1. I have been diagnosed with cancer of the bile duct.
2. On April 16 I met with Dr. James Ouellette, who will perform the Whipple surgery on me May 15 at Miami Valley Hospital. The surgery normally takes 5-6 hours. It involves the removal of my gall bladder, bile duct, parts of my pancreas, duodenum and colon, and then the restructuring of these parts. It will not be robotic surgery.
3. After the surgery, I will stay in the hospital c. 7-10 days, followed by 2-3 months of recuperation.
4. What happens after surgery will depend on what they find during the surgery. If there is involvement of the cancer in any location beyond the bile duct (e.g., pancreas, lymph nodes, etc.), chemo and/or other therapies may be required. But there are no indications that this will be necessary. One of the first things during surgery will be to examine the liver to make double certain that no cancer is there. If, in fact, the cancer is found in the liver, the surgery will be ended and other strategies adopted.
5. I should plan for no visitors other than family during my stay in the hospital.
6. I look forward to the anointing service at St. Helen on Tuesday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m.
7. If you are curious about the whole story, here it is (probably way more than you want to know…): I had only minimal awareness of something wrong beginning Sunday March 4, when I noticed a slight queasiness in my stomach. On Sunday March 18 someone noticed that I was a bit jaundiced, so I met with my doctor, Dr. Matthew O’Connell, on the next day. (I have the best doc!) He took a blood sample which raised some concern, so he sent me for a sonogram of my gall bladder and related areas. That same day my doc arranged for me to meet with a GI specialist, Dr. Saxe – another gift from God for me; this was the first time that the word “possible large mass” was presented to me as the likely cause for a blockage of my bile duct. Later that day I had a CT scan, which ruled out the possible “large mass” but affirmed that something important was going on. On Friday March 23 I had an outpatient procedure at Kettering Hosp to open the blockage and drain the bile from me. This procedure was unsuccessful, so I was admitted to the hospital. On Sunday they did a surgery to go through my liver to insert a drain of my bile duct (my liver is still angry with them for that procedure!), and then on the following Wednesday another procedure was done to insert a sonogram near the blockage, to insert a stent to keep the drainage open and to take a few biopsies of the area. These are the procedures that confirmed the cancer on my bile duct.
8. I was so naïve to what was happening that even as late as Thursday morning of that week (Holy Week) I was hoping to do the Holy Thursday Service! As things turned out, I was not able to do any of the wonderful Holy Week services, nor Easter Mass. What a terrible loss this was for me, as those services put a perspective on all of life. I did, however, have quite a unique experience of Holy Week because of all that happened to me during those 9 days in the hospital. What a blessing it is for us to know that Christ is walking with us! During the 9 days I was in the hospital, for example, I lost 16 pounds. Yikes! I am still weak and am frequently short of breath, but gradually bouncing back.
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3 a.m. in steroid city. Today's #11 is making me sick. But thanks be to God for the chemo. And thanks be to God for its longed for completion. That I will probably be feeling better in a month creates a positive perspective.
Gielsa, a beautiful member of our "cancer club", died on Sunday. She sent me a letter 2 days before Christmas: "Now I will have Home Hospice come to keep me comfortable … Your caringbridge has helped me spiritually all along my cancer journey." Shehas inspired me for years! Another example of how true it is that all of us need each other and can feed off each other's attempts at wisdom and goodness. We all can be strengthened by God's grace as we find it in each other. Giesla embraced her death willingly and openly. May I - and all of us - take in the grace, when the time comes, to embrace death not as an enemy but as a door to Awe. Giesla is a role model in this.
I am silly-obsessed with my trip to Florida in late February. In my fantasy it will be a time when all troubles will be gone and angels will be singing in the sky. Of course, this is over-done. But I do indeed delight in the possibility of feeling better, getting deeper rest, soaking in vitamin-D-filled sun, having enough energy to read a few good books and be with several good friends. And delighting in those angels. It doesn't have to fulfill the perfect fantasy to be alluring. I feel so blessed to be able to look forward to it. And later tonight I hope to search for flights to Trinidad, so that I can return to minister with that marvelous church community in March.
During the Christmas season I received so many wonderful notes and letters. The pile of notes I'd like to answer is overwhelmingly high on my desk. Maybe I'll get to a few of them... What a blessing to have such good relationships. Many thanks to all of you for your delightful friendship, your prayers and your sumptuous kindness. You make such a difference in my life.