Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster: A Guide Of Mind-Body Techniques
by Peggy Huddleston

This book has a companion CD including relaxation and guided imagery exercises to help prepare for surgery

Recovering from Breast Surgery: Exercises to Strengthen Your Body and Relieve Pain
by Dianna Stumm

Preparing for surgery

The three primary conventional treatments for cancer are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The specific treatments recommended for a particular patient will vary depending on the type of cancer, how advanced it is at the time of discovery, and a number of other factors.

It is good to know what to expect if you will be having cancer surgery. If you know what will happen, you can do the best job of preparing for surgery and working with your body for a good outcome, a swift recovery, and fewer side effects. Most hospitals have information available for patients. There is also a lot of information available for free on the Internet.


A very useful resource is Peggy Huddleston’s book Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster: A Guide of Mind-Body Techniques. Huddleston quotes studies showing that people who prepare for surgery have “less pain, fewer complications and recover sooner,” and she has developed a simple five-step program that can help anyone achieve these results. The book is a practical guide to using relaxation, visualization, healing affirmations, spiritual and emotional support, and meeting with your doctor in order to get the best results from surgery.

This book has an accompanying relaxation tape, but I preferred to use a produced by the hospital where I had surgery, which contains instruction, meditations, and relaxation techniques for use prior to surgery. I also created my own affirmations and added visualization techniques with which I was familiar. I affirmed and visualized that the operation would go well, with a good surgical outcome, a smooth recovery, and healing without any problems.

I also talked to my body before anesthesia and let it know what was happening and what to expect. I have learned that just as plants and animals have guardian presences caring for them, so each of us has a guardian spirit that works with our body, helping to restore it to normal health and promoting healing after an event such as surgery. This little spirit is called the body elemental. I told my body and body elemental exactly what was going to be done during surgery and what my desired outcome was. I was very specific and asked for good pain control, an easy waking from the anesthetic, no bleeding or infection postoperatively, fast and complete healing of the wound without undue scarring, and no ill effects or long-term problems. And it worked quite well.


I asked friends to pray for me while I was under the anesthetic. In our church, it is just something we do for one another—we find out as nearly as possible the exact time of the surgery, and we pray for the patient, surgeon, and staff—by name if possible—and pray specifically for the best possible outcome. We visualize the room filled with light and healing energy. We ask for the Higher Selves of those involved to act at all times and to give direction as to the best course of action.

Under anesthesia you are not in control of your body, so it is nice to know that someone is specifically praying for you, or “holding the balance.” I felt that I was in God’s hands knowing that my husband was in the waiting room, praying for me and sending me positive healing energy.

I also prayed for myself and commended myself to the protection of Archangel Michael and to angels of healing under the direction of Archangel Raphael and Mother Mary. I prayed for all in the operating room to be guided and overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. I asked for the angels and masters of healing to guide the hands of the surgeon and the anesthesiologist. I let the doctors know that people were praying for them, and they were happy to hear this.

During the operation

Dr. Bernie Siegel in Love, Medicine, and Miracles speaks of the importance of what is said while you are asleep under the anesthetic and of the important effects of positive affirmations and prayer. These techniques can reduce stress, normalize your pulse and blood pressure, and minimize the side effects of surgery. Relaxation reduces pain, which means that less pain-control medication is needed.

I have always believed that patients hear what is said in the operating room, even if they do not remember the specifics of the conversations. The patient has a Higher Self that is not asleep during the operation. The patient also has a subconscious mind that takes it all in, and often the body will respond to what is happening. There are many reports of patients recalling that they were floating above the operating table, observing their body being operated on but not feeling anything at all. Being aware of this kind of report and knowing about the Higher Self, when I worked as an anesthesiologist I would often talk to my patients while they were asleep during surgery.

I developed the habit of frequently putting a hand on their head to let them know that I was there with them. I would often speak gently in their ear to let them know that the operation was going well and to give them relevant information. I would tell them that they would wake up quietly and calmly without pain and with their organs functioning normally. Depending on the area being operated on, I might give more specific instruction. For example, after surgery to the leg, I might say, “The blood supply in your leg will be very good, with good perfusion. Your leg will feel warm and comfortable and will look pink and healthy.” In other cases I might affirm that their bladder and bowels would work normally after they recovered, even if problems in these areas were expected.

Nurses in the recovery room would often comment that they noticed a difference with my patients—they woke up quietly and in a calm and relaxed state. Nurses are very observant, and they told me that they could often tell whose patients were whose in the recovery room. At first I was skeptical, until one said, “Doctor ———’s patients always cry and are restless. Watch when his next one comes back from surgery.” I waited and watched, and sure enough, she was right.

Bernie Siegel would talk to his patients while they were asleep, often giving them specific instructions. For example, if there was a problem with excessive bleeding, he would ask the patient to direct the blood away from the surgical site in order to reduce bleeding. And he found that it worked! On one occasion, the pulse rate of a patient in surgery had gone up to 130. He told the patient, “You’re doing well. Don’t be nervous. I’d like your pulse to be 83.” The patient’s pulse came down to 83 within a few minutes and stayed there.

Dr. Siegel recommends that patients ask their surgeon or anesthetist to read positive statements to them while under the anesthetic. The patient can also recite these statements before surgery, and this was one purpose of the tapes to which I listened. I also took the cassette player and headphones into surgery with me to be played while I was asleep, and my doctors were very willing to accommodate this request. If I were working in an operating room today, I would play gentle and soothing music, preferably classical, for the effect that it has on the body and the emotions, and I would talk to my patients and have them work with me even while they were asleep.


Exercises are often an important part of postoperative recovery and are usually recommended for you by an occupational therapist. A written handout is helpful.

I also used Recovering from Breast Surgery: Exercises to Strengthen Your Body and Relieve Pain, by Dianna Stumm. As well as providing specific exercises to help retain a full range of movement after surgery, she covers the very important subject of lymphedema, which is something you always need to be aware of after lymph-node surgery. My surgeon had removed only eight of the lymph nodes under my arm, so it was very likely that I would not have this problem after the surgical wound had healed. Even so, I was advised not to have blood drawn or blood pressure measured on my right arm, the side that received the surgery, for the rest of my life.

Gentle walking and swimming are beneficial forms of exercise following an operation. They get the body moving, the lymph and the blood circulating, and the energy in the body flowing again without causing any unnecessary stress. Some fellow patients told me that they found yoga and tai chi to be calming and strengthening following surgery.

Gentle massage was very helpful after lymph-node surgery. The physical therapist with CTCA did wonderful work on the muscles of the arm, neck, shoulders, and back. I noticed an immediate improvement in my range of movement after these treatments.

Finally, I was surprised at how tired I felt and how much sleep I needed postoperatively. I am sure that some of this was simply relief after a period of great stress. Nevertheless, surgery is a stress to the body, and I was glad that I was able to take it easy and give myself the needed time to rest and recover.


Excerpted from A Journey through Cancer, by Neroli Duffy