Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Importance of Second Opinions

This is a reprint of a story I posted on February 2, 2012.  I try not to do too many "re-posts," but I think this one is worth repeating.  Even though it is lengthy, I would like to share our story in hopes that it may reach and help someone who is walking the same scary path we walked.  

The story begins on the first day of February, over a year ago ... 

"Even though the first day of February 2012, was a cloudy and dreary day in Jackson, Mississippi, it was a glorious day for me and my family.

My dad, who is a remarkable 87-year-old, was released from the hospital after spending two weeks there recovering from colon cancer surgery. His surgeon, who was truly a Godsend, was able to completely remove the malignant tumor and my dad is totally cancer-free, with no further treatment necessary!

To God be the glory, great things He has done!

While I'm on the subject of remarkable 80-something-year-olds, I'd like to pay tribute to my mother, who is 85. Mama stayed in the hospital with Daddy the entire two weeks, never leaving his side. She ministered to his every need, and watched over the nurses as they did the things that she couldn't do for him herself. Daddy had some complications during his recovery, but Mama was right there, day and night, comforting and encouraging him with her tender, loving care and devotion. They have been married for 68 years, and seeing the depth of the love they share is truly an inspiration to me.

The past couple of months have been very difficult for my parents ... and for me and my family. There were several lessons learned along our journey, and, even though it is lengthy, I'd like to share our story in hopes that it may help someone who is walking the same scary path we walked.

In early December 2011, Daddy was diagnosed with colon cancer, and we immediately met with two surgeons to discuss his treatment options. Both doctors said that the only "treatment" was removing the tumor, but the second surgeon, after considering Daddy's age, suggested that he undergo radiation and chemotherapy first, in hopes of shrinking the tumor and, perhaps, avoiding surgery altogether. Neither option was encouraging, but, after much deliberation, prayer, and discussion, my dad decided to try the radiation and chemotherapy, and told the surgeon we would be back in touch to schedule the surgery when he finished the treatments.

After consulting with a radiation oncologist, he was prepared for treatments to begin the following week. In the meantime, we met with a chemo oncologist, who, after reviewing all of Daddy's medical records, looked at my dad, my mother, and me and said that even though Daddy was in excellent physical condition for his age (excluding the tumor, of course), he didn't think he would be able to withstand the radiation and chemo treatments, and probably wouldn't be in any shape to have surgery following them.

We sat there, in stunned silence, trying to comprehend what the doctor had just told us. The oncologist asked to speak to the surgeon we had chosen, and when he got off the phone with him, he told us that he got the impression that the surgeon had had second thoughts about doing the surgery due to my dad's age. My mother also spoke to the surgeon and he was very compassionate and concerned, but explained that considering the risks involved and my dad's age, he wouldn't feel comfortable performing the surgery. His exact words were: "I don't want to be his executioner." You have to admire a surgeon who would be that open and honest in expressing his opinion, but as we left the oncologist's office, we were devastated when we realized that we were "back to Square One," facing the fact that my dad couldn't withstand the radiation and chemo therapy ... and we had no surgeon to perform the surgery.

The next day, we made a few phone calls asking for recommendations for colon cancer surgeons in Jackson, and one name in particular came up repeatedly — for the sake of privacy, I will call him Dr. P. We were able to get an appointment with Dr. P a couple of days later, and my parents and I drove to Jackson, armed with a thick folder holding copies of my dad's medical records, which my mother had meticulously collected, and high hopes that this doctor could help my dad.

As we waited anxiously in the examination room, we could see Dr. P out in the hallway carefully scanning the contents of the folder, and all three of our hearts skipped a beat when the door opened and he walked in and said, "I can fix this!"

I have no words to express the emotions we experienced as this gentle, soft-spoken, matter-of-fact doctor stood there and explained what was involved and how he could "fix it." And "fix it," he did! Dr. P completely removed the tumor, and the day after the surgery, he told us that the pathology report declared my dad "CANCER-FREE."

The reason I've told this story in such detail, some of it very personal, is in hope that it will encourage those who read it to always, always get a second ... or third ... or fourth opinion when you or a loved one is facing a serious health problem.

My dad's story has a happy ending ... so many prayers were answered, and a couple of miracles were granted along the way, too ... but so many of the people we encountered during our ordeal, weren't as fortunate. Those sweet souls that filled the chairs in the waiting rooms at the oncologist's office ... in all stages of treatment ... and the relatives of patients in the hospital whose surgeons had to just sew them up, without being able to help them ... their faces will be with me for a very long time, and my heart and prayers go out to all of them, and all of those who love them.

As for me and my family, we will be forever grateful to Dr. P, not only for his skills as a surgeon that saved my dad's life, but also for his heartfelt compassion and confidence that never failed to encourage and comfort us in our darkest hours.

Thanks to him ... and the good Lord above ... my parents will celebrate their 69th wedding anniversary this year ... and many more happy gatherings with our family and friends."

Update:  My dad turned 88 last September, and my mother will be 87 on July 8th.  They will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary this October.  And although my dad's battle with cancer took its toll on both of them, they are remarkably healthy for their age and are independent and able to do just about anything they want to do.  They planted a garden this spring, and Daddy even tilled it himself!

I wish I had some pictures of their garden now ... it looks as if it should be in the pages of Southern Living or Farmer's Almanac

I count our blessings every day and thank God for the miracles he sent my dad and our family. Perhaps my telling our story will reach someone who, as I write this, is experiencing what my dad went through and will get that second opinion.  You never know ... miracles do happen ... every day!


Merisi said...

Thank you, Janie,
for sharing your family's experience, once again. It cannot be repeated often enough, and I know from experience how hard it is to those extra miles, especially when the first or second opinions made you feel glum and without hope.


Stacey said...

I read every word of this because you know we all face it ourselves or with our family at some point. I'm so glad y'all found the right doctor. I do believe that some doctors dismiss older people just because of their age. That wasn't the right thing to do.

How amazing and wonderful that your parents will be married 70 years. I'd love to be married to my husband that long....oh but we'd be in our 90s. You never know. :)

Congratulations and many blessings to your parents.

C. M. Designs said...

I remember the journey that your Dad took a few years ago. I'm am thrilled that he and your Mom are doing so well.
Just look at him with that rototiller. He's in seventh Heaven I'll bet.. He reminds me of my Dad with the gardening.
I wish I could see pictures of your Dads garden. I imagine he has some scrumptious veggies growing there.
I pray that your parents will have a fabulous Anniversary and best wishes to your Mom on her birthday on July 8th.
Sincerely, Charlotte in Va.

Marlene said...

Janie, What a wonderful outcome to what could have been a tragedy. I know you are so grateful to have your sweet, loving parents reach this incredible milestone. I wish them more years of good health and my congratulations to both of them. What a beautiful story!

Dorothy said...

This is amazing and Yes, it's a Miracle!

Pat said...


It is amazing what the medical community can do and I am so glad your dad Dad benefited so successfully.

Blessings to your Dad and your entire family as you all celebrate Father's Day together.

Pat in Tallahassee