Tuesday’s Post-Op appointment went well. Don’s staples were removed and now he has the butterfly tape across the incision, which should last another week or so before they start to fall off. He will have a nice 10″ scar that will fade away over time. The day after surgery, while he was in the hospital, he asked the nurses if his chances of making the Dad Bod Calendar were reduced, but they told him he still had a great chance of making the cut.
In addition to staple removal we met with the surgeon to review the pathology reports. I wish I could I could tell you that “they got it all” and this cancer journey was over. But that is not the m.o. of NETs cancer. We knew this long before surgery.
The surgery was a success, in that Dr. Z was able to remove 3 large tumors from his liver (the biggest about the size of a chicken egg, two others a bit smaller) which resulted in the loss of approximately 20% of his liver. Did you know that the liver regenerates naturally? They say it will replace this 20% loss in about a month! Wow!
Also removed was a section of his ileum where they found the primary tumor, where the small intestine attaches to the colon. The tumor was only 2 cm in size. Hard to believe something that tiny can cause so much havoc. It was blocking about 30% of his intestine, so would have continued to cause a variety of problems if they had not found it. Hallelujah that bugger is out.
Also removed were 7 regional lymph nodes (4 of them cancerous), the gallbladder and the appendix (both non-cancerous).
The good news is that all of the tumors analyzed are low-grade, which implies that Don’s cancer is not aggressive. This is the most common type of neuroendocrine cancer. As mentioned before, NETs is also known as “slow motion cancer” because the tumors grow very slowly. It could take 12 months to even notice a change in tumor size.
Dr. Z did explain that while “in there” he did spot two or three tiny lesions on the liver (a few millimeters in size). They were deeper in the organ, and he opted to leave them alone, because he felt removing more of the liver could put Don at a greater risk of liver failure. The logic is also that we know the cancer has spread (from ileum to liver) so the nature of this cancer is to watch things over time. If these tiny tumors grow, we will see it on his routine scans and he can always go in for more surgery in the future (hopefully this will not be anytime soon — years away — if at all).
As we left the hospital after the appointment, Don wondered aloud what his status is now. We don’t know the exact terminology, but I would say cancer survivor – one who is living with cancer – just like thousands of other people living with NETs.
So what’s next? He will see Dr. M, the general oncologist at Duke in a couple of weeks to assess things. We are pretty sure he will resume the monthly sandostatin shot, which alleviates any symptoms and also helps to inhibit tumor growth. He is feeling good these days, just as he was before surgery, so we are grateful and hopeful.
As with all moments in life, the good stuff can be accompanied with some hard stuff. We are grieving with a coworker of mine who lost her 25-year-old son yesterday after a tragic bike accident last weekend. We all know there are no guarantees. But even though we know that, it does not alleviate the pain of loss and suffering. Each day we have is a gift. I am slowly learning to acknowledge the daily gifts we have together, knowing that today is really all we have. I suppose this is a lesson we always must keep learning. Prayers for my friends who are suffering today. Gratitude for another day with those that I love.