Thursday, August 2, 2012

recovering from lung cancer surgery

The more I read the more I realize what a rookie I am at being a survivor so better to stick to sharing rookie topics like recovering from lung cancer surgery.

Pre-surgery I was given a pamphlet “Lung Surgery” by Krames Communications to read and prepare myself for both surgery and recovery. Fascinatingly I was told consistently and universally by anyone and everyone to ignore everything in the pamphlet.

Surgically I had a “VATS left upper lobe wedge resection, mini-thoracotomy with mediastinal lymph node dissection” except that when reaching in for lymph nodes surgeon needed to do some rib retraction and basically what pain I had through recovery was all about ribs.

Personally I had felt fine before surgery with no symptoms and no need for radiation or chemo. Transitioning from arriving for surgery feeling 100% to leaving the hospital like I had been beaten was dramatic.

I was sent home with my pamphlet to ignore and a RX for 30 tablets of Oxycodone 5 mg. I still have 3. Every hour of every day pain did lessen, by the third week I was down to 2 ibuprofen a day.

Following my post op instructions to lift nothing more than 5 lbs religiously, I never put surgery or sutures under excessive stress or at risk of lung hernia. As a result my pain remained exclusively rib pain.

Coughing was knock me to my knees painful. Inadvertently I learned that grabbing / hugging door jams or corners of walls somehow reduced the pain of coughing.

Fortunately for sleep I primarily sleep on my right side and surgery was on my left upper lobe. Yet the littlest roll could wake me with a bolt of pain. Then I remembered one nurse’s aide in the hospital taught me a trick of wedging my torso in place with pillows when I was ready to sleep preventing my body from changing position while asleep. It works better than pain meds.

People say "try sleeping in a recliner" which I tried exactly once – not only was it beyond painful to get in and out of but our cat decided to jump up on me, better yet jump up on my ribs which set new standards for rib pain. I personally would not recommend a recliner.

I did find that positioning a sturdy chair within reach of the bed was most helpful for getting in and out of bed.

Each daily shower I extended my left arm (surgical side) one tile higher on the shower wall to test range of motion. One vivid benchmark was that first morning that I could extend both arms high enough to use both hands to shampoo my hair. Weird considering I should be grateful for the lung cancer surgery but being able to shampoo my hair again with two hands was a morning I treasured.  

Remembering that athletes wear flak vests after rib injuries I found my faux-down vest and began wearing it like a recovery uniform. The vest revolutionized sitting in chairs and especially riding in cars, though by May it was looking a bit strange in public.

Riding in cars at first was brutal. I created pillow nests for riding. By the time I was ready to try driving I had discovered the down vest trick.

Lifting restrictions (no more than 5 lbs) was in retrospect one of the more challenging recovery tasks. My adult daughter gets the credit for my success here. Grocery shopping, lawn mowing, vacuuming, etc … you do not even think about how many household tasks are in excess of 5 lbs and having to give them up for 6 – 8 weeks.

Six weeks to the day after surgery and cleared by surgeon I returned to Planet Fitness and completed a full circuit on strength training equipment (my surgeon suggested starting below pre-surgery levels and add 10 lbs a day) and walked 2 miles on the treadmill.

My recent 4 month CT scan shows there is still a small fracture of one rib but it does not hurt, just some intermittent numbness, and who wouldn’t trade a small rib fracture for no evidence of lung cancer. 

Patrick Leer
Caregivingly Yours, MS Caregiver @

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  1. Really interesting!!
    This is very helpful post. More interesting word you say more traffic you will get from your comment.

  2. Thankyou.
    I am due for surgery and didn't think I would have to take more than 2 weeks off, I now know to allocate up to 6 weeks before going back full time.
    Hope you are still fit, well & cancer free

  3. Just had this surgery Jan.9th, so 3 weeks out. I was sent home w/recovery instructions of not to drive or lift over 10lbs.for 10-12 days. Went back to work this week (I am a personal chef), I work (2) 5 hour days....this kind of kicked my butt! So is the recovery time more like a month to a month and a half?? I'm feeling like I'm not recovering at the rate I should be?