Having decided that formality is a good posture to adopt while facing the news of one's mortality, I dressed up for the occasion. I have never been able to get comfortable with suburban (and even urban) Oregon casual anyway, so I wore a pair of my best pants, dressy shoes with a small high heel and a velvet shirt worn loose (my concession to casual) with a big, fancy sun hat. (It was a gorgeous spring day.)
I was apprehensive, frightened too, but equally eager to know my future and, maybe ghoulishly, how long I can expect it to be.
Tests in the hospital last week and more in followup examinations since then show that I have a malignant tumor in my pancreas. The surgeon has a handy, multi-colored rendering on the wall of the inside of the human body and he pointed out the pancreas, showed me where exactly within it my tumor is located, the nearby gall bladder, duodenum and other body parts I had hoped never to know about.
Then he said this: my pancreatic cancer is “potentially curable” and this: patients with a tumor similar to mine wholly contained within the pancreas and in my otherwise healthy physical condition have a 25-30 percent “cure rate.”
Now I wouldn't take those odds to Las Vegas but considering that only about five-to-seven percent of people in the whole universe of pancreatic cancer survive, I'll go with it.
And in case you were wondering (I was), what would happen if I reject the surgery and do nothing (the only real alternative in this case), “you'll be dead within a year,” he said.
The surgeon will perform a Whipple procedure (look it up) in which the diseased part of my pancreas will be removed along with my gall bladder and some other bits and pieces.
It's a long, complex surgery, he said, about eight hours. I'll spend a day afterward in the ICU and another seven to 10 days in hospital. If I'm strong enough by then, I can continue recovery at home instead of rehab. His goal, the surgeon told me, is to return me to a normal quality of life (See Wednesday's post).
As with all surgery, there are risks and there are, sometimes, post-operative complications to deal with. Even without those, recovery is difficult and will pretty much take up the rest of this year.
The surgery date is 20 June. I asked what I can do in these next two weeks to best prepare my body for what I think of as an assault. Exercise and good nutrition, the team said. Eat, eat, eat. Exercise, exercise, exercise.
Obviously, there are many more details but be honest, can you stand even this much?
My surgeon and his team are world-class - he is a well-known pancreas researcher and I am in excellent hands. And this kind of prognosis, small percentage as it is, gives me huge incentive to work hard at helping my body prepare and afterwards, to heal.
Now, two TGB items. First, your support is wonderful. I hadn't given any thought to how this announcement would be received so the outpouring was a surprise and shock – in the best sense of the word. You have no idea how much you all mean to me.
Second, on Wednesday, reader dkzody commented that she thought pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnosis and wondered what the “mystery malady” I mentioned was.
She is right about the difficulty and I'll tell you about my experience with that on Monday. But then I think that even though my current personal circumstance is uppermost in my mind every day, it's probably not in yours and we can get back to the real goal of this blog – what growing old is really like – for awhile.