I’ve always joked that March and November are the armpits of the year. It’s cold, the trees are bare, everything looks drab and downright depressing. It’s the start of spring break and typically, if we’re home this time of year, I get a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out). Social media is always the worst with pictures of friends and family having a blast, making fun memories on a beautiful warm beach somewhere or the infamous toes in the white sand pic that everyone seems to love.
This year is different. Bundled up in our winter coats, Wade and I took a walk down our road yesterday. We noticed all the bare trees, dreary gray skies, and all the endless amount of trash on the side of the road that used to be hidden by winter’s relentless snow.
Wade said, “We should bring a trash bag on our walk tomorrow.”
I shook my head. “I don’t want you bending over so much. You need to take it easy.”
In January, on a mission to lose weight, Wade went to Mexico to get a gastric sleeve. He had gone to Mexico because our insurance wouldn’t cover a dime of the surgery here and Dr. Ortiz is one of the best bariatric surgeons in the world. Wade flew out by himself on a Sunday and was expected to come home that Friday.
The dog started barking a little after midnight on that early Wednesday morning. Still half-asleep, I walked downstairs and noticed an unfamiliar car in my driveway and someone was getting out.
“Who is that?” I yelled out the door.
“It’s just me.” Wade started walking toward the house, suitcase in hand. He had taken an Uber home from the airport. Wade looked really tired, but something else was off.
I hugged and kissed him. “What are you doing home so early? I thought you weren’t coming home until Friday. Did you have the surgery?”
Wade set his suitcase by the door and sat down at the kitchen table. Tears filled his eyes. “I don’t know how to tell you this…”
I sat down in a chair across from him, knee to knee. “What is it?”
“I didn’t have the surgery.” Wade held my hands while his trembled. “When the doctor opened me up, they found a tumor. I might have stomach cancer, Nic.”
With that, the room felt like it had dropped. Everything suddenly felt immensely heavy. Tears spilled, my whole body started shaking, and my teeth chattered. Thoughts of Wade’s cousin, Scott, who passed away from stomach cancer and my cousin’s husband, Chris, who passed away from esophageal cancer ran through my mind. Two years or two months?
“Did they take it out?” I cried.
Wade shook his head. “It’s not their expertise. As soon as they saw the tumor, they had to close me back up. I’m so sorry, honey. I’m so sorry.”
In the next 12 hours, we went to the doctor’s office, who referred us to a surgical oncologist and Wade got an unexpected email.
“Want to hear something crazy?” Wade said. “I just won a trip to Punta Cana through work. You’ll need to get your passport renewed tomorrow. The trip is less than five weeks away.”
“Are you sure you want to go?”
“Yeah, who knows if we’ll get another chance.”
The thought of this possibly being our last vacation together made my heart break. With swollen red-rimmed eyes and no makeup, I had my passport photo taken.
Wade was more concerned about what would happen to me and the kids “if things go south.” He was determined ‘to get our ducks in a row’ quickly. We had a cheesy online will, but this just got real and we needed something more substantial. We spoke to a financial advisor and set up a will and trust with an actual attorney.
Doing everything he could to be healthy, Wade continued to walk two miles at the mall every day and follow the diet plan from Dr. Ortiz, watching everything he ate and drank.
With the exception of just a few close friends and family, nobody knew what was going on. Wade had dropped 50 pounds and it was showing. Friends commented on Wade’s weight loss and asked how he did it.
I choked on the answer and lied. “Just watching what he eats and exercising.”
Wade didn’t want anyone to know about the tumor. He hates that ‘look of pity’ when people find out such things.
We met the oncologist surgeon, Dr. McCahill, who suspected it was a Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST). “These tumors are fairly rare. It’s sitting right at the GI (stomach/esophagus) junction, which is an unfortunate and more challenging location.”
Dr. McCahill explained what we needed to do and ordered another scope and biopsy. “We want all the information we can have before we open you up.”
Two days before we left for Punta Cana, Wade had a scope and biopsy taken and the night before the trip, Wade got the call that the tumor was benign, but the tumor still needed to be removed. I could physically feel some of the weight lifted. “Thank God.”
Nobody, except the HR department at Wade’s work, knew any of this. When we were in Punta Cana with all of Wade’s co-workers and boss, we had to be very careful about what we said within earshot of anyone else. Wade also wore a swim shirt the whole time so nobody would see the tell-tale scarring.
With the tumor benign, Wade’s surgery was scheduled for March 26th, the Tuesday before spring break. Wade’s mom, along with our nephew, Tristin, came down to watch the kids and take them to and from school and their practices.
The surgical plan was broad: from laparoscopic to opening him up and getting that tumor out by hand. Dr. McCahill requested bariatric surgeon, Dr. Kemmeter, to help with the surgery due to the location of the tumor and possible complications. The operating room was booked for 4 ½ hours. If things went well, it would take a shorter amount of time.
Just before they wheeled Wade back for surgery, Dr. Kemmeter said, “I typically do a prayer before surgery. I can do that privately or we can do a family prayer.”
Wade looked at me. “Let’s do a family prayer.”
The three of us, Dr. Kemmeter, Wade, and I held hands while Dr. Kemmeter led the prayer.
When they wheeled Wade off to surgery, I choked up and wiped the tears from my eyes.
Wade’s surgery took four hours. When Dr. McCahill and Dr. Kemmeter came in to talk to me, Dr. McCahill said, “It was tough, but Wade is doing very well. We were able to do the surgery laparoscopically.”
They told me about the surgery and Dr. Kemmeter showed me a picture on his phone of the tumor they’d removed. It looked like a baby with a thick umbilical cord but in the shape of a hammer.
“This section here,” Dr. Kemmeter pointed to the smaller, thicker section. “is what we saw on the scope. It’s 6 cm long, bigger than we had expected.”
“And this section here,” he pointed to the longer hammer-handle section, “is 10 centimeters long. It had tentacles that went about an inch up into the esophagus.”
Dr. McCahill said, “We were able to remove all of the tumor. It looks like a benign tumor to me, but we’ll send it into pathology to be certain.”
My voice cracked. “Thank you both… for everything.”
Dr. McCahill stood up. “Wade did extremely well. He’s in the recovery room. Now would be a good time to go grab some lunch. They’ll text you in about an hour or so and then you can see him.”
After the doctors left, I let out a huge sigh, thanked God, and gathered my things to go to the cafeteria and make calls to family.
Wade was dozing when I went to his room. I kissed his forehead, so thankful that he was ok. He opened his eyes and I asked him how he was feeling.
Wade smiled weakly, “Piece of cake.”
“That’s your answer for everything.”
Because the tumor is so rare, nine other doctors were in the OR observing the surgery. Although Wade didn’t get the sleeve, he’s lost quite a bit of weight on his own. I’m so thankful that he tried. Had he not gone, we would’ve never known about the tumor until it was too late.
Dr. McCahill called a few days after Wade’s surgery, the pathology report confirmed that the tumor was benign. Thank God!
Wade’s weight is continuing to fall. He is walking every day and due to the stomach surgery, he’s on a liquid diet for the next two weeks. Then, in two weeks, he’ll graduate to yogurt and baby food consistency. By the end of April, he should be able to eat normal foods again. We’ll all just be more careful about what we are eating and how much.
So, this spring break, instead of playing at the beach, we’ll be hanging out at home, taking walks, playing games, and watching movies and I’ve never been so grateful for a boring spring break.
Hug the ones you love and have a happy spring break everyone!