This has been a long week. My father-in-law was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a few weeks ago and this past Thursday he had surgery to remove it. Thankfully, the tumor was located in the head of the pancreas which allows for a surgical procedure known as the Whipple. Without boring everyone with the gory details, it’s an amazing operation that basically rewires the entire digestive system removing parts of the pancreas, stomach, and small intestine. For patients lucky enough to catch the cancer before it spreads, the Whipple is a life saving operation.
|From my daughter’s Christening.|
I’ve spent most of the last four days at Johns Hopkins. I can’t explain how blessed we feel to live 45 minutes from the hospital where this surgery was perfected. Dr. John Cameron, the man responsible for it, has done 2,000 of them himself. For a cancer as rare as this, that’s a mind numbing total. Considering my father-in-law’s surgery took nearly eight hours from start to finish, you can appreciate how staggering that figure is.
The truth is we won’t know how successful it was for some time, but the doctors are optimistic they were able to remove all the cancerous tissue. My father-in-law is already up and walking, doing his best to recover quickly. Nevertheless, he’ll be undergoing chemotherapy and radiation starting in a month or so, to give him the best chance of winning the battle.
He’s sixty years old, relatively young in today’s medical age. It seems so unfair to strike a man so fundamentally good. He immigrated from Colombia when he was 18. Worked two jobs most of his life to support his family and put both his children through college. He graduated from college himself two years ago. I don’t know that I’ve been prouder of someone. He’s been my daughter’s primary caretaker since the end of my wife’s maternity leave and he’s teaching her to become as good a person as he is. Something she’s already trying to pay him back for.
I write this mostly as an exercise in reminding others, and myself, of life’s fragility. We don’t have nearly long enough, and too often we don’t say the things we need to say to those we love until it’s too late. My own father is sixty himself, and I can’t imagine losing him. It’s hard to even write it. It’s a sappy reason, but I think it’s a good one.
I also write it to remind everyone of the importance of early detection. My mother is a breast cancer survivor largely because she never missed a mammogram (she was only 45 when diagnosed). And now my father-in-law has a chance to survive one of the deadliest forms of cancer because he went to see someone at the first sign of stomach pain. So let’s all try to be a little better about never missing our annual exams. I can’t spare the readers.