This post is not for the faint of heart. It contains descriptions of surgical and medical procedures. Though they are not terribly graphic, they are descriptive enough to be somewhat unsettling.
Challenging days lie before us. This coming week, my husband will be having his 14th surgery since 2005, when he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. He started a regimen of radiation treatments and chemotherapy. He had a total of 28 radiation treatments over a period of 6 weeks. Following that he had a surgical port-a-cath implanted in his upper chest through which he received continuous chemotherapy for eight weeks. I helped each weekend by removing the needle from the cath and flushing it with saline. A nurse would come the next day with a new cartridge of chemo and re-access the port for the following week.
With a port-a-cath, one of the dangers is the formation of a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or blood clot. I had to give him Lovenox injections in his belly everyday.
During this time, my husband was able to do most of his normal activities, but towards the end of the chemo treatment period, he became more and more tired. His appetite was poor and he started losing weight. A lot. During those first few months, he discussed his situation with no one but me. He became very isolated from his family. He was terribly depressed.
After those treatments completed , he had colon surgery during which time his rectum and most of his sigmoid colon was removed. After he recovered, he was given a PET scan. The results were devastating. The cancer had metastasized to his liver. He had to have more chemo treatments. For the next six weeks, we went and he got a 6 hour chemo drip once a week. Needless to say, sitting in a large room with a bunch of other folks with IV’s in their arms getting chemo was overwhelming at first. But then, you get used to it, we would all talk about different things, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying.
Then it was time for him to have his liver resected. They removed almost half of it. His incision was about 14 inches long across his middle abdomen. Once he was home, he remained bedridden or in the easy chair for a couple weeks. He lost even more weight. At one point the last three inches of the incision became horribly infected. Since I already had surgical tools, I removed the staples on that end of the incision. Daily I would cleanse out the wound by squirting saline into it and then pack the wound with saline dampened sterile gauze and cover it up. It took awhile, but it did close up and heal.
When we had our next visit with the chemo oncologist, she just came out and said that with Stage IV rectal cancer, he could expect to live another two years! This went beyond devastation. Words are useless to try to explain what was going through our minds. There are none.
Well, obviously he survived. But, oh, the price he has had to pay! A year after his liver sugery, both ends of his abdominal liver surgery incision tore out on both ends under his skin (hernia). He had to have laparoscopic surgery to implant some mesh at each end to close up the tears. The same surgeon who did the original liver surgery performed this. Unfortunately, one of his arteries in his abdomen muscle was nicked and that night he almost bled out. His bandaging, binder, gown and sheets were completely soaked. I was so upset but managed to stay calm while I urged the nurses to get a freaking doctor. The bleeding was stopped but he had to be given two pints of blood.
Home again at last, we were hopeful that there would be no more complications. His port-a-cath remained so his blood could be drawn for labs and for any future chemo he may need to receive. But, that would soon change.
One day a few months later, he was in the shower and called my name. I could hear the panic in his voice. He showed me his arm on the same side as the cath. It was very red and swollen and had a red streak going up it from the inside of his elbow all the way up to his shoulder. “And it hurts real bad”, he said. I knew what it was! A blood clot or DVT. I rushed him to our local ER and after an ultrasound, it was confirmed it was a clot. He was again hospitalized and treated successfully. Our next visit to our sugical/cancer hospital resulted in the removal of the cath. Another surgery, though a minor one.
One thing that you also have to look out for is infection, whether it be internal or external because chemo pretty much decimates your immune system. Needless to say, I am like a mama hen keeping a very close watchful eye on my man. It was on a Sunday and he said he wasn’t feeling well. I had him lie down and took his temperature. It was normal. I had a couple of errands to run but I told him I would be quick about it. By the time I got home, he was way worse with a temperature of 104!, I quickly called his other doctor who was his primary oncologist and left a message for her. She called me back within ten minutes and told me to get him to the ER. Another trip to our local hospital. He was again admitted and successfully treated for a bacterial infection somewhere in his body.
