It was a year ago today that the surgeon with cool, gloved hands lifted a glistening scalpel and, under the white glare of surgical lights, deftly sliced open an eight-inch flap of tissue on the left side of my groin. He then plucked out two malignant lymph nodes (no problem finding those), and a pearly necklace of normal nodes. Thus relieved of cells-gone-mad, the skin with its underlying layer of fat and nerve fibers was carefully positioned back in place and artfully stitched up. A drainage catheter was left dangling on my inner thigh to collect lymph fluid that no longer knew where to go. I was wheeled out of the OR, deeply unconscious, and taken to a dimly lit recovery room where I later awakened to resume the rest of my life.
That’s a dramatic way of saying I’m one year NED. Yes, you may toast me if you’d like. It’s a meaningful milestone to reach, especially to do so in such good health.
There are few aspects of modern medicine for which I’m more grateful than anesthesia. Still, I would have liked to have been there—so to speak—to see the work done on me. On several occasions I’ve imagined what my surgery might have been like, and tried futilely to extract details from my surgeon. It was all in a day’s work for him. Asking him to describe what he saw is like asking a concert pianist to explain what he sees at the keyboard while playing Tchaikovsky. Dumb question.
Since then, when I’ve been told that my oncologic surgeon was “the best,” I’ve wondered just what that really means. What makes a surgeon good at what he does? Is it the precision of his cutting and suturing? The confidence that he instills in those he works with? Or possibly the tune he whistles and jokes he tells while he’s carving people up? I’d like to think it’s the longevity of the cancer patients he treats. To my thinking, no other measure matters. Shouldn’t someone be keeping track of this stuff so the docs with crummy outcomes are invited to become plumbers or something?
As I’ve written before, surgery is by far the treatment method of choice for malignant melanoma. While no one is happy about that, it’s the best hope for remission. Nothing else much works. For the last year, I’ve been fortunate. I was cut, then burned (radiation) and finally poisoned (interferon). To be a year out and sitting here tapping away on my laptop, and imagining what was going on in that surgical suite a year ago, is a good place to be.