Surgery: Before and After

I’m 38 days post surgery and finally feeling somewhat normal again. I tried a few times to write something, but physically I just wasn’t able to. I have people asking how I am so here’s a brief update on how everything went down.

How did Surgery Go?

So, quite a bit happened in the 12 hours I was under. The incision was from my sternum to my groin and the surgeon did a lot of cutting while he was in there. He removed my detached, atrophying large intestine as well as some of the rectum. I now have a permanent ileostomy which I knew would be the case. He also noticed a fistula connection my large intestine to my small intestine, so he had to cut the small intestine around the fistula and reattach it back together. He then was able to scoop three “bad areas” out of my liver (likely all small tumors). This was mostly expected other than the fistula. The surprise came when he found a golf ball sized tumor hanging out near my gallbladder. It was not a tumor on my gall bladder, but instead a tumor growing in the abdominal cavity. It was likely spilled colon cancer cells that found a weak blood supply to grow and feed on. However, because of the proximity to my gallbladder, and wanting clear margins from the tumor, he removed my gallbladder. I had pain when I would take a deep breath near my gall bladder before surgery and now that pain is gone, so that undetectable tumor likely would have become more of an issue had I not went through the surgery. He also had to remove another section of my small intestine to get clear margins, so again I had to be cut and reattached. They then sewed my up, performed the HIPEC procedure, then stapled me up and I was out to recovery.

Why Surgery?

I’ve had people ask why I chose to do surgery. Mainly this question was coming from a natural cancer cures facebook group that I’ve been a part of since I was diagnosed.

“Why would you do surgery? You were doing so well fighting it naturally!”

“You know surgery doesn’t cure you and makes cancer come back faster right?”

“You’ll never be able to fight cancer and stay healthy now after getting all that removed.”

“Cut. Poison. Burn. That’s all doctors do.”

There were more like this and sometimes you just have to do your best to ignore the negativity of others and just move forward. The fact of the matter is this… I needed surgery. My intestine was already detached and full of disuse colitis, so much so that they couldn’t even do a colonoscopy. It had tumors slowly growing from it and I wasn’t going to be able to be reconnected to it. Maybe there would have been some small chance that I could have reversed the colitis that has engulfed it, but in order to do that, I would have had to be reattached first and the pain that would have been associated with that likely would have resulted in another obstruction or perforation before it would have healed. It unfortunately just wasn’t in the cards so I had to play a different hand. Obviously no one wants to go through major surgery, but I felt like it was my best chance to live a long life.

What about those missing organs?

I’m honestly still processing everything. The large intestine is such an important organ for your immune system. Your immune system is basically powered by your gut (which is why what you eat is so important), so removing a major organ of your digestive system must affect the immune system drastically. But honestly, my detached, diseased colon likely wasn’t benefitting me very much in the state it was in, so maybe the body just finds a way to cope with changes, even to surgery this invasive.

And then there’s the gallbladder. When I woke up from surgery and my wife told me I lost my gallbladder, I was pretty upset. So many people get their gallbladder removed, and while it is not a vital organ, it is a pretty important digestive organ. The good news is I already avoid fatty, fried foods, so the affects of not having a gall bladder won’t be so drastic for me. The bad news is trying to eat nut butters and avocados, which are both great healthy fats, has caused me some pain. I’ve given both a little break until I’m healed a little more. I need healthy fats in my diet and I’m hoping the body adjusts and lets me eat these again without pain.

Another question people have asked is how someone can live without a large intestine. The large intestine is a very important organ of the immune system, full of gut bacteria, but it only really has two vital functions: storing waste and replenishing your body of water. You have about 300 cm of small intestine and you need around 150cm to live. I lost about 20 cm of small intestine during the surgery and I hope I never lose any more.

No Visible Disease

The results of my surgery were the best case scenario for a stage 4 colon cancer patient. I am an R-0 surgical case with no visible disease present in my body. It’s what we were hoping and praying for and it’s what ended up happening for me. I’m so grateful for the surgical team and CTCA in general, because they offer such a better experience than I feel I would have received in Michigan.

So, Are you “Cancer-Free”?

This million dollar question has been asked the most and it’s a tough one to answer. People who love you and are engaged in your life when you have cancer always want something to celebrate, but unfortunately, no doctor will ever tell me I am “Cancer-Free”. But that doesn’t mean I am destined to have a huge tumor grow somewhere else in the next couple months. It simply means that from a diagnostic standpoint, once you reach stage 4, cancer has spread into your lymph nodes and your blood stream and can be anywhere, growing slowly, undetected by scans or the naked surgical eye. The good news is there are hundreds upon thousands of cases of people living long lives in a Radical Remission from Stage 4 cancer. It’s possible that I’ll never have another tumor grow anywhere in my body, and it’s also possible I will. I’m choosing to believe the former is my destiny.

So Now What? How Are You Doing?

I’ve been having a rough time recovering, but I’ve had no complications. I went for fluids at my naturopath’s office twice during these past 38 days because I was getting dehydrated, but I definitely have my digestive system under control now. I lost about 20 pounds from my 150 pound frame, but over the past 2 weeks I’ve noticed I’m gaining weight again, especially in my face. I still have a lot of back pain due to the abdominal muscles near my sternum being still very sore. I’m walking a little hunched, but all that should resolve itself as the incision and muscles heal. I’m actually getting on a plane this Thursday morning to go back to CTCA for my surgical followup appointment; so I’m definitely feeling much better than I was a few weeks ago.

Mentally, however, I’ve been struggling a bit. And it isn’t depression or fear or anything like that. It’s trying to fit back into real life again that has thrown me for a loop. I recently was talking with a friend of mine who is spectacularly healing from cancer naturally himself and we both were dealing with this same dilemma.

 How do you just fit back into life?

Being sick is the simple part. It’s not fun and it’s not easy, but it sure isn’t complicated. When you start to heal or recover, life hits you hard with so many possibilities. Maybe I can start thinking about “where will I be in 10 years” again? Maybe I can start to have goals again? There was a time not long ago when I was thinking more about Heather and the kids struggling to get through life without me and now I am thinking about how we will get through the struggles of life together. It’s hard to wrap your mind around going from living one day at a time to having to think about the future more often.

But maybe living one day at a time is still the better option?

I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m very grateful to be in the situation where my life no longer feels like a quickly trickling hourglass. It’s just been hard to balance all the emotions that come with that revelation.

I’ll figure it out. Slowly.

I am greater than cancer.