Here is why you have to rest after Rectal Cancer Surgery

If you are like me, the first thing you will do after you have been discharged from the hospital is to try to get back in shape. As we all know, your body will heal faster if you exercise and get your blood pumping, right? 

No, not right. At least this is not the whole truth. Let me first give you an example of what I did right, and what I did wrong. 

In the first few days after surgery, I walked a lot. This is usually good, it is low intensity, and there is no real risk that you will break anything, as long as you make sure that you are not doing any moves that will affect your abdominals, and your wounds. 

Two weeks after hospital discharge, I figured it was time for some running, so I could get back in shape. It was now 17 days since surgery. I put on a “lower back strength training belt” and flipped it, so that it supported my abdominals 100%. I did a few tests, and true enough, no pain in the abdominals. With no pain in my body, I went out for a 5K run. I had been urging to get back to this for a while, and was thrilled when I was done. (And very very tired). 

No nerves in the anastomosis
It turns out that there is one more thing to be aware of: The anastomosis (the wound where the rectum and colon are stitched together). The anastomosis is still very inflamed, and is far from done healing. To make it all worse, there are very few nerves in that area, so you can not necessarily feel, if you are doing some damage to it. 

In my case, I started having pain in my rectum the day after the run, and after having discussed this with a nurse, I have now learned that I might have hurt the anastomosis. My running has the potential of creating an abscess near the anastomosis, this can lead to a leak that needs drainage, and scar-tissue that potentially needs another round of surgery later on, to get removed. 

Ask your doctor
I am still waiting for a call-back from my surgeon on how to proceed with the pain that I now have had for a few days, but most likely he will suggest a CT Scan. It seems that I have brought a lot of trouble on myself that I easily could have avoided. 

My suggestion is the following: If you have doubts about what you are allowed to do after surgery, call and ask your doctor. Be very patient and sensitive with your body, and realize that not all damage that you can inflict on your wounds will be felt right away. You might be younger and in better shape than most people that has this kind of surgery, but there are still rules that you will need to respect. If your goal is solid long term results, these are the rules of the road. Ask your doctor if in doubt, ask, ask, ask.