Thursday, March 2, 2017

This Could Be the Last Time

Shortly after my December appointment with my oncologist, I received a call from Memorial Sloan Kettering to schedule the removal of the hepatic artery pump I've been carrying around for the last five years. I thanked them for the call and said I hadn't made up my mind yet.  I kept having two thoughts. Logic kept telling me I should keep the pump in for another five years 'just in case.' My heart kept saying 'it's time to have it removed and move on' and I'd cringe as I imagined myself going to the local oncologist every eight-weeks to have the pumped refilled (for routine maintenance). This image is really what had me realize it's time to have it removed.

I'm incredibly fortunate, perhaps just damn lucky that I'm not only alive but actually in remission. And to return to the oncologist every eight-weeks for an indefinite future of pump maintenance would keep my mind in a constant cancer mindset. It's really not a logical explanation for why I'm doing it but it is the truth. I mean, my oncologist did recommend it which obviously is very encouraging, but there's also a part of me that wants very much to return to the world that so many of you live in - a world that doesn't include regular caner-prevention maintenance. A world where I no longer get pats on the back and words of affirmation for still being cancer-free and alive. I actually can't really remember what it's even like but it sounds a little more peaceful - a little more free than how I feel right now. And if my doctor didn't think it was a good idea, she wouldn't recommend it. It was just up to me to take the leap.

Now I can't leave out that my son, who is now ten years old, began to cry when I initially told him my doc recommended I have the pump removed. His first response was, "But what if you get cancer again?" I gave him a hug then he sat on my lap and we talked for a bit about why Dr. Kemeny recommended I have it removed, that there are downsides to keeping it in place (infection, blood vessels growing around the pump, which may have already started, to name a few). He began to understand and the next day I checked in with him and he thought it was a good idea to have it removed. I honestly wouldn't have scheduled the procedure without his understanding. I needed to know that it made sense to him. Not that long long ago he said, "Papa, it's a miracle that you're still alive." He understands the magnitude of a cancer diagnosis. I needed us both to be on the same page.

So a few weeks ago I met with Mike Di'Angelica, the surgeon who resected my liver and installed the pump back in 2011. We discussed the ins and outs of the procedure and when I brought up the fact that the pump can't be reinstalled once it's removed, he told me that in my specific case it's pretty likely he could install a second one if he had to. THAT stopped me in my tracks. After all that thought and reflection, all the preparation it took to get me here, I find out he can install another one if he had to?? He said I was a special case for him because all he had to do was cut off part of my liver and - boom - all done. Most of his patients got  to him because they've been told they have inoperable tumors and he has to determine what can be removed and what can't. So, yeah, heaven forbid I have a recurrence in my liver, he can probably install another pump. To tell you the truth, it felt great to learn about this after I decided to go ahead with it because I went into it fully decided with no attachments and no 'what ifs.'

It's an out-patient procedure so I need a driver at the end of the day so I invited my friend Sparx to join me and he agreed to. Sparx accompanied me to NY back in 2011 when I went in for the liver surgery and pump installation. I thought it would be nice to have him complete the victory lap with me.

It's funny. This afternoon, I almost couldn't work. All at once the emotion hit me and all I wanted to do was be outside on this beautiful day. I was thinking about the fact that it's been ten years since it all started. Ten. Years. I had so much emotion moving through me and I really needed to work, so I did what felt right. I closed off my part of the shop, put Back in Black in the CD player, and cranked it. There's something about that album for my generation. It goes right to core. Then I went for a walk while I ate my lunch. What a beautiful day it was. 

So this Friday could be the last time I have a surgical procedure for this ordeal that began a decade ago almost to the day. It was March of 2007 that I was diagnosed for the first time. And this could be it. All day I've had a Rolling Stones tune in my head

Well this could be the last time
This could be the last time
Maybe the last time
I don't know

The only exception is that I was mostly hearing that Grateful Dead sing it today. This really could be the last time. That would be something.


  1. good for you! Amazing to hear stories like yours.

  2. As Brian Johnson said, "...I'm let loose, from the noose.." brother. So happy for you and Beau!

  3. . . . believe Bert . . . you're blessed, beautiful, brave, a super star 💫

  4. Wow...thanks for sharing. I am happy for you and your remission...Ill always remember the benefit I did with John and the gang for you in Ithaca and little did we know then what we know now....Ill always miss John but so happy for you and your family and Im sure he is too. We had a great jam that night too....keep on.....keeping on. You're a great man.

    1. Thank you Ann. I will always remember it as well. And then playing the benefit for John only a short time later <3

  5. Hey Bert, I've been thinking about you these last few days. No reason, exactly, but it's got me wondering how you are doing. Maybe an update post?

    Take care!

    1. Thank you Maria. I'm doing well and have been meaning to post a new clear scan update :)