Taking a cue from the stranger in the elevator, I decided that I wanted everyone I knew to be informed and praying for me, if they would. Below are parts of that first message--we later called these updates "blast-o-grams"-- to get the word out.
Sent: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 7:33 PM
Subject: Bad News for Celine
I need your prayers!
I had a colonoscopy yesterday due to some bleeding problems I'd been having. I was guessing it'd just be polyps, but no. The doc found a tumor...Tomorrow I will have surgery to remove the part of my colon that is affected. The surgeon will determine whether or not it is cancerous, and if it is, to what extent. And we'll go from there. Chemotherapy would be the recommended treatment if it's found to be cancerous.
Please pray that [my surgeon] does his best work. Pray for all of us, too. Patrick especially--he's got so many plates spinning at once...Things are happening very quickly around here.
Spinning plates, indeed. Our oldest was starting college at the local university that day. The next-oldest, who had never set foot in a brick-and-mortar school before then, began public high school just the day before. Patrick had stress at work: a new division, new boss, and new personnel that reported to him. I home-schooled our three sons aged 4, 6, and 11. Piano lessons were in full swing outside the home, as well as dance classes three nights per week in the next-over city. Two nights each week, Pat taught Chemistry to a small group of home-schooled teenagers in our basement classroom. None of us had time for a cancer diagnosis. But cancer didn't care about our schedules or our commitments.
Cancer had its own thieving agenda.
At around 10:00 PM that night, the surgeon called to discuss the scan. He seemed to be looking at the images directly; not reading a radiologist's report. He told us that he saw a mass in the sigmoid colon, and an "attachment of some sort" on the bladder. He said that it looked like the tumor was "contained", which would be a very good thing if it were true. His manner was supremely confident and he gave me great hope that surgery would eradicate the cancer.
He laughed when I told him that the hospital had scheduled me for 5:00 PM. "They are highly optimistic," he joked.
I spent the day of surgery preparing for others to step into my shoes in my absence. I ran the laundry, returned library books, and made charts of the kids' outside-the-home lessons. Bills got paid, check registers balanced, and papers filed. I knew I'd be in the hospital for at least five days and I wanted to get things in order as much as possible before I left.
As it turned out, the surgeon was correct about the hospital scheduler's optimism. The next evening the operation started at about 8:00 PM. I met briefly with the doc in the pre-op area, where he described what he expected to do. He would use a "combination approach", part laparoscopic, and part "open". He seemed energized, even given the late hour, and once again he inspired my confidence in his skill. With the help of I.V. sedatives, I was asleep before reaching the operating room.
Patrick was relegated to a large waiting area. Minutes, and then hours slowly ticked by. Little by little the waiting room emptied. Even the reception clerks left for the night. Patrick had yet to be informed of my progress. At around 11:00 PM a cleaning lady noticed him. She asked, "Are you still waiting on somebody?"
"Yes," he answered.
She let him know that there was one operating room still active. "That must be you!" she declared as she continued the work of emptying trash bins and vacuuming the floor.
Eventually the surgeon did come out to update my long-suffering husband about my condition. Patrick updated our family with the following message:
Sent: Thursday, September 6, 2013 1:25 AM
It is now 1:17 am and I am just getting home from the hospital. Celine's surgery went long because the surgeon waited for the pathologist to check the margins on the removed tissue, and he didn't like the results. So he spent another hour to remove more. He says he is confident that all of the abnormal tissue is removed with good margins.
Now we have four or five days of recovery in the hospital, and then figure out what follow-up will be necessary. This certainly is a strange new world for both of us. Thank you all so much for your prayers. They really help.
When I opened my eyes, I was in a darkened room, all alone. My first thought was, "This can't be heaven. It hurts too much!" The only light I saw came from the digital clock on the wall. It read "12:55 AM". I winced as I realized that the sharp pain in my abdomen meant that surgery really did occur. Patrick came in and without turning on a light, wearily kissed my cheek and said "Good night." He went home to collapse in his own bed. I knew he'd be back at daybreak.