Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Happy Whippleversary to Me

One year ago today I underwent an 11 hour surgery to remove a 9.5 cm tumor from the head of my pancreas. Those of us who have had The Whipple call these anniversaries "Whippleversaries." So, happy Whippleversary to me. I remember that day all too clearly (except the 11 hours I was anesthetized, of course). I remember the drive to the hospital, checking in, and waiting in the waiting area. I remember the awkward prep for surgery, I remember the surgical nurse telling my husband Chris it was OK to kiss me before I went into the operating room, I remember getting an epidural. If you've ever been "out" by way of anesthesia (the "black magic of medicine," as so named by my BFF), you know that time passes in an instant (or it does for me anyway). So after the epidural I remember waking up, being extubated (they took out my breathing tube /respirator), and being wheeled to my room in surgical ICU. I remember seeing my husband, Chris, who seemed giddy to see me and couldn't stop saying how good I looked, which was funny to me because I had never felt more terrible. I remember my surgeon came to see me in recovery with an imprint of the mask on his forehead from looking through the DaVinci robot to operate on my insides for hours on end. I was freezing cold, and my surgeon called me a "popsicle" in his soothing Italian accent. My father and stepmom (who had been there all day, too) came in to see me.  They told me they loved me and they'd be back the next day. I remember telling my husband that no, he should not spend the night, our kids needed him more than I did. I remember spending a long night (mostly awake) listening to the sounds of the ICU.

Thankfully, the next couple of days passed in a blur of sleep and pain meds. I remember more than I'd like to, but I'm indeed thankful for what I forgot. Apparently I had a concerningly high heart rate that was feared to be a pulmonary embolism or a blood clot somewhere else. I did not. But they put me on blood thinners that may have slowed my recovery. I'm OK with that, as I left the hospital 2 weeks later without having faced a serious complication.

I can't say I'm thankful for the experience. I'm thankful to be alive and tumor free, I'm thankful that the Whipple surgery exists, I'm thankful to have been eligible for surgery, I'm thankful for my surgeon, and I'm thankful for my seemingly hundreds of doctors and nurses (realistically, I had tens of doctors and nurses) who managed my care. So, I'm thankful for so much, but that surgery sucked. I've been told that all surgeries suck, which I now willingly believe without the necessity of experience.

For many people who undergo the Whipple, the surgery is just one step of their care. Many people face chemo or radiation before or after or before and after surgery. My tumor did not require such adjuvant therapies. I am thankful for that.

I am thankful for so much. For family and friends who visited me, who washed my hair and rubbed my feet, who talked to me when I wasn't dozing in and out of sleep and who just sat in the room with me so I wasn't alone. I'm thankful for everyone who sent me well wishes and prayers and fed my family.

Maybe the day will arrive when I can say that I'm specifically thankful for having had the experience of the Whipple, but for now I'll be thankful for the positive effects of the Whipple (no tumor) and everything else positive that surrounded that surgery and recovery. I'd like to think I could have learned the life lessons I learned with a gentler experience. But for now, that's the best I can do.

Happy Whippleversary to me, the first of hopefully tens of Whippleversaries.

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