Tales from the Hill's Country

Quips, stories and observations from our adventures in marriage and parenting (as told by Katie).

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Chris' Medical Adventure

For the past 6 weeks Chris and I have been on a medical adventure that's taken us to three different hospitals, numerous tests and one mega-surgery. I chose not to blog about it while we were in the middle of it (mostly because we usually had more questions than answers!), but now that we're on the downhill slope, I decided to share.

For about 4 years Chris has had a lump in his back. For a long time we thought it was a muscle knot. We finally got it checked out and after being bounced around, we ended up with five different doctors all diagnosing him with a fatty deposit. Their advice was to get it removed if he wanted, or just live with it.

Chris decided to live with it until about 6 months ago when we both noticed it seemed to be growing. It was also very uncomfortable (imagine having a tennis ball in your back at all times) and we figured if we were going to get it out, we might as well do that before the baby comes.

Before our doctor would remove it, however, he wanted to do an MRI to make sure he knew exactly where it was (since it appeared to be underneath some muscles). The MRI showed that it was not a simple fatty deposit. Instead, it showed that it was a rather large, growing tumor. They were concerned that it might be a rare, dangerous type of cancer.

You can imagine the mood around the Hill House when we got that news.

The following month was full of over a dozen appointments in and around the medical center. We decided to get Chris care at MD Anderson where people travel for cancer treatment from all over the world (and is 10 minutes from our house!). After biopsies, MRIs, CAT scans and a PET scan we finally got the extraction surgery on the calendar.

(Fun side note: the PET scan involved Chris being injected with radioactive material then having images taken of his chest. To date we have not seen any super-human powers come from that radioactive injection but I'm keeping my eye out.)

Three and a half weeks after hearing that they were concerned Chris might have a rare type of cancer, we got wonderful news... he did not! Instead the diagnosis was a growing, but BENIGN tumor. The best treatment was to cut it out, but no chemo or radiation was needed. This was a HUGE relief as Baby Hill was not going to change his schedule to fit Chris' chemo treatments and we were very anxious to get this all wrapped up before his arrival.

In the middle of our relief, however, we still had a rather intense surgery on our schedule. Chris' tumor was pretty big. It protruded from his back, but went all the way through to his rib. It was encapsulated by muscle so the surgery would mean taking out some of that muscle and possibly the rib. The surgery would involve two surgical teams: thoracic (to take out the tumor and surrounding muscles) and plastic (to help reconstruct the area and make sure Chris would still be able to utilize that important area even with the muscles missing).

Although it was horrible to do, Chris and I talked about various options and directives in the event that something were to go wrong during his 4 hour surgery. Not the most fun pillow talk, but I MUST recomend that every couple have a similar discussion (Today! Don't wait for a surgical schedule, all of our days are numbered). We put together our wills and medical directives and although that was not fun, it brings us both peace that we have our affairs in order in the event that something were to happen to one or both of us (especially important if you have children!).

The morning of surgery we woke up early and headed to MDA. The pre-op room is full of nerves, anxiety and a flurry of doctors and nurses. A chaplain came in to pray with us (and I must say we were COVERED in prayer that morning and throughout the past 6 weeks. We are SO thankful that we have such faithful and supportive friends!) and we waited for about an hour before the anesthesiologist came in. During that hour I snapped this photo:
Chris was not in the mood for a photo shoot!

I was anxious for them to get started, but the moment they wheeled Chris away I would have given anything to delay. And even though we waited together in pre-op for an hour, I felt like our "goodbye" was way too rushed! To be sure, watching him get wheeled off was the worst part of our whole adventure.

PD had come into town for the surgery and I met up with him and my parents for the wait.
PD read the paper, then did some work:
My dad downloaded apps to his phone:
My mom played games on my iPad:
And I wrote thank you notes on behalf of Baby Hill who was showered with gifts the previous Sunday (blog post to come soon):
The surgery part was 4 hours, but we waited 7 from the time that he was wheeled off to the time I was able to see him in the post-op room. Plenty of time to write thank you notes, eat breakfast AND lunch and field a million calls and text messages from friends wanting to know the latest.

Finally I got to see Chris! He was drugged up and in pain. The doctor recommended a 2-3 day stay in the hospital and 5 hours later, he was wheeled up to his room. Here we are in the room at the end of a VERY long day:
Almost two weeks later Chris is still recovering (though he's home now) and he has more hurdles to overcome. But the surgeon is confident that he got all of the tumor and just today we got a call with the final pathology report: benign! So it appears as though our adventure is coming to an end. And I could not be more happy about that!

I'm tempted to end the post here (it's getting pretty lengthy) but I must reiterate how thankful we are for our amazing friends and family! PD came in town the night before the surgery and helped in SO many ways. From taking out our recycling, to washing our windows, staying with Chris that first night and so much more-- he was a wonderful help. My parents also insisted on visiting daily and brought snacks, flowers and familiar faces each time. My lawyer friend, Kristin helped us with our wills, my dear friend Lindsay drove me to and from a baby-doctor appointment that I couldn't reschedule and both Carrie and Kelli brought us dinners (and delicious ones at that!). Mark (Kelli's husband) even mowed our lawn! Our friends Jim and Rachael stopped by the room to visit during their busy work days at MDA. And our friend Elizabeth, who is a surgical fellow in the thoracic division of MDA, helped us navigate the confusing process AND answered a million questions from me during the process. We are amazed at how clearly God placed her in our lives-- just this January we met at Bible Study!-- how comforting it was to have a "friend on the inside" as we went through this scary adventure. We've been prayed for by SO many people (some who don't even know us!) and received many kind emails, calls, texts and cards. I couldn't even begin to list the amount of friends that have offered to help during his recovery. Truly, we are SO grateful!


  1. So sorry to hear you guys have been going through this, but grateful to hear it is behind you now - especially before baby comes!

    1. Thanks! Although it hasn't been fun, we HAVE seen some amazing blessings come from it. Not that I'd choose it... but God did show us some wonderful good that came out of the bad. :)

  2. "...all things work together for good..." (Rom8:28). Lotsa good things came out of your experience. Got your affairs in order (which EVERYONE should do), gained a deeper perspective on life, learned even more how to rely on God, provided the opportunity to many to practice the privilege of prayer (on your behalf), and you now have an experience to share with and help others who may be going through the same "adventure." I know you are so grateful, as am I.

  3. Scary situation but so glad to hear everything is ok! Someone reminded me recently that "God doesn't waste pain," and I fully believe that- even if the only "purpose" for this was for you all to get your wills, etc. in order!

    1. Agreed! I can see some other good purposes too, but I look forward to (humbly) asking God about His timing on this when I get to Heaven! ;)