- You may find that you tire easily and need to rest during the day. Get plenty of sleep and take breaks if you feel tired.
- Ask family or friends to assist you with household tasks, such as cooking and laundry.
- Check with your surgeon when you can start doing your regular activities and what to avoid – such as heavy lifting, swimming, driving or sexual intercourse.
- Try to do some gentle exercise. This can help reduce tiredness, build up strength, lift mood and speed up a return to usual activities. Follow your doctor’s advice about any restrictions.
- For more on this, see Exercise after a cancer diagnosis.
Surgery often leaves a scar. In most cases, your doctor will do everything they can to make the scar less noticeable. How your scar looks will change over many months. Most scars will improve and fade with time.
Reducing stiffness and pain – Once the wound is fully healed, you may find it helpful to:
- moisturise the scar to reduce any itching
- do stretching exercises to improve your range of motion
- massage the scar a few times a day
- apply silicone tape or gel strips that put gentle pressure on the scar.
Precautions – It’s important to avoid putting stress or strain on the wound until it is healed and there are no other medical issues such as blood clots, infections or trapped pockets of fluid under the skin (seroma). Ask your surgeon when you can start treating your scar. It’s also important to protect scars from the sun, as sunburn can worsen scarring.
Other treatments – Talk to your surgeon, a physiotherapist or occupational therapist about other ways to improve the appearance of scars. A dermatologist may be able to treat problem scars with a laser.
Podcast: Coping with a cancer diagnosis
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.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.