2 0 1 2Mar22

I have Cancer? Part 6: The Surgery

Heather ready for surgery

My surgery was scheduled for Thursday, February 2nd, 2006, at 7:30 a.m. Cameron and I arrived in Boston on the 31st of January to get settled in and get all the pre-op testing done. All of that was scheduled on Feb 1st. It was a whirlwind day.

Appointment with Dr. Sugarbaker first, then blood work and more tests at the diagnostic center, the EKG Lab, CT scan, x-rays and another appointment with Dr. Sugarbaker at the end of the day.

That morning, while waiting for the office to open, Cams and I stopped in the Family Center. I wanted to send emails out to all our friends and family to let them know we had made it and what the plans were. In my email, I found something special; my sister, knowing I would be a bundle of nerves, wrote the following story for me about Lungleavin Day. It was this visualization that I kept in my mind while going through everything, and especially before having surgery. It made me smile and calmed my nerves.

Date: Feb 2nd
Time: 7:00 or so
Directions: Count back from 100, 99, 98, 97, 96, 95
Then just look for the ground hogs they will show you the way.

So since it is winter now I thought it would be nice to hold our celebration in a beautiful warm nature setting. This also allows for a lot of activities for our guests. Lovely pond for swimming with the sea horses or seahorse riding. A water polo game could be arranged if people are interested. The tree house maze is really cool and the view!! Jello wading pool for cooling the feet. A dance floor is a must for all proper celebrations. The band is a surprise and sure to please. Did you know dad was such a good dancer? Elephant rides. Build your own gingerbread house. Gingerbread man himself will be there to help. You know get the best. Charms sucker skating rink. I thought it would be fun to give you a couple of magic beans to see what happens. The baby translator was hard to find but I couldn't resist. Can't wait to see what GlUUUUAhhhhpflhhht means. Many more surprises to follow.

Decorations are as follows. Giant spiderwebs that are made of diamonds, garnets, amethyst, citron. etc. The spiders were great at decorating (and then were kind enough to leave as to not scare people). The giant tortoises were thrilled to be part of the festivities. They will be our slow roaming hors d'oeuvres tables. Garland and made of real flowers and butterflies. Fun to walk under because the flutter away then return. You have to let me know what color flowers you like and entire area will be decorated with them. The tables and chairs are the various mushrooms that change colors when laughter is heard. plenty of chase lounges and relaxation for all. Dad said he wanted to be in charge of the food so that is in his capable hands. The evening fireworks should be fun. As the sun goes down you will notice the beautiful light. Is it fireflies? Actually no these are the all the prayers that have been said for you suspended in time. Wow check that out. You are so loved!!!!!!!! There still is time to add anything you would like so just let me know. Well if I don't see you before I'll meet you at the party. I love you.........Danna

Cam’s Experience While I Was in Surgery

Heather's Surgery

I spent the hours while Heather was in surgery in the Family Room at the hospital. There were cookies, fruit, and coffee; things to help the families and loved ones of people who were in surgery. It was an odd time. I didn’t want to hear anything too soon or too late. I tried not to watch the clock, but that was impossible. The main room had computers, a library, and private rooms off the big room. Throughout the day, doctors would come in and out to talk with family members; sometimes the news was good, sometimes it was not. You could tell by the body language of people just what type of news they got. I had a million thoughts going through my head… pleading with God, “Please don’t let there be bad news about my wife.” I was sitting on pins and needles every time I saw a doctor walk through those doors.

I passed the morning by surfing the internet, watching tv and talking with other families whose loved ones were going through the same thing we were. One family, whose father was having the same surgery as Heather, took me in as one of their own.

7 hours went by when the first update came. One of the interns had come to let me know the tumor resection went fine and Heather was undergoing the heated chemo wash as we spoke. They expected to finish things up in the next couple of hours. All in all, things sounded like they went well. They told me Dr. Sugarbaker would be in to see me when Heather was done and being sewn up.

I breathed a sigh of relief. To know we had made the first hurdle made things a lot easier. After a couple of hours Dr. Sugarbaker himself came and spoke to me. He told me things went really well. The tumor was localized and had not spread and they got everything they could visibly see. The chemo wash was taken care of and Heather was doing well. Dr. Sugarbaker was pleased with the way things had gone and he was optimistic about recovery. I now had to just sit and wait to hear that Heather was in the recovery room before I could see her. Thirty minutes later I went to her.

Seeing her in the bed with all the machines and tubes was daunting. She was pale and looked very frail, but I didn’t care. I was, in a word, relieved. The surgery was over and she made it through.

My Point of View

I remember the nurses taking out the intubation tube, taking my first breath and hearing the nurse tell me, "Good Job!!!" I was breathing on my own with my one good lung. I was taken to the recovery area to wait for a bed in the ICU. As I became more coherent, I remember being so thirsty, so incredibly thirsty. All they could give me was a sponge dipped in crushed ice. My liquid intake had to be restricted so I would not get fluid build up on my lung. Also, I had a strange ringing in my ears, a side effect of the cisplatin chemotherapy and something I still have 6 years later.

Heather smiling after surgery

My husband immediately was by my side and I was so happy to see his face. He looked so tired, but at the same time he was smiling. He didn’t leave my side for the rest of the day. I was in the recovery room for about 8 hours waiting for a bed in the Intensive Care Unit. Finally, around midnight, I was taken up to the 11th floor of Brigham and Women’s Hospital on the thoracic floor. My favorite nurse, whose name just happened to be Heather, was on duty that night and waiting for Cams and I to come up. When Heather knew I was in the ICU, she took care of Cams. She got him set up on a makeshift bed in the family waiting room. It was a couch that sort of made into a bed, but it was too short for my 6’2’’ husband. She found him pillows, blankets and even a sandwich from somewhere so he could be there and come see me when the ICU staff would let him. I was limited to one visitor every hour for 15 minutes. I saw him a couple of times that night and told him to try and get some rest. He spent the rest of the night sleeping on that hard uncomfortable bed and I spent the night adjusting to breathing with one lung.

The surgery was over and I had made it through. Now the hard part started-- the recovery.

Tags: brigham and women's hospital, lungleavin' day, mesothelioma

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About Heather

  • Wife of Cameron Von St. James and mother to Lily Rose
  • Pleural mesothelioma survivor
  • Treated by Dr. David Sugarbaker at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston
  • Self proclaimed “Poster child for hope after mesothelioma” for those suffering from asbestos disease
  • Continues to live with strong faith, abundant gratitude and an unbeatable will to live each day

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