Daughter Recounts Fear and Anxiety Leading Up to Father’s Demanding 15 Hour Mesothelioma Surgery
Dad had his first consultation with his doctors in Philadelphia very soon after contacting The University of Pennsylvania. During the consultation, they talked about what the scans showed and what mesothelioma treatment options were available for his type of mesothelioma. They also evaluated Dad for his overall physical health, and they identified him as being basically in perfect shape, despite what they saw in the scan.
Before he left the appointment the medical team had a plan in place. Since he was in good health, he did indeed qualify for mesothelioma surgery: pleurectomy/decortication with photo-dynamic light therapy, followed by chemotherapy.
The surgery was scheduled for two months later on April 9, 2013. In the meantime, Dad continued to work and the rest of us tried to live as normal a life as possible. Of course, we all were on edge during the months leading up to Dad’s surgery, but we tried to be positive. We were very happy that he had this option of surgery, since not every mesothelioma patient is this lucky.
During the two months before Dad’s surgery I tried to learn as much as I could about mesothelioma and what to expect with the surgery my dad would go through. How long is this surgery? How long is recovery? Are there life-threatening complications? What would life be like after surgery? Would the cancer come back? These are all questions that would constantly race through my mind.
I started reading blogs, requesting information, and reaching out to others who someone they love had already had this surgery. Everything I heard and read was very scary, and it did not sound pleasant at all. My family prepared as much as we could before surgery, so we could understand what to expect. Unfortunately, nothing we read or heard could possibly prepare us for what we experienced.
April 8 finally arrived; I do not know if we were excited for this day to come, or dreading it. My brother Adam took Dad to his appointment for pre-op at UPenn where he received his injection for the photo-dynamic therapy (PDT), which is a photosensitizing agent that when exposed to light of a certain kind and wavelength, produces a type of oxygen that kills the cancer cells in that area.
The PDT can also aid cancer patients in that it can damage the blood vessels that feed the tumor, thus, stopping its growth. This injection made him sensitive to any type of UV light for up to six weeks and, if exposed, his skin would burn very easily. Afterward, Adam brought him to my place in Philadelphia to stay the night since he had to be at the hospital bright and early the next day.
In the morning, I drove Dad to the hospital for intake and then went into work for a half day. Mom and Andrew met me around lunchtime in the waiting room at Penn Presbyterian. We sat and waited all afternoon, into the evening, into the night, and into the early morning hours. Dad’s doctor would come out every few hours to update us on how the surgery was going and what would happen next. This kept us at ease throughout this nerve-racking day.
Mom, Andrew and I sat for hours sometimes talking about upbeat topics, sometimes about our worries. Adam called us after his last class of the day at Penn State and sounded worried and concerned. To ease his worry, he ended up driving back to Philadelphia to be with us.
We all waited together, and finally at 1:00 am, 15 hours later, the surgery was complete and we were able to see Dad. Dad’s doctor told us that the tumors were larger than what he saw on the 2D scans. One tumor had pushed his esophagus into the opposite side of his chest cavity, but on a positive note, he was able to save Dad’s damaged lung.
Exhausted, we walked into the surgical intensive care unit (SICU) and saw him. We could have never prepared ourselves for what we saw. Our healthy, strong, full-of-life Dad who never showed weakness was lying there unconscious and looking like we never expected. We hugged. We cried. We stood there in silence. I would see the pain reflecting in all of our eyes. At that point we were beyond tired and went back to my place to get some rest, while Adam drove back to school.
Next week I’ll discuss Dad’s recovery from surgery and the challenges we faced during that time.