First Down

September 25, 2001, Memorial Hospital

Six months into my battle with cancer, I no longer have the stomach for it. ;-)

Last Tuesday, Dr. Daniel G. Coit decided to proceed and give me a total gastrectomy, removing my entire stomach in five hours of surgery. Everything went well, he said--in some cases, better than expected. That he gave me the surgery at all was good news. But the chemo appeared to have degraded the main tumor more than the CAT scans had indicated, and there was no visible spread of cancer beyond the stomach, even in the area where a metastatsis had previously been found. Even though I feel like crap now, I'm supposedly ahead of schedule for patients who've had similar surgery. So all in all, I can't complain.

I've had to caution many friends, however, against overreacting to the news. To use a sports analogy (sorry, but I just spent an entire weekend lying in bed watching football), the surgery was kind of like this: We're in a hellacious football game against this band of marauders. We're down, but we're scratching and clawing, doing our damnedest to stay close. Now it's fourth-and-long. If we punt, the ballgame's likely over. So we go for it--and convert to keep the drive alive.

That's cause for cheering, to be sure, but we've got a lot of work ahead of us yet to pull this one out. I always dislike those players who whoop and holler after making a catch for a first down and then drop the ball on the next play. Stay focused, please.

Subsequent analyses of the abdominal area have tested positive, for example, for live cancer cells, detectable only on the microscopic level. Eventually, those will become a problem. Thus, we're already on to the next phase of treatment. Starting today, I'm to receive chemotheraphy poured directly into my gut--the docs call it a "chemo belly bath"--designed to hammer at those cells still remaining.That's to continue for three straight days, to be followed by another three-day bath in two weeks. After that, it's new rounds of regular chemotherapy via the bloodstream.

There's also the matter of relearning how to eat. Since my surgery, the only thing allowed to touch my lips has been a sponge-swab dipped in water. It'll be a few days before doctors say they'll try and restart me on liquids and jello. In the meantime, I'm being fed through tubes--an IV in my arm and a rubber hose sticking out of my lower abdomen.

Not to mention I've got to heal a 15-inch bell-shaped scar stapled together over the top of my abdomen.

Which is all to say that I'm glad to still be in the ballgame with time remaining on the clock and a new set of downs to work with.

Here comes the blitz.

Bring it on.