You can survive cancer surgery-I did

Opinion: Columns

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Terry Dean

It's been about a month since I had my cancer surgery and about two months since my rectal cancer diagnosis. My surgery was Feb. 17, at Rush University Hospital. The doctors cut out a small portion of the area where my cancerous tumor was discovered and removed in January. Prior to surgery, I had several appointments with my doctors — a CT scan, ultrasound, etc. — to make sure the cancer had not spread beyond the rectum to other organs in lymph nodes. Thankfully, it had not. But the surgery was to make absolutely sure that the cancer was removed. A couple of days after the surgery, my doctor, Dr. Favuzza, called and said that the sample they removed had no cancer.  
I am cancer-free.
That was great news, though I was still reeling from abdominal pain from the surgery. This was the first surgery I ever had, so this was all new to me. As I wrote before shortly after my diagnosis, I want to encourage folk — blacks in particular — to advocate for their health. I also want to educate folk about the cancer process you might have to go through. My cancer was a very early and treatable Stage I cancer. I really didn't know that until the doctors did all of their pre-surgery screening.
Fear is the biggest thing that keeps people, especially big ol' tough guys, from going to the doctor. After writing my first cancer column, I received a lot of positive and supportive feedback, from people I knew and from strangers. One was from a woman who actually read my column to her husband whom she's been trying to get to go to the doctor.
That's exactly why I wanted to share my story.
Surgery can be scary and the pre-surgery period can be pretty nerve-wracking. The post-surgery and recovery period, to me, was the toughest part. My procedure was called a transanal endoscopic microsurgery. That's a mouthful. It doesn't require any stomach incision. With this stage of rectal cancer, the surgery is done anally with specialized equipment.
The other part of writing these columns in such an open and candid way is to not sugarcoat anything. I think there's too much of that going on today in general. We're too PC, too worried about offending or making people uncomfortable. As I wrote last time, if this procedure will save your life then it's worth going through, with all the pre- and post- stuff involved.
I was put under anesthesia for my surgery — I would have sued or socked someone in the mouth if I had not. It was about a three-hour procedure then to the recovery room. The pain immediately afterward for me was minimal, due in large part to the anesthesia and pain meds still in my system. But I ended up having some lingering pain after all that stuff wore off. That's not unusual given what my surgery entailed. The doctors have to inflate the entire colon and rectal area with air, so passing gas afterward is just part of the recovery. There's also pain afterward due to the surgery itself, which is completely normal.
Here's some more info that you might need to know. This type of surgery, I was told by docs prior to the procedure, required no overnight hospitalization. Patients are typically released the same day of the procedure. But the doctors want to make sure that everything is functioning, like being able to urinate. Sometimes you don't immediately. I didn't. But the nurses keep telling you to drink a lot of water because you're likely be dehydrated after being under.
Now, as candid as I'd like to be with these columns, I'll just say — drinking lots of water while not being able to "go" is a bad combination. I'll let your imagination fill in the blanks. That bad combo resulted in my having to stay overnight at the hospital. By early next morning, I was able to "go." My advice to folk who may have to have this kind of surgery or something similar: while in recovery, space out how much water you drink (sip, don't gulp) if you're not able to "go" immediately. Trust me, you'll be better off for it.
And don't be afraid of any surgery you'll need and all the pre- and post- stuff. Go through with it and you'll be fine.
CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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