It was April Fool’s Day of this year that my husband Tim was told by the world-renowned 74 year old Dr. John Cameron at Johns Hopkins Hospital that he definitely needed to undergo the whipple procedure for a possible pancreatic tumor in the head of his pancreas. I do still wish that this news was only a April Fool’s joke. But we both knew it wasn’t after all that he had gone through leading up to the trip to Baltimore. The whipple procedure was the only way the doctors could pinpoint exactly what was creating havoc with his digestive system for the past year.
The technical name of the whipple procedure is called a pancreaticduodenectomy. The whipple procedure was named after Dr. Allen O. Whipple and was first performed in 1935. This standard 6 hour whipple procedure entails removing the head of the pancreas, the gall bladder, common bile duct, part of the duodenum, a small portion of the jejunum, part of the stomach and any lymph nodes surrounding the site that the surgeon deems appropriate. The whipple is not considered your average tonsillectomy. To say that I was scared to death for my husband was an understatement. Not to mention how my husband must have been feeling about the upcoming surgery. After all, he was the one undergoing the knife.
I was told by several surgeons at the hospital that the whipple procedure is even more complex than organ transplant surgery. One of the surgeons commented that the six-inch pancreatic gland is like the consistency of a softened stick of butter and therefore making it extremely difficult to suture back together once all the other organs of the digestive system were modified or removed and reconnected.
The surgery was scheduled for first thing the following Monday morning on April 4, 2011. In the meantime, Tim was discharged from the hospital and was given clearance to eat solid food for the weekend. After having nothing to eat but total parenteral nutrition (TPN) via a peripherally inserted central catheter
also know as a PICC line. In layman’s terms-a liquid diet via an IV tube is all that his body consumed for 10 days prior to his discharge so he was starving for real food with some substance.
Despite the fact of how scared we both were about what was coming on Monday, we managed to enjoy some good food and fun in Baltimore over the weekend. We pampered ourselves with new hair do’s in the trendy Fells Point district and enjoyed the beautiful sights along the waterfront on the brick promenade outlining the Patapsco River at Inner Harbor.
Before I knew it the weekend was over and we were boarding the shuttle bus at 4:30am from our apartment to the surgery department located on the third floor at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. Just seeing the word cancer is the name of the building made me sick to my stomach.
I was so happy to have a friend travel to Baltimore to hold my hand while Tim underwent this six-hour procedure. My friend and I were encouraged by the hospital staff in the waiting room to leave the hospital to get some fresh air. They told us it was not going to do any good sitting in the waiting room for that long. They assured us that they would call periodically and give me updates on how the surgery was going. So we both decided to take a walk and then head back to the apartment for a shower and a change of clothes. Keep in mind that we all had just about rolled out of bed and boarded the bus in the clothes we were wearing the day before.
And walk we did. Neither one of us knew where we were going but we must have covered at least 10 +miles of the Baltimore city by foot. Most of the walk was through the historic sites of Baltimore but neither one of us had a clue where we were going. Before we knew it we were outside the barb wired fences of one of Baltimore’s penitentiaries heading uphill back to the hospital waiting room. My friend compared this block of our walk to scenes from the HBO series The Wire. We got to see Maryland’s finest up close and personal.
The first two status calls I received reported back that everything was going well with the surgery. But for some reason when the third call came in and I could not understand what the lady on the other side of the receiver was saying, my gut told me to high tail it back to the hospital. My friend and I decided to bypass the apartment and shower and return to the hospital covered in sweat.
When we arrived back to the third floor waiting room, I was getting anxious for more updates. I approached the receptionist desk and kindly asked if there were any more updates. The woman contacted the operating room immediately and handed me the phone. The only words I heard were your husband definitely has a tumor and the procedure is taking longer than expected. I asked for more information and was told that they were not at liberty to discuss the findings and that I would have to wait until the surgery was complete and talk to his surgeon.
I tried to remain optimistic and hoped and prayed for the word benign to precede the tumor diagnosis.
Tim tolerated the six-hour procedure very well according to his surgeon. Dr. Cameron attributed his success due to the great physical condition my husband was in prior to admission. However, when his surgeon told me that the tumor was malignant, my heart just dropped to the floor and the tears started flowing from my eyes. No words can describe how awful this feeling was. The only word that kept flowing out of my mouth was the F- bomb. Over and over again.
I knew that it I needed to gain some composure because there were so many people who I had to bear this devastating news to. First, his mother, father and sister. Second, his boss and coworkers. I had rehearsed my statement over and over again before punching in the telephone numbers beginning with the area code 315. In fact, I called one of my sisters to ask for advice on how best to deliver the news. There is no easy way to bear this kind of news. I have to say that it was for certain the hardest thing I had ever had to do in my life.
To be continued… The six weeks to road racing recovery will amaze you and how this all led up to me baring almost all in Baltimore.
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