I hate using superlatives. I absolutely hate it. But the last 24 hours have truly been the hardest of my life. Unfortunately, I fear they won’t be the hardest to come. I have lost track of what I’ve updated to the site, so if I’m missed some details, please comment and I’ll fill people in. Basically, where we were at was that at Kevin’s first surgery, he had one positive lymph node from his sentinel lymph node biopsy. After that we had a PET scan that we thought had come back completely clear. Then we had a meeting this past Monday with Radiation and Medical Oncology, where they outlined a treatment plan. It was a hard, sobering day. There is a long road ahead of us, and the prognosis, while not horrible, are not numbers that we like to hear.
Yesterday morning, he showed up to have a second surgery to remove the remaining lymph nodes in the area of his tumor and the parotid gland. This was to insure against any cancer cells that might remain in the lymph nodes from travelling through the lymphatic system to distant areas of his body, something called metastasis. Apparently, we somehow didn’t hear or didn’t understand that there was a small spot of concern on the PET scan that the doctor hoped was simply swelling from the first surgery. Once he got through Kevin’s surgery, he came out and told me that it was a lymph node that was almost certainly cancerous. This was visible to the eye for him. To put this in relative perspective, the cancer cells that were detected in his lymph nodes during the first surgery were microscopic, and yet were bad enough to determine an aggressive course of treatment and a roughly 50% 5 year survival prognosis. So to have enough cancer in a lymph node to identify it visually is a hugely devastating blow. We don’t know yet completely what it means or even 100% sure that it is cancer (though the doctor is feeling pretty positive it is, he just wants to wait for labs to confirm it).
After recovery, I was able to go back and sit with Kevin and go over the bad news with him. They kept him longer this time, to make sure he wasn’t feeling nauseous. Finally, we got our discharge instructions, I sent my parents (who had been sitting with me during the surgery) to meet us at our house, and we got ready to head home.
On the way home from the hospital (roughly a 15 minute drive), Kevin got nauseous and threw up into his little vomit cup. I pulled over, dumped the cup, and we continued to head home, with me soberly thinking that there’s probably going to be a lot of vomit in my future. Honestly now, I wish that was the worst that had happened yesterday.
After pulling up to the house and walking him upstairs, I turned him around to put him in bed and took one look at him and said, “we have to go back to the hospital, right now.” The side of his face had tripled in size in the 15 minute drive home. He looked in the mirror and agreed with me, so we came back downstairs, grabbed our ever growing folder of paperwork, I pointed to one of the adults in the room and said, “Aunt Barbara, I need you to come with us now. I’ll explain later.” The whole drive back to the hospital, I was doubting myseld. Should I have called 911? But that might have gotten him taken to a different hospital, who didn’t know what was going on. Should I drive him to the ER? How do we get back into where we came from? I had no idea what the huge swelling was indicative of… swelling? Bleeding? Was he dying right there? I knew I had to drive because I knew the quickest, most direct route to the hospital. But I also knew I had to get the doctor on the phone, and I couldn’t find the right number. It was after 5, so that of course complicated things too. And my phone was dying. Finally, someone I was speaking to at Emory said to go to the ER and they’d get Dr. Carlson’s office to call us back.
Amazingly, I got right into the ER and there was even a parking space right in front of the drop off spot, so we all went in together. The ER people were amazing and brought him right back, got ahold of the surgery unit, and got him on a stretcher and headed back. By the time I got him in the back room of the ER, my strength fell apart and I lost it. I felt so bad too, because I knew I needed to be comforting and reassuring him. But amazing husband that I have, he was reassuring me that everything would be alright.
At the surgery unit, everyone took one look at him and confirmed I’d made the right choice to bring him back. They figured out the vomiting in the car caused something to rupture or something and it created something called a hematoma. I think that’s a fancy word for bleeding, but I’m not sure. They had a heck of a time figuring out the paperwork, because he’d already checked out, and the surgeon was saying, “What do we need to do to get him into the OR?” That reassured me that they were going to fix it, but also scared me about how serious this really was.
Finally, they got things settled and got ready to head up with him. I said a quick prayer into his ear and he was off. We waited for several hours, and finally Dr. C. came out and told me he was doing fine and I’d see him in an hour or so. Several hours after that, we were directed to his room and had to wait for him there. Finally, sometime after 10, he finally arrived and was in great spirits, feeling even better than he did after the first surgery. This was amazing considering he’d had back to back general anesthesia. I was so tired and was waiting to see him to make the decision as to whether or not I’d stay the night with him. We both agreed that I needed to head home to try to get a solid night’s sleep, so after being reassured he was in good hands, we headed home.
It’s early morning now as I write this and my thoughts are all over the map. Thoughts of numbers like 43.5% survival rates, year-long interferon therapy treatments that increase the rates by only 10%, the aggressive nature of melanoma once it has spread, stage 3b. At moments, I am scared beyond belief. I am terrified of losing him. Other moments, I remember that the odds could be a whole lot worse and people do beat this. Some moments I have peace, some I am lost amidst all kinds of crazy, dark thoughts. I cling to God because I have nothing else, and I know He would not have it any other way. I am not at peace yet with surrendering this all to Him, but know deep down inside that it is already His. My heart is heavy, I am tired, and I think this is just the beginning. I pray. I watch. I hope. I cry. I dream. Please pray for me and Kevin when we cannot pray, when dark fears invade my heart. Please pray whenever you think of him. Please ask God for amazing miracles, remind Him of the great ministry He has called us to in this neighborhood. I try to think of the blessings, and they are many, so so many, friends bringing us food, family flying out from across the country to care for us, parents who sit with me in my darkest hour, sisters who call me any hour of the night, a church who loves us and prays for us beyond measure. My heart is tired, but I will cling to these blessings and the knowledge of our Lord.