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What side effects might I experience?

After your surgery, you will likely experience side effects. Speak with your healthcare team beforehand so you know which side effects are expected, and which may be concerning. Remember that you can always ask a palliative care team for support with managing your side effects.

You may expect your side effects to steadily improve, but don’t get discouraged with ups and downs. Check in with yourself on a weekly basis to see if the overall trajectory is improving.

This section will be most useful for those who have had lower GI surgery.

Changes in bowel movements

After your surgery, you will likely experience changes when you go to the bathroom. Because surgery has changed the structure of your colon or rectum, your body will need some time to adjust to its new normal. Other factors — like air put into the body during laparoscopic surgery, anesthesia and pain meds can have an effect on bowel movements immediately after surgery.

You might need to go to the bathroom more frequently, or feel as though you have little to no warning before having to poop. It may also feel as though you can’t completely empty your bowels. You may feel bloated and fart more than usual. Get ready to be asked about your ability to fart and poop a lot as you recover from your surgery! 

Getting upright and moving as soon as you can may help the bowel process start up again.

If you have an ostomy, many things will change when going to the washroom. Learn more about your ostomy here.

Constipation

Feeling like you need to go, but can’t go to the bathroom is a common side effect of surgery. This is called tenesmus! Speak to your doctor about taking laxatives, either over the counter or prescription. With time, this symptom may improve.

Diarrhea

You may also have very loose bowels. Your colon’s job is to reabsorb water from your poop — so if you have lost a part of this system your bowels can change. Give your body some time to adjust. If this symptom does not improve, speak to your doctor about medication options.

Nausea and appetite loss

After surgery, you may find that certain foods upset your stomach. When returning to your usual diet, introduce one food at a time. If something causes a problem, try the food again in a few weeks. Keep a diary of what you eat, noting in particular if something causes you to feel nauseous or throw up.

While surgery is an effective treatment for removing cancer cells, it can also be a very traumatic experience for your body. Some patients experience appetite loss. Others report that food doesn’t taste quite right. If this is the case, take it easy. Try to eat things that sound appetizing, and eat several small meals throughout the day. Know that this is temporary, and that you will eventually recover your appetite. Some patients bounce back in a few days, others a few months. If this is a problem that is affecting your quality of life or causing you to lose weight, talk to your healthcare team. Your doctor can prescribe medication or refer you to a dietician who can help. 

Pain

Pain management is a big part of surgery recovery. Pain can be managed immediately with epidural or nerve blocks, often placed before or during surgery. This can help speed up the process of being able to walk post-surgery.

You may also be on IV or oral pain meds. As you recover from surgery, the goal will be to move you to oral pain medication, as being able to manage your pain at home is key to being discharged. There are a variety of pain medications and dosages that can be adjusted for you.

You’ll receive a prescription for pain medication after your surgery. It’s important that you take your medication on a schedule as prescribed, so you can get ahead of the pain. If you find that your medication is not adequately controlling your pain, speak to your doctor. They may be able to prescribe a higher dosage or add another medication. If you need to refill your pain medication, make sure to call a few days in advance to ensure that you are not left without it.

If pain is preventing you from returning to daily activities several weeks after surgery, speak to your team. They may be able to prescribe a different medication or refer you to a physical therapist.

Changes in sexual function

You will likely need at least 6 weeks of recovery after a major surgery before your body is ready to have sex again. Operations involving the rectum can affect the nerves to sex organs. Men may experience erection problems. Women may also notice sexual changes. Make sure that you and your partner are communicating well throughout this time — and make sure you are patient with yourself. Speak to your doctor about sexual function and what you can do to improve your sex life after surgery.

Fatigue

It’s normal to feel tired after surgery. Listen to your body. Rest and take breaks when you need to. As you recover, remember to stay active. Funny enough, light exercise can help with fatigue. Remember to listen to your doctor’s advice about avoiding heavy lifting. 

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.

Surgery