It’s March 26th, a day before surgery. We packed our little Prius last night and we’re ready to go on the 5 hour car ride to Grand Rapids. We first stopped at Mercy hospital, getting typed and cross matched for 2 units of blood. Then registered at the Hope Lodge. It was a quiet ride, blue skies and dry roads thank god. The only storm brewing were the thoughts in my head. The Whipple surgery is going to take all day and finally will remove the tumor from my pancreas. I’m glad I’ll be sleeping through this ordeal, if it goes bad I’ll be unaware. My thoughts are with my husband Mike and our kids and grandchildren, and of course family. My sisters and their husbands are also waiting. I knew what to expect, have been in operating rooms since I was old enough to get a job. Working from my 20’s to my 60’s in them while living in Wisconsin. My close friend, having succumbed to pancreatic cancer post Whipple, was on my mind. Lucy and her battle with cancer made me try harder while preparing for the surgery. Positioning ones mind is the real battle, to not let it’s ability to rob you of moments at insecure times. Also on my mind was my brother Steve, who’s also fighting cancer, was undergo a serious surgery himself in a couple of days.
In the morning up early sitting in dining room. This could be it. There was a chance that I wouldn’t make it out alive. I tried not to think about that. Mike and I trained a month for this and I was ready to get Twisty the heck out of me! What a wonderful place this was to find peace and serenity during the worst storm of our lives. I can see the hospital parking lot from the window. It’s pouring rain and chilly outside. I finish off the last of my GED drink (some special surgical post recovery drink). If it’s good for you chances are it will taste bad. One hour before arrival time and all is quiet. I feel strong time for twisty to surrender. I sat for a bit then went back to our room. We slowly (Mike and Sean and I) proceeded to the hospital. Registered, had copies of advanced directives made in the event things didn’t go as planned. Gown on, IV in, SCD stockings on, lying on hospital cart awaiting anesthesia to place art line and do abdominal block. After everything was done family came into pre-surgical room to visit. 6 of them in all. Took great peace in the fact Mike was rubbing my head and hand as he always does. He knows how to soothe me in times of hurt. I would look at him and he’d just wink, we didn’t need words. We knew each other’s thoughts. Dr. Onesti came in and said a prayer with family. It was calming. Off I went. I recall little after that. Mike received text messages throughout the 6 hour operation.
The next few days were a blur. Hooked up to different monitors, a pain pump (which I only used once), and hospital staff coming and going endlessly. All I wanted was sleep. I was told everything went extremely well.
When things calmed down I was up walking and soon sitting in a comfortable chair. The nurses were all amazing! Family visited, a good friend I grew up with also stopped in to see me. I felt like I had been cut in half. Which, by looking at the 13 inch incision, wasn’t too far off from being true! Sean and Mike took turns sitting by my bed throughout the day. Each day the surgeon stopped in she was amazed at how things were going. Slowly went from clear liquids to soft foods. Very small amounts. At first nothing stayed down. More walks. I pushed myself with each one. I watched and remembered how Mike did the same during his hospital stays for his heart battles and it helped me do the same.
Before I knew it, after only 3 days I was cleared to be released! Unbelievable! Since the Hope Lodge was across the street if anything went bad I was but a short distance away. Plans were to stay for a week after the surgery then see the surgeon before returning home to Sault Ste. Marie. At the meeting we’d go over the final pathology reports. Having our son Sean with us was comforting. I knew this entire experience was tough on him, as it was for everyone, but especially him being my son. He told me he had no idea how he’d be able to handle funerals for both his parents at the same time. Mike’s because he knew he’d soon follow from his heart challenge, it’d simply be too much on it if I didn’t make it. I didn’t even know what to say back. I couldn’t image what that’d be like. Mike’s his stepdad but the two are as close as blood. Thank God things went well!
We spent the week resting, watching CD’s from the huge selection here, playing pool, and taking walks inside and outdoors. We also spent a lot of time laughing and enjoying each other’s company. We had many meals together, though mine were different than the mens. A few nights were tough and I was sick. The two worked like a team helping me get through them. Put together puzzles in the huge dinning room too. In addition traveled to see my sister Chrissy and her husband, niece and her young children. It was a wonderful time. Mikes usually very quiet and it was nice seeing him relaxed and talking. Though he looked drained and exhausted. For the first I feel like I’ve been given a second chance at life. I plan on taking full advantage of it!
We learned about this place, appropriate called the “Peter M. Wege Guest House Hope Lodge” from the hospital next door. It was literally across the street from It and the Lacks Cancer Center. The best way to describe it is to quote what the website shares. (https://www.cancer.org/treatment/support-programs-and-services/patient-lodging/hope-lodge.html)
“Each Hope Lodge offers cancer patients and their caregivers a free place to stay when their best hope for effective treatment may be in another city. Not having to worry about where to stay or how to pay for lodging allows guests to focus on getting better. Hope Lodge provides a nurturing, home-like environment where guests can retreat to private rooms or connect with others. Every Hope Lodge also offers a variety of resources and information about cancer and how best to fight the disease.”
The experience here is like being in the calm of the eye of a hurricane. It feels like a real home. We’ve met other survivors battling their illness, staff and volunteers who shared their personal stories and battles. It was empowering walking into the doors of this beautiful and recently remodeled building after such an emotional and physically draining operation. Always being met with a kind smile and greeting.
We can’t thank the American Cancer Society enough for this. Thank you. Before my diagnosis we hadn’t a clue how we’d get through it. It was extremely scary and unsettling. After 25 hospitalizations and 19 stents, radiation, EECP, with Mike, the last place we wanted to be was in more hospitals.
On Monday we met with the surgeon, Doctor Onesti. All the pathology reports were completed. The tumor had adhered to the portal vein and some cancer cells remained on it. Plans were to undergo radiation for 5 weeks, daily, and 2 additional months of chemotherapy to whip them out (next appointment in Petoskey is April 25-26). Everything else looked great. Don’t know how I’ll find the energy to heal and be ready for this next step but I will. At least Twisty is out of me and beaten down. I am very grateful and so far lucky. Through the grace of God, prayers, positive attitude and love this journey will continue for a bit. Have put on this post different pictures. Thank you for the support, love, and thoughtful cards that filled our mailbox! We’re going to have one heck of a party in Wisconsin when this is but a memory.
Different photos of the Hope Lodge –