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How to Prepare for Whipple Surgery


After completing 8 rounds of chemo, we were all elated that my tumor had shrunk by approximately 90%. This meant it was time for surgery - a Whipple surgery.


I had NO IDEA what a Whipple (pancreaticoduodenectomy) surgery was. We sat down with the surgeon and she showed me on a diagram what would be removed. I began to cry. I realized that this was going to be MAJOR surgery. My digestive system was literally going to be rewired and that hit hard. It became clear that life wasn't going to ever be "normal" again.


I had been knocked down by chemo and I'd be knocked down again by this whopper of a surgery. There wasn't any information available to me about someone who had a Ewing sarcoma on their pancreas, going through chemo, and then a Whipple, and then more chemo.


But I had to press on. My oncologist, surgeon, nurses, and family and friends had gotten me this far. It was just the next thing "to do" on the "to do" list.


Now that I've been through it though, I have some advice! Here are my tips on how to prepare your mind and body for the Whipple.


A selfie with my husband before leaving to head to Moffitt for the Whipple surgery
A selfie with my husband before heading to Tampa for Whipple surgery.

Find a surgeon with plenty of Whipple experience.

When the local oncologist referred us to Moffitt, she told us to see Dr. Hodul. She was her only recommendation and would trust her own life with Dr. Hodul. We did additional research and felt safe and well cared for in Dr. Hodul's hands. While I cried over the diagram, Dr. Hodul reassured me that everything was going to be fine and I had a long life ahead of me.


Get in the best shape of your life.

I wasn't able to do this. Not by a long shot. I had just done 8 rounds of chemo and was admitted to the hospital with the flu, where I spent several days in absolute misery. My surgeon offered to delay the surgery, but I didn't want to delay getting that tumor out!


Ideally, I would've been eating a lot of protein, drinking a ton of fluids, stretching, walking, etc. But it was all I could do to just continue breathing.


Recognize your scary thoughts.

I was emotionally spent. I was grateful the tumor shrunk and that surgery could be done. However, the whole idea of surgery and all the what-ifs kept me in the pit of despair. I knew it was a complicated surgery and I was weak. What if I didn't wake up? I had a lot of worry and terrible thoughts. And that's perfectly normal. Say "hello" to them and then try to release them.


If you're anxiety is overwhelming, ask for medication. Do not suffer.


Don't do it alone.

Ask your family and friends for help. Line up people who will be able to be with you at the hospital and those who can be with you when you arrive home. It's best to have care for several weeks after surgery. You'll be able to go into Whipple surgery with more confidence if you have your care team lined up.


Don't Google anything.

It's not helpful, it's not YOUR story, there's no point in worrying about things beyond your control. Let your caregiver take on that burden. Let them prepare and assist you through the prep and the recovery.


Follow pre-surgery instructions.

Drink the cleanses. Stop eating when they tell you to. This is a favor to your surgeon, making sure you're squeaky clean inside. You may also be asked to shower with special antibacterial soap beforehand. Be sure to do that as it may be the last shower you have for awhile.


Get a hotel room a day or two before surgery.

If your surgery will be performed outside your hometown, you may want to consider getting a hotel room a day or two before. Moffitt is approximately two hours away from my house, so my husband and mother "escorted" me to a Residence Inn near the hospital. That way we could settle in, do the cleanses (you'll want to be near a restroom), and not deal with traveling the evening before or verrrry early the day of surgery.


Prepare your home for recovery.

I didn't have one at the time, but an adjustable bed would've been great! Many people recommend a comfortable recliner to sleep. Also make sure you have a clear (and short) path to the bathroom. A stand-alone elevated seat with handles over the toilet was helpful for the first week at home too.


Have a caregiver set up a meal train (especially if you have multiple people/children in your household). Everyone tolerates food differently after surgery too, so things that can be frozen would be ideal if you're stuck eating toast and plain mashed potatoes for awhile.


I hope these tips give you a starting place and serve as a beacon of hope and guidance. While the road may be arduous, your medical team are very capable and your body is resilient. You've got this!





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Anyone who has been touched by cancer should know that they are not alone and that there are others who have experienced similar challenges.

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