On August 21st, a team of surgeons is going to have themselves a fun little scavenger hunt in my belly. They will be searching through my insides, looking for and removing any visible cancer. They will scoop out the little spot on my liver, resect a good chunk of my colon, chop off the 4 peritoneal metastases, scrape the lining of my abdomen, remove a few lymph nodes, and possibly relieve me of my gallbladder and my ovaries, just for good measure. They will then pour steaming hot chemotherapy directly into my abdominal cavity, letting it work its way into all the nooks and crannies. After that’s been sucked out, they will disconnect my colon from my small intestine and connect the end of my small intestine to a small hole in my belly, which will be attached to an ostomy bag. Then I’ll be stapled up and sent to the ICU.
It’s one hell of a surgery. Its fancy name is Cytoreductive Surgery and HIPEC (hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy), in case you want to google it. (But do not, I repeat DO NOT do a google image search. You will never sleep again.) The surgery is semi-controversial and surgeons are pretty picky about who is a candidate. I have heard stories about patients with cancers similar to mine (stage IV, incurable, peritoneal mets) who have refused this surgery, preferring to avoid the long recovery and terrible disruption to their families’ lives, even if it means dying several months or even years earlier.
When I was first diagnosed, I was not a candidate for this surgery. My disease was too advanced and too extensive. The cancer has been responding to the chemo, however, and we’ve seen shrinkage of about 40% overall. I suddenly became a candidate for this surgery, and before I knew it, August 21st became the day of reckoning.
Part of me is overjoyed–you know, the part that isn’t terrified. This is my chance to remove all or most evidence of disease. I still will not be cured, and I still will have to be on some form or other of chemo for the rest of my life, but this surgery could give me more time. The question that has been lingering in the back of my brain since my meeting with the surgeon, though, is how much time? It’s a 3 month recovery, at best, with at least one follow-up surgery, and I’ve heard of people who have lasting effects and difficulties, leading to drastically reduced quality of life. Not to mention all the common risks of major surgery–stroke, heart attack, infection, etc. So is it worth the risk? How much time will this buy me? Is it worth the disruption it will cause for my kids, my husband, and the rest of my family? My gut and my heart say yes. My brain is conflicted. Shut up, brain.
Silver lining roll call:
- I get a six week chemo break before the surgery.
- Pity tickets to Harry Potter World in LA!!
- Pickles. Always pickles.
- I’ve been told to gain as much weight as I can before the surgery. Avocados and cheese and olives and potatoes for every meal!
- Now that it’s summer break, I can go to free cancer yoga three times a week.
- The Jewish community, particularly my Yavneh family, is awe-inspiring in its unhesitating love and support.
Looking for an opportunity to help people like me, people hoping for a cure? DONATE TO COLON CANCER ALLIANCE! My brother and I set up a tribute page in honor of my birthday. Every cent helps this awesome organization, the only organization devoted strictly to colorectal cancer.