This post is a continuation of the things we have experienced since the end of March. The posts in chronological order can be found on the Timeline page.
After a Wednesday of prep, I woke up early on Thursday, May 17, to head over to Francis’ room in anticipation of a day of waiting.
We knew that the surgery would happen that day, but we were unsure what time that would happen because he was toward the end of the list of surgeries for Dr. Metzger. Some further prep needed to be performed that morning because the doctors determined during the morning rounds that his colon wasn’t sufficiently clear for the procedure. Not good.
Unfortunately, this meant more enemas. Each round caused Francis pretty serious discomfort and some pain after having just gone through similar prep one week earlier, and I would nearly burst into tears when the nurse arrived to perform the enema nevermind keeping my composure for each go-round. It was awful.
By mid-morning, the prep was complete. We were now stuck in a holding pattern. By our accounting, we would likely be seeing the transfer nurses around lunchtime or very early afternoon.
We waited, and waited, and waited. Noon passed, then 1:00, 2:00, and 3:00. I’m sure the nurse was tired of us asking how much longer we would have to wait, and tired of attempting to reassure us that it wouldn’t be much longer. We didn’t expect that Dr. Metzger would perform any surgeries too late into the night, so the nurse let us know that while surgery Thursday was still a possibility, we could also be pushed to Friday.
At 4:30 p.m., we heard a commotion in the hall and a transfer nurse was quickly at Francis’ bedside. They hurriedly unplugged all the machines from the wall and started to wheel him down for surgery. I jumped up and gathered everything I thought I would need while waiting and quickly rushed to keep up as they wheeled him down the hall on a gurney to the elevators.
I remember feeling like everyone was in a hurry. The transfer nurses didn’t seem too pleased that I was tagging along, and probably slowing them down with my waddling. There was little chit-chat. Already feeling anxious about Francis going through a major abdominal surgery, I was not anymore at ease following the interaction with the transfer nurses.
I kissed and hugged Francis when we arrived at the surgical floor. It didn’t feel like enough time to properly send him off to surgery. It seemed that before my brain could catch up with what was happening, he was gone.
A Mayo volunteer (truly wonderful people) directed me through the maze of hallways to the waiting room. I called my mom, Francis’ dad, George, and Francis’ mom, Frances, to let them know he was in surgery. My mom walked over with Couper and kept me company. Francis’ dad and stepmom drove over to Mayo from their home on the other side of Jacksonville to join us in the waiting room.
Mayo has a monitor system in all surgical waiting rooms that have ID numbers that correspond with the patients along with a status update for where they are in the surgical process. It would list the various stages: pre-op, in surgery, in recovery. It was nice having that update, but I found that we did little other than watch the monitor for any changes.
The pre-op portion of the procedure took about an hour, then we expected the surgery would last about 3 hours, followed by several hours in recovery.
At 6:00, the regular surgical waiting room closed and they moved everyone who was still there to the ICU surgical waiting room. Unfortunately, this room was not manned by any Mayo personnel or volunteers after hours.
We were given instructions to answer the common phone when it rang and call out the name of the person for whom the nurse or doctor was calling (there were approximately 50 people waiting in the room for what I assume was such a call). The nurse or surgeon would give an update on the process over the phone.
It was a tension-filled room of concerned looking people having hushed conversations. My mom fed Couper between leaving the other waiting room and coming to wait with me for a few minutes in the ICU waiting room. She brought me a sandwich, that I forced myself to choke down, At about 9:00 p.m., she left to put Couper to bed. Francis’ dad and stepmom stayed to wait with me.
I will admit that I can no longer remember how much longer I waited, but the phone eventually rang and a nurse told me that Francis was doing fine, they were now “closing,” and the doctor would be speaking with me soon. This was a relief in itself to hear that he was ok.
Dr. Metzger walked into the waiting room shortly following the phone call. He came to sit next to me.
