I'm coming up on one of those days that's common in the life of a cancer patient: a Big Day. On Monday I'll check into Mercy Hospital in Baltimore and on Tuesday Dr. Armando Sardi will attempt to remove my chemotherapy-resistant tumors and fry any stray cancer cells with a heated chemotherapy flush.
He told me to expect an average hospital stay of two weeks for this procedure and three months for full recovery. But I know from my big surgery in 2005 that complications could prolong that by at least a factor of three.
I don't know exactly what shape my body will be in after the surgery. I'll probably have a new colostomy. I might have a urinary ostomy. The previously irradiated section of pelvic bone will be removed if it's still harboring malignancy. The doctor might find that there's too much disease to treat when he opens me up and just leave it be. Or all could go wonderfully well and this could finally clear me of the cancer I've been wrestling with for more than four years.
How do you prepare for a day of such uncertainty? I spent extra time with family at Thanksgiving and celebrated some parts of Christmas early since I won't be able to travel to be with them. I have already finished wrapping presents for my girlfriend and my mother who will be in town with me. For my scientific consulting business I have made arrangements to work from home during recovery and put projects in motion to continue in my absence.
But it's hard to predict just what will happen beyond Monday. It's like driving on a strange road in thick fog. There are other times in life when we all experience such uncertainty: the first day of school, the first day of college, the first day at a new job or the first day in the military. Those are days like this where there's a known unknown, an experience which we'll look back at someday and appreciate what changed at that moment. Another big day.