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Recovering from surgery

Find out about recovering both physically and emotionally after ovarian cancer surgery.

Recovering physically

It takes time to recover physically and emotionally from cancer surgery, especially if you've had your womb and ovaries removed.

When you go home from hospital, take it very easy for the first couple of weeks at least. You should spend most of your time resting with your feet up and avoid standing for more than a few minutes at a time.

For the first 6 weeks after your surgery, you can gradually build up the activity that you would normally do until you are more or less back to normal. But you will probably still get tired very easily. Do talk to your surgeon (gynaecological oncologist) or specialist nurse if you have any questions or concerns about how much activity you should be doing.

Driving

Before you go home from the hospital, talk to your surgeon about when you can start driving again.  

You should be able to start driving any time from a month after your surgery. But don't feel you should be back to normal if you don't feel that you are. Some women feel very tired and have difficulty concentrating for a couple of months after surgery.

You may also be having other cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, which may slow your recovery down. See how you feel and take things at your own pace.

You should check your car insurance policy before you drive. Some insurance companies will not cover drivers for a number of weeks after surgery.

Your sex life

Sex can feel different after ovarian cancer surgery.

Your vagina may be a bit shorter. But it is naturally very stretchy so this shouldn't make too much difference to you and your partner.

Remember that having your womb removed means that you will have stitches at the top of your vagina where your cervix was taken out. You shouldn't have sex until these have healed - around 3 or 4 weeks after surgery.  

You may find that you don't feel ready to start being sexually active again that soon. It takes many women much longer than that. You may still have a bit of discomfort, so prefer to wait a bit longer.  

You will need to recover emotionally as well as physically. You may feel that your womb was an important part of your body and having had it taken away can affect how you feel about yourself sexually.

You will no longer be able to become pregnant. And you won't have any more periods. Even if you were past your menopause before the surgery, losing your womb can be a very emotional experience. Many women find this more of a shock than they expected.

Recovering emotionally

Being diagnosed with cancer takes time to come to terms with. Having major surgery as well may make you feel very vulnerable. You are also likely to feel weak at first and to get tired very easily.

This may make you feel quite down. Try to take comfort from the fact that this is a completely normal reaction to what has happened to you. Virtually everyone (if not everyone) who has a hysterectomy for cancer will feel the same. Your family and friends will need to be understanding and supportive while you come to terms with what has happened to you. But sometimes that is not enough.

Give yourself time. If you feel your recovery is taking longer than it should, you may want to talk to your GP about finding a counsellor or support group of other women who have been through a similar experience.

Talking to someone outside your circle of family and friends about how you are feeling can help you to feel better.

You can talk to the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Sudden menopause

If you have not yet had your menopause and you have both ovaries removed you will go into menopause following your surgery. This can cause symptoms such as:

  • hot flushes
  • sweats
  • dry skin and dry vagina
  • tiredness
  • feeling emotional
  • anxiety and loss of confidence

These menopausal symptoms may be quite intense because your ovaries have been suddenly removed, so your hormone levels fall quite quickly. The effects can go on for a few months. It is impossible to predict how long you will have these symptoms because it varies too much between women.

After the menopause, your bones may become thinner and more fragile. Your doctor may encourage you to have plenty of calcium and vitamin D in your diet, or they may suggest taking vitamin D and calcium supplements to help.

Some women find menopausal symptoms very difficult to cope with. If you do, you can talk to your specialist or gynaecology cancer nurse about this. Some women can take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for the symptoms of early menopause, but your doctor will discuss the possible risks and benefits with you first. 

Information and help

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