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How should I prepare for surgery?

It’s important to follow your surgeon’s specific advice when getting ready for surgery. Here are some general guidelines, and things to keep in mind.

What should I do before surgery?

Before your surgery date, you’ll have a preoperative appointment with your surgeon. In this appointment, you’ll receive instructions on how to prepare for surgery. Make sure you understand all of the instructions and address any questions or concerns that you have. It’s very important to follow the surgery prep as closely as possible to help make sure your procedure goes well.

Be sure to tell your surgeon about any medications, vitamins or supplements that you take. You may be asked to discontinue some of these one or two weeks before surgery, because some medications and supplements can thin the blood or interact with anesthesia drugs.

Your cancer center will likely give you a pre-surgery protocol to help your body prepare for surgery. If you are not given one, you can ask your surgeon. 

An evidence-based pre-surgery protocol that you may be directed to by your care team is the ERAS protocol (Early Recovery After Surgery). Read more about the ERAS protocol here.

Here is a general example of a pre-surgery protocol:

Check out this example from the University of Kansas Health System. Of course, your surgeon will give you a protocol specialized for you.

If you are having your primary rectal or colon tumor removed, you will need to clear out your colon so the surgeon can see the area clearly — just like having a colonoscopy. This is called “bowel prep.” Starting at midnight the night before your surgery, don’t eat or drink anything. This includes water! Your healthcare team may refer to this as “nothing by mouth” or “NPO.”

If your doctor okays it, you may continue to take your medications as prescribed with a small sip of water. You may be given antibiotics to take the evening before surgery to help prevent infection. Do not smoke, starting at midnight before your surgery.

If you are having a different type of surgery, for example, a liver or lung resection, you will probably not be required to do a bowel prep — but you will have other instructions to follow. Make sure you understand the instructions and follow them as closely as possible. 

How do I prepare my colon or rectum for surgery?

Your colon or rectum needs to be cleaned out before your surgery. This is often called “bowel prep,” and if you’ve had a colonoscopy before you have already done this process! You will probably be asked to go on a clear liquid diet for 12 to 24 hours before surgery. This means you can only drink liquids, including clear broth, black coffee, jello and clear fruit juice.

Enemas and laxatives are also used to physically clean out your colon and rectum. Your healthcare team will either provide these for you, or give you directions on where to purchase them. None of this is very comfortable, but it’s crucial to follow your surgeon’s instructions.

What should I bring to the hospital?

In general, it’s a good idea to avoid taking too many things with you. You don’t want to lose track of your items, or stress about where things are. The hospital will provide most things that you need. You will likely be in the hospital for several days following your surgery, so you can always have visitors bring anything you forgot. You will probably need help and support while in the hospital, so enlist family and friends ahead of time.

Here’s a basic list of what you might need to bring:

  • A list of all your medications and their dosages
  • If you wear contact lenses or glasses, bring a case and remove them before going into surgery
  • Insurance identification cards and photo ID
  • A copy of any Advanced Directives you may have
  • Contact details of the person you would like your surgeon to call about updates on your surgery
  • A friend or family member to drive you home from the hospital after you are discharged
  • A change of clothes to wear after you are discharged
  • Basic toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, etc
  • Simple home comforts: slippers, cozy socks, a fuzzy blanket, etc
  • Many COLONTOWN members suggest bringing an extra-long power cord and ear plugs

What should I leave at home?

The hospital will provide the great majority of what you need. 

Here is what you should leave at home:

  • Anything that is irreplaceable, such as family heirlooms or jewelry
  • Large sums of money or credit cards
  • Artificial nails or nail polish. Your nails will be monitored during surgery to check oxygen levels and blood circulation
  • Makeup, lotions, powders, etc. Make sure your face is clean before surgery

Want to learn more about surgery?

Join one of our COLONTOWN Facebook groups:

  • COLONTOWN Downtown Come visit COLONTOWN’s main street for general discussions about surgery
  • Corner Cupboard for discussions on side effect management
  • Palliative Pathways for advice on how your palliative care team can help you cope with side effects
  • Rectalburgh for patients with rectal cancer

Want to join? Fill out the registration form here.

COLONTOWN University has so much more to offer, from DocTalk videos with CRC experts to easy-to-understand biomarker test breakdowns. We’re here for you! See our list of Learning Centers here.