Here’s my story, at least the first chapter of my journey in dealing with cancer.
Nan and I returned from our annual Spring trip to Mexico in early March, and I had a stomach ache. Not a real painful one---more like the feeling you get when you’ve eaten too much Halloween candy. I thought it had something to do with something I’d eaten in Mexico, and that the discomfort would pass. Several days after we got back I went camping at Lake Maria State Park, and still had the tummy ache, but I also noticed that my urine was very yellow, which is pretty easy to spot when you’re peeing into a snow pile each time. When I returned from camping three days later I went to our local medical clinic, as by then I was also having some heartburn--- scary enough that I wasn’t sure if it WAS heartburn or an actual heart issue. The EKG test was normal, so the physician on duty that day prescribed Prilosec to kill the burn. Three days later neither the heartburn or tummy ache was better, so I went in to see my regular family doctor, who suspected that I’d contracted hepatitis in Mexico. He sent me to another clinic for an ultrasound of my innards. The ultrasound turned up some sort of mass on my pancreas that was obstructing the bile duct that goes from liver to small intestine, so my family doc directed me to immediately go to the emergency room at North Memorial Medical Center to be admitted for more tests. Three days later after being hospitalized to be poked, prodded, scanned, bled and generally not allowed food or water, the diagnosis was that I had a malignant growth about an inch in diameter that was pressing against the bile duct, so they did a quick endoscopic (down the throat) surgery to insert a temporary stent into the duct to open things up. By then, according to Nan, I had begun to turn a strange sunshine yellow color. After more poking, prodding, blood tests, treadmill stress tests and meetings with doctors, the conclusion is the usual good news/bad news scenario---- the malignancy doesn’t seem to have spread beyond that spot on my pancreas, but I need to be opened up to remove what’s there, and to pretty much rework my plumbing around the pancreas, gall bladder, liver and small intestine in what’s called a Whipple surgical procedure. Not MISTER Whipple, of Charmin Tissue fame, but some famous Doctor Whipple, who pioneered this whole deal. The good folks at North Memorial tell me that this surgical business will take about 6 hours or so; I’ll likely be in recovery in the hospital for a week, maybe a bit longer, and that the total recovery time is 6 or 7 weeks. Since until three weeks ago I’d never been hospitalized for anything more than the usual colonoscopy, this is all new territory for me. There is a small note of encouragement to add--because the tumor blocked the bile duct when it was small it let us know that there was an issue pretty early on. Most pancreatic cancer isn't determined until things have progressed a lot, so this is good news.
Right now, before surgery, I'm feeling just fine, with only a touch of heartburn and a gnarly stomach feeling. We've been hitting the Y regularly as well as walking Crosby when it's not snowing. I've been encouraged to eat lots of protein, so steak has been a regular part of my diet.
Here's my mental train of thought:
1. I understand the risks of having surgery versus the gloomy outcome of doing nothing. I’m not afraid to die—my life has been a Long Strange Trip and for the most part it’s been a wonderful journey in my 70 years on earth.
2. I’d just as soon live, though. I’d prefer to keep having adventures with family and friends, and my ultimate goal is to take Grandson Wesley camping in the woods---but only after he’s out of diapers.
3. Doctors aren't God---they aren't perfect and sometimes they make mistakes.... but don't we all.? Therefore, I don't expect any perfect outcomes, but I'll take one if I can get it.
4. My biggest worry in this upcoming experience is that I’ll be a burden to Nan, Amanda and the rest of you. As a bunch of you know, my recent experience of dealing with some dysfunctional older relatives has taught me that there are better ways of aging or dealing with illness than those relatives are doing things, and I don’t want to be like them.
So, I don’t expect to be making enough sense to tell you more about how I’m doing for a while after my surgery on April 18th. Nan and Amanda will be posting updates here, as will I when I’m out of the confusion of anesthesia. Until then…..