Surgery By The Eights

2023 Addendum

I survived, have been cancer-free for more than six years, and am living life to the fullest.

You can, too.

What follows is how it was in 2017

Eight, Eight, and Eight

Eight hours in surgery, eight days in the hospital, and eight weeks for recovery (mostly).

I’m half-way through the latter today.

Opened up with a knife front and back–“foot long” incisions front and side–and in the final phase of tri-modal therapy that included chemotherapy and radiation before surgery, I can tell you the esophagectomy is a really big deal.

But I’m doing quite well, thank you. No infections, recovery on track, and a great report from Pathology.

Eating is well down the road toward its new normal. A good chunk of my old stomach was removed and the pathology report issued while I was still under the knife says the “margin” they took to get all the cancer appears to have been sufficient. But the patched together result is considerably smaller, maybe 25% the capacity of the original, and a toasted everything bagel with cream cheese from Einstein Bros. more than fills the pouch. So I eat to that point, take a half hour break flushing with plenty of liquid as the pouch slowly drains down from the small end, and then finish the bagel.

The surgery cut and shoved some ribs. That means “a deep breath” is out of the question. Can’t be done. A good daily walk helps push this envelope. In the hospital, once around the ward was a challenge but, with the great spring weather in our Phoenix neighborhood, I’m getting close to an hour. Velocity-wise, I’m at “old man’s stroll,” well up from “hit by a Mac truck shamble.”

Other than eating, the other big change is sleeping: on my back with a 30 degree tilt. That’s taking some getting-used-to. This is because the top of the new stomach doesn’t close. It’s basically just an open-mouth vessel, big hole at the top to let food in, and a smaller hole at the bottom to let it dribble into the small intestine. With that arrangement, if I lay it down flat, there’s nothing to keep “stuff” from spilling back out the top of the bag. Hence, the sleep angle.

NASA please note: Zero-gee space flight is off my list, but I’m still available for excursions with artificial gravity.

The only remaining annoyance is a feeding tube. As I worked my stomach from clear liquids through cloudy, semi-liquid and into solid foods, that tube has been used at night to supplement the calorie count. But now that I’m up to eating pretty much anything-in very small doses-I’m hopeful the tube will be removed this week. My weight is down a dozen pounds from pre-surgery and tracking the surgeon’s forecast. The weight loss is expected to continue for another ten or twenty pounds more and then stabilize. Personally, I’m hoping for a sub-200 number. That’d be a 30+ pound loss but the Doc says I should be patient: “Don’t try to get there yet. Give your body time to heal first. Diet later.”

Learning my new stomach is the challenge but I’ll get there. (Ice cream goes down just fine, thank you.)


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