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lifestyle after surgery

Posts: 3
Joined: Sep 2018

Hi,  We are new to this board but have read thru alot of the posts and received some helpful information.  I am interested in some more specific info on what to expect after the surgery, I will explain.  My dad has been diagnosed with eshopageal cancer and has undergone the chemo and radiation with good results but now trying to decide on whether or not to have the follow up surgery.  He is in his 70's and lives a very active life, he does all his own vehicle maintenance, cuts and hauls firewood, does his own home repairs, flies his own private plane, fishes, hunts, camps, you name it.  All of which requires alot of pulling, pushing, bending, general body strength on a regular basis.  Our question is, after under going this major type of surgery, and after the appropriate healing time, could he expect to still be able to do the same things? Or does your life change so much that your normal activities are not possible? We understand about the eating slower, and smaller meals and being careful about bending over, those changes are easily made but its the other life activities that are more of a concern.

He is tentativley scheduled for surgery as soon as a month out but was told he could wait another 4 months and go back for the testing all over again to see if the cancer returns and make the decision then, BUT is this only delaying the inevitable?  Is surgery going to be necessary anyways? If so, maybe doing it sooner than later is better.  I think if we can find some input on realistic expectations of life style changes would be helpful. 

He is here with me to answer and talk with you directly, I just thought I would try and help find some answers.

Thanks for any input,

paul61's picture
Posts: 1367
Joined: Apr 2010

Hello akquest123,

I had “open” Ivor Lewis surgery when I was 61, I was in good health other than cancer, and physically active. Now, almost 9 years after surgery I am doing all the physical things that I used to do, but more carefully and more slowly. I am sure part of that is attributable to age but I think after surgery it takes some time to get to a “new normal”.  I am blessed to say that a couple of months ago I walked 18 holes of golf on my 70th birthday and enjoyed a nice steak dinner to celebrate.

I should stress though, that recovery from this surgery does take time. And not everyone’s results are the same. I think some difference in outcomes has to do with physical condition going in to surgery, but most has to do with the skill of the surgeon and the quality of the care facility after surgery. Typical complication risks for this surgery include cardiac arrythmia issues, pulmonary issues, and surgical leaks at the anastomosis (the area where the modified stomach is joined to the remnant of the esophagus). I had no cardiac issues and no pulmonary issues going into surgery and scored very well on my stress test and pulmonary capacity tests. I still had some elevated heart rate issues and breathing issues during my recovery. It took me a full year after surgery before I felt I was recovered enough to do physically strenuous things.

I have been active on this cancer survivor board for 8 years and reading people’s experiences here has taught me that people who push themselves too hard early in the recovery process often end up with complications like abdominal or diaphragmic hernias, digestive reflux, and back and rib pain issues. This is MAJOR surgery that involves disruption and rearrangement of two major body cavities. You can’t do that to anyone and not have some “issues” to deal with afterward. I still have occasional back pain and rib pain from time to time. I still have some digestive issues from time to time. I can’t just get up and run off and do something right after eating.

So, my feedback would be, life goes on after recovery pretty much as before although somewhat more slowly. But recovery does take time. I would also say that surgical removal of the tumor site is the best insurance against a recurrence. Many times, here we have read accounts of survivors who have been told by their oncologist that their scans showed they had a “complete physical response” to treatment and no indication of remaining cancer was found. Only to have those same folks told after surgery that pathology examination of the tissue removed at surgery showed active cancer cells hidden under scar tissue from the “dead” tumor.

Tell your Dad, go slow, ask lots of questions, and interview his potential surgeon carefully. He wants to find someone who does MANY minimally invasive esophagectomies at a facility that is experienced in esophagectomy aftercare. He does not want some general thoracic surgeon that does a few of these a year with recovery at your local hospital. We all want to be close to home and family when major health issues are dealt with, but this is one where traveling to the right facility is worth it.

Wishing you and your Dad the best outcome as he completes his treatment and gets back to “life as usual”.

 Best Regards,

Paul Adams

McCormick, South Carolina
DX 10/2009 T2N1M0  Stage IIB - Ivor Lewis Surgery  12/3/2009
Post Surgery Chemotherapy 2/2009 – 6/2009 Cisplatin, Epirubicin, 5 FU
Eight Year Survivor

Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we might as well dance!


Posts: 3
Joined: Sep 2018

Hi Paul, thank you for your response and all the information.  As you know, theres so many questions and so much to learn.  We appreciate the input from others who have experienced the same thing to help us make an informed decision.  Glad to hear all is going better for you, enjoy that golf game!


LorettaMarshall's picture
Posts: 682
Joined: Sep 2012

Dear Akquest123 –

Since I think your question is such an important one, I’ve chosen to place my answer to you on a separate topic forum here on this link.  So please read it here:  https://csn.cancer.org/node/317859

It is really important that after one has been through the successful pre-op treatments of chemo and radiation, that they have the Esophagectomy as soon as possible thereafter.  It is the “standard recommendation” for treating Esophageal Cancer.  Furthermore, after the surgery is completed, if any residual cancer should be found in the lymph nodes that are removed for biopsy during surgery, then adjuvant (post-op) chemo is recommended.  Occasionally, some have written here that they are going to take their chances and not have any kind of surgery for fear it will be so debilitating.  Having read letters on this site for 15 years, I can tell you that there are many success stories and the survivors have had the “whole 9 yards”—that being neoadjuvant chemo/radiation then surgery.  So I just wanted to share our story of a successful Esophageal Cancer survivor.  We are passionate about those completing the full cycle to ensure the greatest chances of being able to return to a wonderful life after an Esophagectomy.

Wishing for your DAD every success.

Loretta (Wife of William who had the Ivor Lewis Minimally Invasive Esophagectomy back in May of 2003, and is cancer free today.  He is not “debilitated” in any way—thank God we chose to have the pre-op chemo/radiation and then the laparoscopic surgery known as the MIE)

Posts: 3
Joined: Sep 2018

Thank you so much for both of the replies, I will be sure and pass this along to my dad.  It sounds alot like your husband is a busy person like my dad and mom both are.  Thats very encouraging to know of the positive, successful outcomes.  Thanks again and I look forward to speaking with you later.


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