While I was in California two weeks ago, a friend of mine here in Colorado was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is particularly virulent, AND, (I didn’t know this three weeks ago) refractory when it comes to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The only real treatment and hope for a cure is surgery. Huge surgery.
Over the years, Scott has adopted a dietary lifestyle which nearly eliminated all fats. He is very active and very healthy. His wife (and my friend) Joanne had gotten the bug to do some cooking with hamburger. She’d made meatloaf, meatloaf sandwiches, spaghetti and meatballs, etc. And, being the dutiful and loving husband that he is, Scott ate and ate of the burger based delicacies (even though he doesn’t like hamburger…now that’s love!). And he started to not feel so good.
After a few days of increasing abdominal pain/pressure and other gut related issues, he went to the doctor. And there you have it. Pancreatic cancer. The tumor was blocking the bile and pancreatic ducts. The digestive juices and liver enzymes were unable to pass into the digestive tract and all the fat in the digestive system was just swimming around and that doesn’t feel so great. Within a few more days he had become jaundiced as well and was on the fast track for definitive treatment.
Today was the definitive treatment. It’s called a Whipple procedure. Read about it. I won’t go into the specifics, but they take lots of stuff out in order to get all the places that cancer could possibly get to. It’s the only hope for a cure. And the surgeon said that Scott’s scenario was just about as good as it could get. It was caught pretty early and Scott is extremely healthy. Like all of us would do in the same situation, Joanne and Scott did their internet homework on pancreatic cancer and the Whipple. I didn’t realize until after I saw relief pour over them that they didn’t realize that pancreatic cancer IS curable. Cancer survivability statistics usually give a percentage of people who survive to five years without recurrance. Five years without recurrance is considered cured. They didn’t realize that. And they didn’t realize that when the percentages of people who don’t survive up to five years is presented, that they include “all comers” with pancreatic cancer. They don’t reflect just people whose cancer was caught early and who enjoy excellent health. They thought pancreatic cancer was pretty much a death sentence. You wouldn’t have known it by how they were remained filled with joy and hope. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this kind of raw courage. On many occasions Joanne talked of how excited she was to be able to be on this journey with Scott, and what a privilege it is to be able to see God do what He will do. They embraced this diagnosis with complete surrender to God’s will. (Nope, not denial…surrender.)
From the moment that Scott got sick to the time he came out of surgery we saw God weaving the fabric of His control in the situation. Because Scott had some time ago adopted a nearly fat free diet, had he not eaten all that hamburger, it might have been much longer until the diagnosis was made. All that fat which made Scott so sick brought his cancer to light (thank God for hamburger). The doctor he went in to see first thought it was just a simple stomach upset and ordered medicine for it, but also ordered a battery of blood tests. Based on those blood tests Scott was almost immediately in to see a gastroenterologist who immediately arranged for him to see a buddy of his. A buddy who just happened to be a pre-eminent cancer surgeon up in Denver. He was in to see this doctor within days. This doctor, amazingly, had performed the Whipple procedure over a hundred times! During the course of that appointment the doctor informed him that he could do the surgery the next Monday, as they had just had a cancellation. Wow. They ran some pre-op blood tests and a couple of days later it was determined that Scott needed to have stents placed in order to unblock those ducts to bring down his bilirubin level. This past Thursday Scott urgently underwent that procedure, which ended up being very complicated, but ultimately successful. One of the nurses just happened to be a friend of theirs and was able to keep them well informed of what was happening. Calls for prayer went out for the struggling doctors, and it seemed like within moments, the struggling stopped and the stents were in. Lots and lots more prayer later and repeat labs on Sunday showed that he could have the surgery as his bilirubin level had come down into a safer level for surgery. It seemed as though God was in the business of giving them little miracle after little miracle.
I think that every Christian that everyone in the family knows and every Christian that everyone connected to the family knows, has been praying.
We congregated in the surgery waiting room this morning and hunkered down for the long wait. Well, Joanne didn’t hunker down. Joanne was off meeting everyone else in the waiting room, encouraging them, hugging them, praying with them, and raising spirits. She was calm and she was peaceful. I don’t know how I would have been if it was my husband in there, but I don’t think I would have been working the room like that. I wouldn’t have had that sort of reachoutiveness. There was an incredible peace in our little corner of the room. And even smiles and laughter.
Late in the afternoon the doctor came into the waiting room and gave the news. The surgery went great. They got all the tumor, and they did so completely sparing Scott’s stomach. The final pathology reports won’t be in for five days, but the doctor believed that all the margins were clear of tumor when he was done. Scott was in recovery and was extubated and didn’t need a nasogastric tube to his stomach, and wouldn’t even need to spend the night in the ICU, but instead would be going to a step down unit. Couldn’t have gone better. Another miracle, this one a big one.
The Whipple is a horribly invasive and very aggresive surgery. But it has to be since it’s the only hope for a cure. Because of the nature of the surgery, the risk for complications (from very mild to very severe) is very high.
Your prayers for Scott’s continued good recovery are deeply coveted. And your prayers for continuing miracles in this family’s life are deeply coveted. Joanne and Scott, married for decades, are crazy in love with each other. They’d like to grow old together. Love like theirs is hard to find.
I’ve found myself at nearly a complete loss at how to pray. I’ve just been begging God to let them grow old together.