Getting Ready For and Having Cancer Surgery

"When I learned that I had pancreatic cancer and would require Whipple surgery, I immediately turned to the Internet to learn more."

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When we are informed that we have operable cancer surgery, we go through a lot of emotions, such as these. Fear. Anxiety. Worry about Surviving. Hope. What will happen to my family?

Having a positive attitude at this point can be quite difficult. But from my personal experience, I know that we have it in us to be as hopeful as possible.

When I learned that I had pancreatic cancer and would require Whipple surgery, I immediately turned to the Internet to learn more. From my online research, I did learn the answer to two key questions What exactly is pancreatic cancer? And what is Whipple surgery? I was like most people: We do not know very much about a disease until we or a loved one is diagnosed with that particular disease.

Although the Internet provided useful information, it was often very scary. We can be much better off by consulting our doctors and limiting our online search to sites such as the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins. They present information objectively and without hyperbole. I found social media, discussion groups, and YouTube to be especially anxiety-provoking.

In getting ready for surgery, we were extremely fortunate that everything happened so quickly. As much as my family was stressed out (they knew how to use the Internet too), it was just 4 weeks from the initial CT scan to surgery, with only a week between the consult with the surgeon and the surgery itself.

Leading up to the surgery, I remained remarkably calm and took on the role of cheering up others (mostly, my family) – who needed a lot of pep talks. I’ve since learned that many people (by no means all) facing life-threatening surgeries are rather serene. I’m not sure why. In my case, I was so determined to live (despite the odds), to spend quality time with my family and friends, to be able to return to work, and to be at my daughter’s wedding that the negative alternatives didn’t cross my mind. In addition, I  tried to focus on all that was good in my life rather than the dire situation I was in. I guess Norman Vincent Peale called this the power of positive thinking.

On the day of my surgery, the six of us (wife Linda, daughters Jennifer and Stacey, sons-in-law Phil and Adam, and I) arrived at the hospital at the crack of dawn. Thus, began a very long, stressful, and anxiety-filled day for the family. [I didn’t know it at the time, but friends Marc and Seth each dropped by during surgery to comfort the family. What a touching gesture.]

I tried to crack a joke to ease some of the tension. But I just got blank stares. My lame joke? The surgery would be the only part of this experience that I would enjoy more than you. After all, I’d be asleep. Groan. Groan. Groan. I tried.

Just before I was wheeled into surgery, several other doctors stopped by to say hello to me and to give final instructions. Because of the length of the surgery, teams of doctors and nurses would rotate throughout. The chief surgeon would perform the most critical surgical techniques. Also, due to the length and sensitivity of the surgery, I received an epidural as well as intravenous anesthesia.

During the surgery, while I was in a deep sleep, my family got to worry in the waiting room. The surgeon visited in person at the midway mark; and that really helped them: He said everything was going as expected. After the surgery was completed, the surgeon told the family that everything went very well. He got the entire tumor out and had the desired margin to clear around the tumor.

AND because I was diagnosed so early, more tumors had not formed nor had they spread to my lymph nodes. This was a very big deal indeed, and improved my chances for a long life ahead.

Here I am four years later. One of the lucky 7% or so of those with pancreatic cancer who have survived so long. I am both blessed and thankful.

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