Thursday, February 9, 2012

Major Abdominal Surgery - Chapter 3 of My Cancer Story

This post is the 3rd in a series describing my journey with Colon Cancer 10 years ago.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, see the Blog Archive listing in the column on the right for the hyperlinks.

I’m about to be gutted like a fish.  It’s before dawn on January 7, 2002, and I’m checked into Memphis’ St Francis Hospital for major abdominal surgery.  Dr Thayer will be performing a hysterectomy, and Dr W Scott King will be cutting out a cancerous section of my colon.  Certainly there are all sorts of things that could possibly go wrong, but I refuse to think about them.  Ron is with me until I am about to be wheeled into the operating room.  He kisses me and reminds me of our agreement, “No toe tags!”.  I murmur that I love him, and here we go…

I remember seeing the operating room and being greeted and reassured by both of my doctors. Then in goes the anesthetic, and I slip out of consciousness. Bye, bye.

About four hours later, I slowly come to.  Ron is there.  I don’t have any pain, thanks to morphine (which is really,really good stuff).  I’ve made it through surgery.  Dr King advises that we now know that the cancerous tumor did not breach the wall of the colon.  That’s excellent news.  But he took samples from surrounding tissue, which has to be sent to Pathology for evaluation.

All I want to do is sleep, thanks to the drugs.  I won’t get any solid food for days, because they have to give my re-sectioned colon a chance to heal.  I’ve got a catheter to deal with my urine output.  Nurses are keeping a close eye on my vitals.  One examines my carved and stapled stomach and comments, “Oh, they were able to let you keep your belly button.”  I remember being relieved about that.   It would be weird not to have a belly button.

Ron refuses to leave me for the night, so they provide a cot for him to stay with me in my private room.  I am so thankful to have him there.  This whole drama is almost harder on him than on me.  There’s so little he can do right now, other than to be there for me.  As the week unfolds, Ron sleeps at the hospital then goes home to get ready for work in the morning.  He comes to see me at lunchtime and returns after dinner to keep me company and spend the night.  I know he’s exhausted, but he says he’s too worried to sleep at home, alone. 

I’m making progress every day.  The day after surgery, they have me move to a chair to sit upright for a while.  I can’t believe how exhausting it is to do such a simple thing.  After just a few minutes, I am begging the nurse to be allowed to get back into bed.  But within a few days, I’m shuffling down the hall for exercise.  The human body has amazing healing abilities.

A friend from work sends a small gift of scented bath products, which a nurse’s aide uses to give me a sponge bath.  I am so grateful for the thoughtfulness of the friend and the gentle kindness of the aide.  On the weekend we have a surprise visit from dear friends who have heard about my illness.  They have flown in from Dallas for the day, just to see for themselves that I am OK.  Ron and I are humbled by their concern and their unfailing friendship.

As the week winds down, I am being weaned from the serious drugs, becoming more mobile, and desperately craving solid food.  The doctors won’t release me from the hospital until…bluntly put…I have a bowel movement.  I get the OK for the diet change required to get the critical process in motion.  By the next day, I have achieved the milestone.  After being examined by my doctors, I am approved to go home to continue my recovery.  We leave with a handful of prescriptions, a bunch of guidelines for what I should and shouldn’t do over the coming weeks, and appointments for follow up visits.

The results from Pathology have shown that I will require further treatment for my cancer.  Out of seven lymph nodes tested, one showed cancerous activity.  My cancer has been identified as early Stage 3.  Serious, but treatable.  In two weeks, I will meet Dr Margaret Gore, my Oncologist.  She was recommended by Dr King, whose wife’s Breast Cancer was successfully treated by Dr Gore.  That’s all the recommendation I need.

I don’t quite know what’s ahead, but I’m ready to face it.

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