If I could, tonight I would be a fly on the wall of a particular ICU room at HUP. I want to see the room, see the patient, take on the pain, take on the worries, and fix all that is wrong. That is asking a lot of a fly, but in this instance, as far away as I am in Michigan, knowing would be better than guessing. Yes, we are getting the updates, but I want to know everything, not just the highlights. I want to see what my sister is enduring, and overcoming. I want to see her getting better quickly, from surgery, to recovery, to her her new/old life.
Why? Well, today my sister went through life-saving surgery with early indications that the surgery was successful. It was a long surgery in my eyes, about six hours, though the original estimate was 3.5 -5 hours. The fact that she even became eligible for surgery is a miracle in itself. I am skipping to the conclusion here but at this moment, my sister Chris can be considered cancer-free.
So I will backtrack now to October 2009 when Chris was admitted to the ER with extreme abdominal pain. She had had issues in the prior year but due to her active life and just 40 years old, they had been dismissed as muscle strains and who knows what else. Upon her arrival in the ER, a scan was finally done and five lesions/tumors were found. Three turned out to be nothing of significance but two, a lesion on her spine, and the other, an enormous tumor on her liver, positioned her positively as stage 4 cancer. The diagnosis was terminal. It was metastasised primary liver cancer, usually a disease of extremely elderly patients. Liver cancer is rarely primary - usually secondary to other cancers. She was fit, healthy (aside from the terminal cancer) and certainly didn't fit the norm. She was told there was no hope. The prognosis? As little as two weeks to maybe two months to live.
Well, with 3 children 14 and under at the time, a terrific marriage, success in other areas of life as well, this didn't sit well with Chris. She and her husband pulled in every favor and connection they could and soon had appointments and opinions from top oncologists. She decided on one oncologist and began chemotherapy at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. She also opted to follow a very strict anti-cancer diet that she believes was the key to surviving chemo with few side effects and prolonged her life long enough to become a surgical candidate. Scans were done throughout her chemo treatment and the results were always amazing. When she asked a nurse if her success was typical, she was told, "hardly ever". Well, the spinal tumor was small enough for radiation in August and 3 zaps took care of that. (She ran a 5K that month as well.) A later scan revealed that the only cancer remaining was the liver tumor, and though still huge, it was believed to be surgically removable. The liver, being that it can regenerate, is a remarkable organ. Chris once quipped that she wished her cancer had hit an organ she no longer needed, like her uterus, given her three children, but admitted we don't get to choose these things.
Today Chris endured that surgery to resection her liver to remove the tumor. As much as 50% removal was predicted but I don't yet know the final details. I do know this - the surgeon said he was pleasantly surprised when he opened her up and realized that some of the bile duct and intestinal reconstruction was not going to be necessary. Chris did an amazing job taking care of herself while completing chemotherapy, and advocating for herself in her health care decisions. I expect, given the success of this year-long ordeal, she will make a full recovery, see her children graduate from high school, and live a long and happy life with her husband. I refuse to believe otherwise, just as Chris refused to believe her terminal diagnosis.
Long live optimism and faith! After witnessing this, I believe it is key to survival. Congratulations Chris - you beat the odds and did it! Was it your husband who said you were too stubborn to die? Yeah for stubborn!!!
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