Sometime in 2007, I started to notice his belly was protruding more than normal and that at the ends of the incision, it looked like balls of something were forming where the mesh had been inserted to fix the hernia. We had visits every 3 months up at the big hospital, so next time we went, I showed the liver surgeon the things I had noticed. Apparently the mesh had failed and the central part of his abdominal incision had torn and formed a new hernia.
He would have to have the entire original incision cut open again! The mesh would be removed at each end. Then a plastic sugeon specializing in abdominal wall repair would follow behind the first surgery and rebuild the abdomen using Alloderm. All of that was accomplished and he had another hospital stay and extended recovery period at home. Oh, me. Oh, my. We were wondering what could possibly happen next.
A month later, just before Christmas, I was doing my usual looking over his belly and noticed an area not too far below his left rib cage that looked a little swollen, red and warm to the touch. He had been mentioning he kind of hurt around there for a few weeks, but I assumed it was part of the recovery process. But after noticing that area looking like that, I became very protective and insisted much to his unwillingness, that we go immediately to the ER at the big hospital. Yes, it takes an hour to drive each way, but I felt more comfortable going there especially since all of his doctors are there and are familiar with everything he has been through.
Once we were in the ER, I explained to the triage nurse all that had happened in the last couple years with my husband and the most recent surgery a month ago. He understood the need for a quick processing to get a doctor to look at what was going on. Well, they were extremely busy and we had to wait in the hallway with hubby on a small bed. Finally they got him into a room and sent him off to be x-rayed and then scanned. We could not believe our ears and eyes when they showed us the results! From his surgery a month ago to do the second hernia repair, a surgical sponge had been left inside!
The liver surgeon was notified and came in shortly thereafter. After profuse apologies and explanations that were pitiful as to how/why this had happened, an emergency surgery was performed to remove/cutout the sponge which had already been enveloped by surrounding tissue.
We were in total shock and disbelief. Believe me when I tell you, the hospital made things right later.
Okay, so the continued three month followups and frequent CT scans went on for a few years until in 2013, a scan showed anomalies in his right lung. Biopsy proved it to be a new primary cancer and, once again, another surgery was performed to remove the upper right lobe in the first part of 2014. During that stay, the lung collapsed and an emergency thoracostomy was done immediately right there in his hospital bed. That means a small incision was made and a tube was lodged into his lung cavity. It was attached to a machine that revived the lung and prevented a recurrence. Finally we went home again to another long recuperation period.
In the meantime, during all these years, my husband became and continues to suffer from pain, infections and certain highly personal hygiene challenges that have wreaked havoc not only on his body but to his self esteem and emotional health. One cannot imagine what this poor man has gone through and only I and a few close friends and family members know the full extent.
In a couple of days, he is going to the big hospital to have several surgeries at once. I won’t go into the details out of respect for his privacy. He will more than likely spend a week there and, optimistically, should be fully recovered in three to four months.
No one knows what the future holds for us, but I am ever so grateful to our Heavenly Father for blessing us with all that He has. The courage and strength to continue as best we can. The faith and belief that this world and all its suffering will soon end and the wait for our Heavenly Home so very worth it. The love that only He can bring into our lives to be compassionate and kind and long-suffering. And, for me, the patience to tend to my man when our home is rife with tension, anxiety, frustration and all the many challenges that life in this world is ever so ready to throw our way.
Living the heart-led life does not exempt you from trials or challenges in this life. What it does give you is a REAL inner peace that enables even the weakest of us to get through them. It gives us the knowledge that no matter what this life has in store, there is something far greater, far better to look forward to. It gives us the ability to transcend the here and now and all the suffering that might entail. It makes us truly strong in the knowledge that God IS real.
I shared this with you, dear reader, because I needed to. I needed to get it all out. I needed to say it. I needed to empty all this out of me in one of the few ways I have to do so. We do not need pity or platitudes. We just ask for your prayers as we face this next struggle ahead of us.
Thank you! And, thank You, Lord!