Sunday, February 21, 2016

What Luck Means Now -- Joyce Maynard

"Luck" means something different when severe illness eliminates so many choices and opportunities. Joyce Maynard writes poignantly about waiting for news of her husband's surgery.


I arrived a little after 6 a.m., after kissing my husband goodbye before they wheeled him into surgery. The surgery is expected to take 12 hours, though somewhere around Hour 3 the surgeon will have gotten to the place in Jim’s abdomen where he can see the tumor, known to us only as an innocuous-looking gray area on Jim’s CT scans. Sometimes this turns out to be the moment when the surgeon discovers the tumor is not operable after all, in which case they stitch everything up and say, “We tried.”

The tumor in question (I haven’t allowed myself to call it “Jim’s tumor”; I don’t want to see him take ownership) is 2.5 centimeters in diameter and located in the head of Jim’s pancreas. For my husband to survive — to have a shot at survival — this tumor must come out.

The operation calls for the removal of part of Jim’s pancreas, his gall bladder, his duodenum and parts of his small intestine and stomach. “Picture gutting a fish,” Jim, a fly fisherman, said to a friend. “That’s roughly the idea.”

It’s odd to say of an operation like this that a person is lucky to be receiving it, but Jim and I do feel lucky. Seven months earlier, when we went to the doctor, anticipating gallstones, we learned the tumor was probably inoperable.

“There’s a surgery that gives you a shot,” Jim’s doctor told us. (A shot. Just that. But suddenly a shot was everything.) “It’s called the Whipple Procedure.”

From that moment, our focus had become shrinking the tumor to where Jim could get the Whipple. And after eight rounds of chemotherapy and two of radiation, the day has come.

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