Last Friday evening, just before dinner, my cell phone rang indicating a call from the Scripps Health system. I answered with anticipation.
Dr. W, my surgeon greeted me and let me know she'd just recieved the pathology report from the biopsy of my tumor, lymph nodes and surrounding tissue.
"First thing" she said, "is all of the lymph nodes we tested were negative. That's a good thing. We found no cancer in any of them."
"None?" I queried to confirm, trying to make sure I didn't miss anything.
"That's right. We looked at all of them. Additionally, the margins are clear," she replied.
(FYI - Clear margins means there were no cancer cells found along the actual edge of the tissue that was cut out during surgery. If the margin was not clear, that would indicate there were still possible cancer cells in the remaining tissue inside me.)
"There was a small area of active cancer cells found within the tumor, but that all came out in surgery," she continued. "Which means, you are T-3, N-0, or effectively, a Stage 2 diagnosis, which is less advanced than the Stage 3 diagnosis we've been presuming until now."
I exhaled and started to take in what she just told me. A sense of relief flooded through me. I realized just how much not knowing the result of the biopsy over the last week was affecting me emotionally, in the same way the incisions had been affecting me physically.
"Your long term survival rate is very good based on this result," Dr. W confirmed before completing the call.
I hung up and immediately shared the news with Becky. Then the tears came for both of us. For me they welled up from a combination of relief, gratitude and released anxiety. The weight of "what if" no longer hung on me. Given the news from Dr. W, it meant the surgery accomplished what it was supposed to, and clarified the other uncertainties.
The next stages of treatment are not yet confirmed. Given that there were still some active cells in the tumor, I'm betting Dr. X, my oncologist will still recommend a round of "mop up" chemo treatment. I'll see her again in two weeks to formally decide on the plan.
As for my current state, my surgery area is tender and I'm still really tired most days. Every one who has been through major surgery has reminded me that it takes more time than expected to recover. So, I'm going easy on myself and resting a lot. I'm eating a low fiber diet to ease my digestive tract back into full function. And, I'm slowly settling into the next 4-6 months of life with an ileostomy and all the little daily changes that accompany this new plumbing system.
Today I share my joy with you. I'm buoyed by hope. I am grateful to Dr. W, my rock star surgeon and her team. Thanks to the nurses, specialists and staff who served me in the hospital and those who continue to serve me here at home. It takes a village to get through a process like this.
This gift of a cancer diagnosis, treatment, surgery and all that accompanies it continues to provide rich meaning and insight for me. Though I would not wish it on anyone, it has served me and continues to be of extraordinary value in my life.
So while I may not provide many updates related to my physical condition in the near future, I will attempt to draft some different posts to share some of my learning with you in the weeks and months to come.
Thank you again for your incredible support and your interest in my situation. I hope in some small way, the experiences I've had and shared with you will be helpful to you or to others you know.