Been a very busy weekend. Brad is settled in after a day of poking an prodding. His surgery is 2:00 tomorrow. He enjoyed a most decandant dinner tonight - tortellini, garlic cheese bread, and finished the dinner with a molten lava cake. He is NPO after midnight and his surgery isn't until 2 tomorrow afternoon. He is ready for it. They are going to continue the radiation on the rectum for 4 more weeks. There has been good progress in reducing them and they think they will be able to surgically remove whats left possibly around Feb. When they do that the colonoscopy will be reversed. The doctors said he had a good 'frame' for the pump to fit in. They will start the chemo from the new pump starting tomorrow and if all goes well they will release him a week from today. They said despite his cancer, he is in fantastic shape and believe his side effects from the chemo blast will be minimal. Everything so far is going well. I knew Cardinal Dolan when he was in St. Louis. As an off chance, I wrote him and asked him if he could stop by and visit Brad!. He emailed me today and said it would be his pleasure. Brad will pass out when he sees the Archbishop of New York coming to visit him. I am not planning to tell him, will let it be a surprised. Brad said this hospital is huge and he was amazed at the various stages of cancer folks are in there. He said that it was an inspiration to see so many, and how many people welcomed him. I know that I have been down and worried, and I still am somewhat, but I feel that the Lord led Brad to this hospital in New York with their specialist and it is all in His Hands. I can't change anything so I won't give in to the devil with doubts and that. I will trust in Him who has gotten us this far.
Right after I posted the above, Brad posted a new Caringbridge blog. This young man has earned so much respect from me that I can't really put it in words. I will let his words describe it.
HAI Pump Surgery Confirmed: One Year Cancerversary
Journal entry by Brad Hook — 1 hour ago
"You can be a victim of cancer, or a survivor of cancer. It's a mindset." (Dave Pelzer)
It has been a whirlwind of a few days for Kati and me. We woke up at 4 am Sunday morning and scrambled around the house to get ready and out the door to get to the airport for our 7:10 am flight to NYC. Just as we were getting ready to leave at 5 am, Emerson woke up and did not want us to leave, so we spent some time getting him situated and cheering him up before heading out of the house at 5:15 am. Fortunately our timing was still perfect and we were in line to board the plane by 6:45 am. From there, we took off with the sun rising in the distance amidst all the fog and landed in NYC at 10:40 am local time. Off to MSKCC it was at that point for my CT scan and MRI appointment. We spent 11:30 to 2:30 at the hospital for the scans, all went smoothly, although my MRI experience was a bit different as I only had ear plugs, no music like I do at Saint Luke's (so it was hard to keep track of time, I just kept hoping in my head it was almost over because being still for 35-40 minutes in a small tube is no easy task without cramping up!). As for the CT scan, they injected a dye into me that lights up the veins in and around the liver that gives you a super warm sensation as it spreads through your body...very interesting to say the least! After that, we headed to where we were staying for the next two nights (near Central Park off 66th Street), dropped our stuff off, went to dinner, and called it a night.
Today was round 2 at MSKCC to find out if I was still a candidate for the HAI pump based off my CT scan. My initial schedule had me seeing the colorectal surgeon (Dr. Garcia-Aguilar) at 12:15 and the liver surgeon (Dr. Kingham) at 12:30 followed by pre-surgical testing. The most important visit for us was with Dr. Kingham because he was going to let us know whether or not I was good to go for the surgery tomorrow. Specifically, if (a) the cancer had spread to other organs and/or (b) the arteries / veins to my liver were not the right set up, I would not be a candidate for the HAI pump. It so happened that they flipped things around for us to see Dr. Kingham first. And the results, as you can tell from the title of this journal post, are that I am set for surgery tomorrow at 2 pm to have my gallbladder removed and HAI pump placed! Specifically, based on his analysis of the scan (still waiting on the official report from the radiologist), the liver mets appeared to be stable and there did not appear to be anything new. I do have one abnormality with the arteries / veins to my liver that he indicated was quite common which is I have an extra one going to my liver. He will clip that one tomorrow as well as the arteries / veins going to my stomach and intestines so that the chemo goes straight to my liver from the pump. He also indicated that I have a good frame for the pump so the chances that it will flip inside me are pretty low.
With that visit out of the way, we were off to see Dr. Garcia-Aguilar to get the results of my MRI. For the best perspective, he wanted to do an exam via the scope as well (not so much fun, but it was quick). The good news is the rectal tumor has reduced in size, not substantially, but it will continue to do so over the next few months per the radiation and chemo once I am back on it. As it now stands, he will do another check in a couple of months and probably do surgery to remove it in the February to March time frame. He wants to reduce it in size as much as possible in order for the surgery to be as minimally invasive as possible. Given that, we now know that a surgery to remove the rectal tumor is likely early next year.
Finally, with that appointment complete, we did some quick pre-surgical testing (blood work and EKG) and that was a wrap for today! We enjoyed a nice Italian dinner at a restaurant in the area we are staying (Pomodoro Rosso) which is fairly close to where they do Live with Kelly and Ryan (we walked by the studio on our way). I am cut off from food and liquid after midnight, so I really packed it in since my next substantial meal probably will not be until Wednesday.
I have been mentally preparing for tomorrow for the past week and I am pretty much in the zone at this point being in quite the peaceful / confident state. That leads me to the quote I have included with this journal post. A large part of dealing with Stage IV cancer is the perspective you have with it. For example, today when I got my scan results they were nothing extraordinary. The 15-20 liver mets are still there and the rectal tumor has no plans of going away any time soon until Dr. Garcia-Aguilar rips it out in a couple of months. I could choose to be disappointed by this, but I am not, I am thankful that it is under control while I enjoy a break from chemo and as I enter this next stage of my treatment to take my attack on the cancer to the next level. Moreover, while I have had my moments over the past year, I have never pitied myself or looked at myself as a victim of cancer. Cancer does not dictate my life, it does not strike fear in me, actually it should be afraid of me, and most importantly, it will never steal my happiness. You beat cancer by living life to its fullest and not letting it take control of you. I am a cancer survivor and I will continue to thrive as we take these next steps in treatment. I have the most powerful weapon of all by my side in God and I am thankful to be in such a good place at the moment.
To conclude, the song "Everything" by Lincoln Brewster (link below) likewise speaks to my overall mindset towards cancer (the song speaks for itself but I will include a few lyrics in my post as well!):
"And I will not be shaken,
No, I will not be moved,
Your love will last forever,
The victory's in You"
Cancer does not have me now and it will never have me as we move forward. Thank you for all your prayers and support going into surgery tomorrow, they are much appreciated!