A Surgery Surprise

Mary Oliver

Mary J. Oliver, July 29, 2011

As I reported in my post Life Postponed this January, I haven’t been feeling well for quite awhile.  I finally did get in to see a surgeon on February 21 for a consult. He promised to   call the following week to set up  gall bladder surgery sometime in the near future.

My body couldn’t wait that long.  I had a horrific flare-up on Friday, February 24.  The pain was almost unbearable in the afternoon, but  I “toughed it out” that night.   I have a high tolerance for pain, which has not worked in my favor this time in my life.

Saturday morning I woke up with a fever, so I phoned the on-call nurse.  She told me to report to urgent care, where I was seen very quickly. After an interview, an EKG, check-up and blood tests, the doctor spoke to Dave and me.  He said my white blood cell count and bilirubin was way up and I needed to report to the emergency room.  I thought, “Well, I’m finally going to get this ugly old organ outta me!  It may be a more expensive way, but it will be OVER!”  We were pleased that I was getting the attention I needed.  After an ultrasound of the gall bladder area, I was admitted to the hospital and hooked up to several IVS.

It took a day or so to get my blood count and bilirubin in better zones.  Once this was settled, I went to surgery at 8:40 a.m., Monday, February 27.  Surgery to remove the gall bladder is usually a one hour operation.  When I woke up in the recovery room, there were two nurses hovering around me.  Even without my glasses, I could see the clock hands pointing to noon.   Too woozy to fully take that in, Dave joined us on our journey to room 731 at St. Joseph’s Hospital–where my sister and I were born, where one of my sons-in-law was born, where my mother died 22 years ago, where my youngest grandchild was born almost six years ago.

Dave was a acting weird.  He was pacing the floor, stretching his limbs and finding it hard to sit still.  He told me that Dr. Panian, the surgeon, would be in very soon to talk to me about the surgery.  Meanwhile, I was chattering away about the Academy Awards ceremony I watched the night before.  I generally hate awards television, but it was the only show available on the hospital network that I was even remotely interested in.

Dr. Panian arrived around one o’clock.  He told me that the operation had been much more difficult than expected because the gall bladder had become hard, dried out and fused on one side to the stomach wall and the other side to the duodenum.  He had to enlarge the slits for the laparoscopic surgery.  With the laparoscope he detected a spread of cancer cells from the gall bladder to the side of the abdomen and across the duodenum.  Considering the sites where the cancer had spread, this was an inoperable cancer.  My prognosis, with palliative chemotherapy, is one to two years.

Anatomy of the biliary tree, liver and gall bl...

Anatomy of liver and gall bladder

Image via Wikipedia


Dr. Panian had talked to my husband after the surgery, so Dave knew all of this. He  had volunteered to tell me, so Dave had tried to mask the knowledge and keep me as “Mary, who did not know she had cancer,” as long as possible.

One side of my brain doesn’t think it is real, but the rest of me feels assaulted by bad karma.  I feel cheated out of the opportunity to grow old with Dave–which we had promised ourselves when we got married almost 16 years ago. I don’t want to leave my two daughters now that we are in fulfilling times in our lives.  I want to watch my three grandchildren grow up.  I still have plans and projects that I will not see through to the end. I will miss the change of seasons, my cats, the wildlife around me.  I’m not ready to leave yet.

Covered Bridge near Yellow Springs, Ohio

We will be talking to the oncologist this week to decide the course of therapy.  My nasty old gall bladder had placed me at the bottom of the surgery list.  My cancerous gall bladder puts me right at the top.  It is unusual to have gall bladder cancer at all, but a 64-year-old having it is very strange.  Dr. Panian told us the only cases he encountered were in women in their mid-seventies.

I am fortunate to have a loving husband and sister, as well my daughters, relatives, friends and friends of friends to offer up prayers and good wishes.  In the midst of tragedy, there are blessings.

Yellow Crocus between bricks


14 thoughts on “A Surgery Surprise

  1. Wow. I don’t do very well with post like this, even those of strangers, so I was in near tears after reading that prognosis myself. It’s amazing that WE know when we just aren’t feeling right but it takes so long for others to catch on. Been there before. However, my mass turned out to be benign. There are no words to express; I can only imagine what you must be going through. May God be with you and your husband every step of the way. (((Hugs)))

  2. I’m not going to like this post no matter what, but am glad you shared what is happening with you so we can all keep you lifted up. Words still fail me . . . know that you are loved.

  3. Oh, Mary Julia. This post makes me sad and furious at the same time. You must have so many thoughts in your head – I can’t even believe you managed to condense them this much. All those tests… all that waiting… and this is how you learn it?

    There is nothing I can say to make anything any better or easier. But I will say this: don’t accept a concrete prognosis. Keep looking for answers, keep hoping and keep living. All my best thoughts and hopes to you, Dave and your family.

  4. This world is such a cruel place sometimes. I am so sorry. You are in my prayers, as are your husband, daughters and grandchildren.

  5. Mary, this has left me speechless as well. I wish of course, that this was all just a bad joke. It’s unfair. Just simply unfair.
    I also want to echo what was said above, because I think it was well put-to keep looking for answers, keep hoping and keep living.
    You have been, and will continue to be in my thoughts and prayers, my dear friend.

  6. Oh, marjulo, my heart is breaking.I can’t believe it. Even though we have only “known” each other a short time, I have grown so fond of you, and feel quite connected especially since we’re in the same town. This can’t be real. My prayers are heading to you, and all the healing I can muster from many realms. Miracles happen.

  7. Mary, I have no words as well, but tears and virtual hugs to share. May God bring you, and your family, comfort, love, peace and healing through this trial!

  8. Marjulo – I am sending hugs, prayers and good thoughts your way. I also am a firm believer in getting a second opinion, so please do try and see another specialist after seeing your oncologist if you feel up to it. Take care of you and please keep us, your blogging family, posted… Thinking of you…

  9. Mary, I am so shocked to hear about your illness but glad you felt up to posting about it so we can keep you in our prayers. You’ve been coming around Bud’s Blog long enough that you know I have no clue how prayer works or doesn’t, but you’re going in my God Box tonight. Take care and keep us posted.


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