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Recovery Tracker

Get Well Soon

Helping you make a speedy recovery after surgery to remove a cancer of the gullet or upper stomach

Recovery tracker

Days/Weeks Post Op How you might feel Things you can do safely Fit to work?
1 - 2 days You are likely to be in a high-dependency area with nursing staff closely monitoring your oxygen levels and blood pressure. You will have one or more chest drains – the length of time in which the drain has to stay in place varies from person to person. You’ll be feeling groggy from the anaesthetic and very tired. You’ll also experience some pain or discomfort in your back and chest area.
2 - 6 days Nurses will give you pain relief for your chest and surrounding muscles. Usually the drains come out during this period; occasionally you may be discharged with a chest drain still in place. If this is considered appropriate for you, your consultant or nurse will discuss it with you.
  • Exercises to improve your breathing.
  • The nurses and physiotherapist will begin to get you moving around the ward.
1 week Every 24 hours makes a big difference to your recovery. If a contrast swallow X-ray has been performed and the results are okay, you will be allowed to start drinking fluids after day 7. You will progress initially to a sloppy diet, then onto a soft diet. In some centres you will already have progressed to this stage without the X-ray. Any remaining drains will be removed. The amount of pain you are experiencing will be reducing and you will be transferred to pain relief by mouth.
  • Exercises that you have been given for breathing and posture.
  • Walk around. You might feel stiff at first, but getting moving again will help you recover more quickly.
  • Set aside specific rest times in bed and stick to them.
2 - 4 weeks Your chest wound will feel quite sore. Your appetite may not have returned at this stage. Some patients will be fed through a tube (jejunostomy). This tube will be removed once the surgeon is happy you are maintaining nutrition orally (normally between 3–6 weeks after the operation).
  • Steady exercise, particularly walking, is ideal. Rest after a meal and before and after exercise; keep a good balance between the two. Try to take an afternoon nap (in bed) each day.
  • Do your posture exercises.
4 - 6 weeks You’ll have more energy, but you may find it hard to concentrate on things and you may still feel tired towards the end of the day. You may have some numbness around the scar and in front of the chest and occasionally feel sharp pain. If you are experiencing discomfort, take pain-relief medication; if it concerns you, discuss with your nurse or consultant at the follow-up appointment or contact your key-worker.
  • Use the after you get home diary to build up your levels of activity, slowly and steadily.
  • At 6–8 weeks, most people have not recovered sufficiently to return to full-time work. However, patients vary and some do feel strong enough to return, especially if their work is not heavy manual. Even so, it is recommended that a return to work is initially on a trial basis with reduced hours at the start (see returning to work).
  • Keep up your exercises and try to go for a walk each day. 
Not just yet 
8 - 12 weeks Between 6–8 weeks after your operation, you will have your follow-up appointment with your surgeon, who will be able to assess your recovery and discuss with you whether you need any further treatment, or if you are fit to resume normal activities. Remember, you can contact your allocated contact or your surgeon’s secretary if you have any concerns.

You will be feeling stronger each day and be experiencing minimal discomfort now, but you may still feel a little tired and have some difficulty concentrating. Try to go for a walk each day. 

Maybe after 2-4 months 
16 weeks If you haven’t had any complications to do with your surgery, and you’re still not back to living life as you normally would, it’s possible that you’re feeling anxious or depressed. Talk first with your allocated contact or GP and, if you are still in work, to your employer. Between you, it’s possible that you can work out a solution that can help you make a full recovery.
Yes, probably 

The precise sequence of postoperative recovery varies from hospital to hospital. In some, patients spend the first 24 hours in intensive care, usually with a short time on the ventilator. If so, you will have a tube in your windpipe attached to a breathing machine. This will feel strange as you wake up. In some centres you will have a nasogastric tube in place and will not be able to drink or eat for 7 days until a contrast swallow X-ray has confirmed that the join between the oesophagus and stomach has healed. There are, however, other units where patients are allowed to start drinking fluids much earlier.


When can I have sex?

For many people, being able to have sex again is an important milestone in their recovery. There are no set rules or times about when it’s safe to do so other than whether it feels okay to you – treat it like any other physical activity and build up gradually.




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