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Dealing With Surgery Fears

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The bottom line is that it's perfectly normal to be nervous about your surgery, particularly if you've never had surgery before or haven't spent much time in hospitals. Talk about your fears with people who know what's going to happen – your doctors, your nurse, or a counselor your doctor recommends.

Speak out about your fears

"Most people are nervous about what they don't understand or what they don't know," explains Dr. Anne Rosenberg, a breast cancer surgeon in Philadelphia. "The more you can tell your physician what it is that scares you, the more they can explain things enough to make you comfortable."

According to Dr. Rosenberg, knowing the specifics of what a patient is afraid of makes it easier for a doctor to help the patient through the experience. For example, if you're afraid of getting an intravenous line (IV) inserted in your hand, your doctor can make sure that you get a sedative, have a local anesthetic administered to your skin, or even just have a supportive nurse by your side when the IV goes in. "If you can tell us what it is that makes you fearful," says Dr. Rosenberg, "we can usually figure out a way to help. But if you keep that fear inside, it usually just gets magnified."

"Ninety-five percent of the procedures I do are lumpectomies and excisional biopsies," continues Dr. Rosenberg. "These take well under a half hour. Knowing that the whole process only takes this long helps a lot of people deal with their fear of surgery."

Complementary/holistic techniques to reduce stress

There are a number of complementary/holistic techniques that may help to relieve fear and stress. Techniques such as guided imagery, hypnosis, massage, and yoga have been shown to lower anxiety and stress in some women with breast cancer. Visit the Complementary and Holistic Techniques section to learn more about different ways to manage fear.

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