5 years ago today, I sat in UCLA’s surgical waiting room patiently wondering how my dad’s surgery was going. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer months ago but besides tons of diagnostic testings, very little was known about his condition and his staging. He couldn’t start chemotherapy because his tumor was a bleeder and any additional aggregation could cause him to “bleed out”. He was given less than 6 months to live by his original doctors and told to put his affairs in order. Thankfully, we got second opinions and we had some hope. For a moment, we did think that maybe he was in early stages – but the diagnostic tests were so inconclusive that we also knew that there was a strongly possibility that he was in advanced stages of stomach cancer as well. Unfortunately, the latter was true.
5 years ago today, the surgeon promised he’d remove the bleeding tumor no matter what, but he could not make any promises for my dad’s overall survival. We didn’t know if my dad would just have the tumor removed, or have a partial gastrectomy or even have a total gastrectomy. The hardest part for me, as a caregiver was that my dad didn’t know either. Eventually around noon on this day—Feb 11, the surgeon’s nurse called me over the telephone to let me know that the surgeon has decided to move forward with the entire stomach removal. I remember crying hysterically in that little waiting room. I remember thinking how was my dad going to live without a stomach. Funny how I didn’t know that surgery would be the easiest with chemotherapy and radiation being the worst thing my dad has ever experienced.
5 years ago today, the surgeon called after spending the last 8 hours with my dad to let me know that the surgery was complete. He explained why he had to remove his entire stomach- that he saw something on his liver and that it had to be done. He knew I had a million questions but he said this wasn’t the right time and that he’s answer every single one of them later (which he did).
5 years ago today, my brave dad took the first step in beating this monster called stomach cancer with a total gastrectomy. We know now that the tumor was 7.5 cm, in his peritoneal cavity & a nodule on his liver. We were fortunate that the surgeon went through with the surgery—because now I know that many, many, many surgeons would not have. These past few years have been the hardest years with plenty of recurrence scares, vitamin deficiency, muscle deterioration, pancreatic atrophy and severe depression. I learned that no amounts of money can save my dad… even love isn’t enough sometimes. At many points during chemo and radiation, I thought he would die from the treatment alone. The fear of recurrence still haunts me every day… then when we aren’t dealing with that, we deal with guilt. The prognosis, even today, is so ridiculously awful that it feels as if my dad is taking somebody’s spot to live. I know it’s crazy… and I know it doesn’t work like that, but it feels like it. Life is still consumed with FEAR and GUILT. It’s a song and balance Every. Single. Day. In the world of stomach cancer—5 years is considered clinically cured. Yes, the other “c” word. We haven’t celebrated this HUGE milestone… ever. It’s still hard to believe… Hard to incorporate that we made it here. I know I’m so LUCKY that he’s alive, and I’m so proud of his strength and courage. Today is the anniversary of the day my dad choice LIFE. Happy 5-year Canniversary dad!!