Treatment for appendix cancer can be trying.  The surgery has been nicknamed the MOAS (mother of all surgeries) as depending on how many cancer affected organs and tissues are removed, it can be the equivalent of several “major surgeries”.   You can do a lot to help yourself recover from treatment.

Because it is such a big surgery, about 25% of patients have some sort of complication.  Complications can include pneumonia, blood clots in the legs that can travel to the lungs (deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolis), ileus (bowels stop moving), bedsores, poor wound healing.  I have list of complications on my webiste at Surgical Treatment of Appendix Cancer.  

The average hospital stay is 2 weeks, but it can be up to a month with complications.  But there is much you can do to avoid complications from the MOAS surgery.  I was told I would be in the hospital for two weeks, but I was discharged in only 6 days! I walked 3 miles 8 days after my surgery!   I was back to driving my car and doing all things normal (except for heavy lifting) 2 weeks after my surgery.

How did I do that?  It’s because I was a nurse and knew how to help myself recover quickly.

Unfortunately many of us grew up in a society that always felt “your sick, you should rest”.  Everyone wants to make you comfortable in bed, they want to fluff your pillows. They want you to sleep a lot because you “need the rest”

This is actually the worst way to recover from major surgery.  Bodies aren’t meant to be lying still all day and not moving!   I knew that, so beginning the first day after my surgery, I decided to stay out of bed except to sleep at night.  I was either up in a chair or walking the halls all day long starting the first day after my surgery.   I didn’t wear hospital clothes, I brought street clothes and wore leggings or sweat pants (need the elastic waist) with blouses or sweaters starting the day after my surgery.  You don’t HAVE to wear hospital gowns except to surgery!  I only put on pajamas at night.

It did hurt to start walking right away, and I couldn’t stand up straight the first few days I walked, but it was okay.  They had a piano, so I could walk there and play the piano some days.  My husband and I also went to the recreation room to play games during the day starting the second day after surgery.    Blood clots in the legs that travel to the lungs can be a very serious complication, even fatal.  This can occur from blood pooling in the legs if you lay in bed.  Walking helps prevent these clots.  Being up walking also helps you to expand your lungs, preventing pneumonia.  Your bowels move as much as you do, so walking can help your bowels start working again after surgery and prevents an ileus, a common complication.  Wounds also heal faster when you are up and about.  Yes, you will be uncomfortable, and yes, it will hurt, but you need to stay out of bed.  Ask for an abdominal binder, a wide elastic belt that supports your abdomen.  I used one and it really reduced the pain of moving (though they didn’t give it to me in the hospital, I bought one at Walgreen the day after I was discharged).  You can ask someone to buy you one at a drug store if the hospital doesn’t have one.

I also didn’t use any narcotics for pain.  Narcotics can make you sleepy so you won’t want to walk as much, and they can also slow your  bowels and depress your breathing, helping cause the complications of pneumonia and ileus.  I knew of a drug for pain that was NOT a narcotic called Toradol.  Initially when I woke up from surgery they had me on a morphine drip, I asked them to get remove it. Toradol is an IV anti-inflammatory, kind of like a very strong IV Motrin,  It worked much better for my abdominal pain than the morphine drip had.  It can only be used for 5 days, so after that I was given 800mg of Motrin (ibuprophen) by mouth every 8 hours.  My pain was well controlled without narcotics.

The IV chemo in my abdomen caused no side effects or symptoms at all.

I did do IV chemo for 7 months (I was told not for the cancer in my abdomen but in case any cells escaped from my abdomen and were trying to go to other parts of my body.   I lived a normal life on IV chemo.  I told my doctor and chemo nurses any side effects I had, and they gave me medications so that I did not have those side effects again.  I even did athletic training while I was on chemo.  6 months after I finished chemo I did my first bicycle century, I rode 100 miles in one day.

I think a lot of how you recover is mental.  You can decide to feel badly for yourself and to not do anything that will make you uncomfortable and to stay in bed a lot “getting well” and “recovering”.  But the best thing you can do for your recovery, to make if faster and without complications, is to MOVE as much as possible!!!