During your surgery the Consultant will remove your tumour and replace the hole left with a piece of living tissue called a free flap, using microsurgery. This free flap consists of skin, muscles, blood vessels and sometimes bone if the cancer affects your jaw. The free flap can be taken from your forearm, hip or leg. To cover the area where the free flap is taken, normally a skin graft is used.
You will also have two drains in place at the wound site. This is to help drain blood away and encourage the stitches to heal. They are checked regularly and emptied every day.
Patients who have this sort of surgery require a tracheostomy. This is a breathing tube placed into your windpipe during surgery. This allows you to breathe safely while the swelling inside your mouth following the surgery goes down. This tube normally stays in for 3-5 days. Whilst the tube is in place it is used to clear phlegm and secretions from your chest, to help your breathing.
Operations involving your mouth and jaw can make eating and drinking difficult. It may be necessary to put a feeding tube (called a percutaneous endoscopic gastrosotomy - PEG) directly into your stomach, prior to surgery. Also if you need radiotherapy, then your mouth can get very sore so the tube will help ease the burden. If this tube is required you will be given a full explanation on how to use and care for it by the PEG nurse and the ward staff.
If this has not been performed a tube called a nasogastric tube will be placed via your nose whilst you are asleep. The dietician will create an individual feeding plan and visit you frequently on the ward to see how you are coping.
The first couple of days after your surgery, drains that had been put in during your surgery, will be removed. This will make you feel better and you will be freer to move around the ward. To ease your recovery you will be prescribed painkillers and antibiotics, as well as any other medications that you normally take.
It is not uncommon for you to feel quite down after your surgery. You may suddenly realise what has happened to you and feel very vulnerable and lost. You might not want to talk to your family as you may feel that they will be more worried.
Please let the staff know, as they may be able to help you, and don't be too hard on yourself. It is important to remember that everyone is an individual and we all cope with things in very different ways.