Preparing for major cancer surgery is scary, but Wollongong patient Rhonda Story says a new initiative helped alleviate many of her and husband Rod's concerns.
The pair attended Wollongong Hospital's new 'Surgery School' - a state-first program which helps patients booked in for complex surgeries better prepare - both physically and mentally.
Patients, and carers, attend a workshop a couple of weeks out from their surgery, and hear from specialists including dietitians, physiotherapists, pharmacists and psychologists. They also take a tour of the intensive care unit.
It's the brainchild of Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District anaesthetist Natalie Smith, who wanted to reduce patients' anxiety, make them more "surgery-fit" and aid recovery.
"Traditionally patients get pre-operative information by surgeons and anaesthetists quite close to their operation, and that interaction is focused on getting information from patients and discussing the disease and the procedure," Associate Professor Smith said.
"We saw a need to help patients prepare better more holistically - to not focus on the disease but to focus on the person.
"The group workshops help reduce their fears, manage their expectations and interact with others who may be experiencing the same feelings."
The sessions target patients having major surgery who are likely to spend time in the intensive care or high dependency units.
They will now run monthly after the first workshop late last year, which the Wollongong couple attended.
"The hospital experience, if you're not used to it, can be quite bewildering," Mrs Story, 69, said.
"You get pre-operative information from the hospital but this workshop just supplemented that, giving you access to a number of professionals who could offer further advice and answer questions.
"For instance the physio's explanation on the benefits of correct breathing after major surgery motivated me to practise those exercises afterwards to aid my recovery."
Mr Story said the initiative helped him better support his wife prior to her surgery for colon cancer last December, and also prepared him for what was to come.
"We were taken on a tour of the intensive care unit and it was just mind-boggling to see the quality and extent of the equipment set up in there," he said.
"If I hadn't seen that, I think I'd have had a heart attack myself when I first visited Rhonda in there - I would have thought she was on life support if I didn't know what all those tubes were for.
"It also enabled me to tell our kids what to expect."