Gee’s Surgery

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Gee Has Surgery

Given the diagnosis and the type of cancer—we both thought that we needed to get the best possible surgeon for Gee. We came up with two doctors—both were specialists at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Dr. Keith Lillemoe and Dr. John Cameron were among the most experienced surgeons in dealing with this type of cancer and its surgery. The Whipple operation, also called a pancreaticoduodenectomy, is one of the most complicated surgical procedures, as the pancreas lies almost up against the spine and the surgeon must go through the front of the abdomen, past the stomach and intestines, to operate on it. One doctor told me that the only surgery more difficult or more complicated is brain surgery.

Although Drs. Cameron and Lillemoe usually have a backlog of patients, with some very hard work by my father-in-law, we managed to get Gee an appointment with Dr. Lillemoe in late April. Dr. Lillemoe agreed that surgery was necessary as soon as possible. It was scheduled for May 12th, two weeks from her first appointment with Dr. Lillemoe.

In early May, my company sent out an e-mail saying that they would be offering medical insurance covering domestic partners starting in July. Wednesday, May 10, Gee, Michele, her parents and I drove up to Baltimore. We had gotten housing through the hospital, and Gee was to be admitted the next day. While I was at the reception area, waiting for Gee to be admitted, I got a page from a co-worker saying the company had just changed its policy, that the medical coverage for domestic partners was to start immediately. I called my employee benefits coordinator and had them fax the paperwork to me at the admissions office. Gee and I signed the paperwork and faxed it back. This was an unexpected godsend—it eventually ended up covering all of Gee’s chemotherapy, radiation therapy and follow-up visits.

Gee’s operation was on Friday. We had been told that it was about a seven hour operation. Almost nine hours later, we went to see Gee in the recovery room. She had had a minor complication, a vein that the tumor had grown around had to be resected. Dr. Lillemoe said that aside from the vein resection, everything had gone well and she would be going up to a room on the Hematology/Oncology wing of the hospital.

Early the next morning I went to see Gee in her room. Her family and I waited for her to wake up. Once she woke up, she told the nurse that she wanted to try walking around a bit. The nurse looked at her, with the multiple IV lines in, and asked me if I was going to stop her... I said, "Not me, she can beat me up." The nurse wasn't sure if I was serious or not... but honestly, Gee was in some ways one of the toughest people I'd ever met.

It was really difficult—staying at the apartment we had rented—and watching Gee fight to recover from such a drastic operation. Every day she would try to walk a bit further than the day before. One thing I remember getting Gee was a large stuffed animal—a stingray with big puffy lips. We had put it above her bed in the hospital. At first she couldn't figure out what it was supposed to be... but she thought it was adorable.

One thing about the hospital food—hospital food is pretty much terrible anywhere you go. The thing I think Gee hated most was the Jell-o. One of Gee’s worries, aside from the medical concerns she had about the cancer, was that she wouldn't fit in her wedding gown. I promised Gee that we, her sister and I, would get her back to within three pounds of her weight when she had the the gown altered. She had weighed 109 pounds the week she had the gown altered.

It was almost the end of June when Gee was finally discharged from the hospital. Gee went down to Portsmouth, to stay with her mom and recover.