As he started to speak, my whole body began to shake. It was as if my body knew to prepare for this news before my mind did. He began to describe what had occured in the procedure. The plan was to go in, examine the colon, remove the tumor and the segments that were compromised by the tumor, connect the healthy pieces on either side back together, and send Francis on his way.
Dr. Metzger explained that when he opened Francis he did not find what he was expecting. He described the tumors that had worked their way into the greater omentum, a fatter tissue layer that covers the intestines. He removed that for biopsy and examination by a pathologist. He also informed me that he found extensive tumor in the portion of the colon that was biopsied in Tallahassee, that cancerous tissue was in contact with more of Francis’ intestines than we thought. He described the cancer tissue as “sticky,” and said that it was pulling in other healthy tissue making it too challenging to remove.
I was struggling to push back the growing static in my ears so I could hear what Dr. Metzger was telling me. I remember thinking that I needed to keep concentrating on what he was saying because it was important that I recall as much of this conversation as possible. In some strange way, I found myself completely fixated on the fact that Dr. Metzger had a rather large tribal tattoo on his bicep. For some bizarre reason, focusing on that tattoo keep my brain focused on Dr. Metzger’s words.
Dr. Metzger described his solution to the problem of the blockage in Francis’ colon at the point where the small and large intestine come together. He cut an opening in the healthy small intestine just before the blockage. He then cut a similar opening in the large intestine just past the blockage. He stitched those two openings together creating a bypass of the blockage. Things could still pass through the small opening where the cancer was blocking the colon, but if that passageway was too blocked, the products of digestion could back up and pass through the new opening.
Against all my hopes and prayers, the cancer remained in Francis’ abdomen. Dr. Metzger believed that chemo was the best course of treatment because of how advanced the cancer was.
I was devastated, but managed to stay focused on what Dr. Metzger was saying and to hold it together emotionally while he was there answering our questions. I remember wanting to know the answers to questions to which no one could possibly know the answers. One thing I recall asking was how long the cancer had been there. The best answer Dr. Metzger could give was “quite a while.”
After what seemed like both an instant and an eternity, Dr. Metzger left us to deal with the reality of this news. I remember Francis’ stepmom, Ann, asking me if I was okay. I then broke down.
I’m so thankful that George and Ann were there with me. I know they were equally as shocked and upset by the doctor’s report, and yet their immediate concern was for my well-being.
I had originally planned to stay until Francis was out of recovery, when I could join him. However, I was informed by the doctor that it would be at least three hours before I could see him. It would be longer before he was moved to a new, private room. I decided to go back to the hotel as I was now realizing just how exhausted I was.
George and Ann walked me back to the hotel room, letting me know that they would do whatever they could to help us as we now faced a new set of challenges. I assured them that I would touch base with them the next day after I had a chance to see and talk to Francis.
I was reeling emotionally and my mind was racing. All the fears I had forced myself to ignore since the diagnosis less than a week before came rushing back to the forefront of my mind. Without truly knowing how serious the findings were, I knew well enough that things were much more serious that we originally believed. It also meant that I needed to recognize that there was the possibility that this cancer could kill Francis and rob Couper, our unborn child, and me of Francis’ and my dreams for our family. For the first time, I was struck that the worst case scenario for me would end with me being a single mother of two very young children.
I needed to recognize and face these fears so that together we could begin to search for a way to beat this horrible disease.
My mom called my dad to let him know that Francis was out of surgery and that the doctor was unable to remove the cancer. I called Francis’ sister, Liz, and asked her to go to their mom and stepdad’s house to give them the news.
Sometime after midnight, my mom called the recovery nurse to find out how long it would be until Francis was transferred to his room where I could join him. They told me that it would likely be around 3:30 a.m., but that they could call me when that happened so I could return to be with him. I fell asleep on the bed in my mom’s room, waking frequently in anticipation of a phone call from the nurse.
And, in case you were admiring at the creativity, I can’t take credit for the title. It’s a line from The Italian Job.