I just got back from visiting a friend in the hospital. She had surgery yesterday to remove most of her insides in a life-threatening operation lightly called “the Whipple procedure.” Several months ago, her doctors found ominous spots on her pancreas by accident while she was still in treatment for the aftermath of a burst appendix. She’s one lucky, tough woman.
Unlike me, my friend has a family history of nasty cancers. Even so, it was still a very difficult decision for her to have the surgery, because the lesions were pre-cancerous. But pancreatic cancer is nothing to fool with. So once she decided to have the surgery, she did something that was one of the most courageous and wonderful things I can imagine – she put off the surgery for several months so that she could do all the things she wanted to do one last time, and say all (or almost all) the things she needed to say, in the very likely event that she didn’t make it through the surgery. There is no way I could have done that. It was a very tough decision for her partner to accept, which added another element of stress.
She knew that after the surgery her life would be severely altered. She’d possibly be a diabetic. As for her stomach, she had the equivalent of bariatric surgery and would now be able to eat only small portions. She probably couldn’t drink her home-brewed beer. Oh well. These things are small price to pay in exchange for life.
The Whipple procedure, or pancreaticoduodenectomy, (say that 5 times fast!) was first performed in the early 1900’s. It’s named after Iranian-born Allen Whipple, who improved and refined the procedure in 1935. It is performed today in almost the same way since then. Here’s why it’s so nasty. First, the surgeon has to take out a lot of stuff – part of the stomach, the entire gall bladder and bile duct, part or all of the pancreas, a good section of small intestine, and surrounding lymph nodes. Then he/she has to put it all back together again in such a way that food can actually be digested. This is not your typical childhood game of “Operation”!
The good news is that the surgery went well, even better than expected. The doctor thinks that she will very likely NOT become diabetic, and all the margins around the lesions were clean. I’m sure my friend does not and will not remember much about yesterday and the week ahead. She was pretty much in a drug induced fog because of the pain, but she will be up and around very soon, maybe even having a small sip of her home brew, which she no doubt will enjoy much more than the ice chips she was sucking on today. I left her and her partner both on the verge of sleep after a very long night. Matzah ball soup to follow.
So take from her these lessons:
Live your life.
Have no regrets.