We walked into the James Cancer Hospital at 5 AM on Wednesday, 5/31. Dave, my Mom, Sara and I, believed we were ready. How hard could this really be, right?! The surgery began at 7:15 AM and ended a little after 5 PM. Thanks to many wonderful doctors, they successfully completed multiple procedures in one day. This included: partial removal of my tongue and tissue within my mouth to remove all cancer, muscle/tissue taken from my left arm to replace what was taken from my mouth, skin from my leg taken and grafted onto my arm, removal of all lymph nodes from my neck, a tracheotomy and, finally, 6 drains inserted into my neck and arm.
I woke up to sounds of patients to the left and right of me in the recovery room. Key questions immediately came to mind… where is my family, when can I see my family and was the surgery successful? After numerous visits from nurses and doctors, my questions were slowly answered without me saying a word as talking was not an option. After a short while, it was time to move to my room and I arrived a few moments before Dave, Mom and Sara. They walked in cautiously but, upon seeing me, talked about the successful outcome of the surgery and that I was ‘looking great’! Unfortunately, it didn’t take long before realizing we had grossly underestimated the impacts of this surgery. We were definitely prepared for a procedure, but not this.
The next 30 hours were tough, very tough. We knew the day after surgery was going to be the hardest and it proved to be true. Every hour brought nurses and doctors poking, prodding and checking my vitals. There were tubes, drains, cords and more coming from my body in too many places to count. Every time I opened my eyes, the clock would only confirm time was passing excruciatingly slow. When I wasn’t sleeping, I reminisced of every pleasant memory possible. I thought about the home Dave and I have built over the last 11 years, the sound of laughter from our girls, all of the time spent walking with my close friends, my morning ritual of saying, “Good Morning’ to close friends and so much more. At one point, Dave and Sara decided to remind me of all the support and love from you. Dave read the 20+ cards from family, friends and co-workers. Sara read all of the Facebook messages, all 100+ of the wonderful messages posted on her wall as well as mine. The show of support was AMAZING. And, it was exactly what was needed to get me through the remaining few hours of that awful day.
Day two, Friday, was better. The surgery resulted in numerous wound sites. It was hard to concentrate on one painful site at a time. The absolute worst was the tracheotomy. With my Mom and Sara watching, I went into a coughing fit and had significant trouble breathing. My nurse, Joe, was quick to take action and pulled the clogged tube from my throat. I had another scary breathing complication in the night hours. This time, Dave was there to witness the blocked tube which also required help and quick action from the nurses. Both episodes scared us and completely wiped me out.
Marley, our oldest daughter, visited on Sunday (day 4). It started with Marley and a family, who are very good friends, hosting a mini balloon ceremony for me in the park area at the entrance of the hospital. They joyfully waved up to us, while we were watching from the 21st floor, and let a wonderful display of balloons go in honor of our fight to beat cancer. Once done, Marley slowly walked into the hospital room as I was sitting in a chair with almost all signs of impact hidden from her view. She hugged me tightly and only let go once she decided it was time to talk. Our sweet girl proceeded to talk and every passing minute seemed to shed the worry from her troubled mind. This was a turning point for both of us. I cannot hide cancer from our children, but we can absolutely control our reactions and how we tackle the challenge.
Every day following the surgery included progress and signs of recovery. The Doctors told us the drains would stay in 5 days, but they removed three of the six drains 2 days ahead of schedule. They said I would have the large tracheotomy until day 5, but it also was removed days ahead of time. I was told to walk to expedite recovery and keep infection away, so we walked multiple times a day for as long as I could stand. On Day 5, I was able to walk outside. On Day 6, I went outside twice, passed a speech test and was told we would go home the following day. Day 7, I passed the eating test (which was the hardest test I had taken in a long time), had the feeding tube removed and went home.
The experience at James Cancer Hospital was phenomenal. A HUGE thank you to Dr. Matthew Old, Dr. Emily Shindeldecker, Joe, Cheryl, Connie and so so many more! Our family was very blessed to have such great care during our stay at James, thank you.