Photo Credit: Jim and Kim Tigar
I woke up in the early morning -- around 3 a.m. -- in late February because I was having so much pain in my stomach area. It really hurt, but because it was on the right side of my belly, I thought it was just gas. I took some medication, drank some water and tried to go back to sleep, but I had a feeling something worse was going on. For the next 12 hours, I battled the ache -- as a retired fire captain, I always wait until I can’t stand it anymore before giving into help. Maybe that comes with the job description, but around 3 p.m., I couldn’t take it anymore and called my wife, Kim, to take me to the emergency room.
After waiting for 45 minutes, a doctor accessed me and said my appendix needed to be taken out immediately. I wasn’t scared because I knew the surgery was simple and once it was over, the horrible, sharp pain in my side would subside. They prepared me for surgery in under 10 minutes, and after a good-luck wish from Kim, I was rolled back to the operating table. The next thing I remember was waking up to the bright lights of the recovery room and feeling the stitches in my side. It was great to see my wife’s beautiful face and I thought that the ordeal of the past 24-hours was over. The doctor came in and said everything went smoothly, but that he wanted me to have a bag to drain fluids for two days and then come back. Kim and I called our daughter who lives in New York City to relieve her worries and we were able to go home.
It wasn’t until we went back for the check-up that the real news hit us.
The pathology report from the surgery came back and the doctors had found a cancroid tumor in my appendix that was spreading to my colon. When you hear the big “c” word, it’s so bad because you feel so helpless against it. As soon as I heard the diagnosis, I thought about the years I still wanted to share with my wife of 27 years. I thought about one day walking my daughter down the aisle and meeting my future grandchildren. I thought about golfing and kayaking and growing old in Western North Carolina, my favorite place in the country. I thought about all of the living I still had left to do as a 60-year-old.
The doctor decided to remove 12-inches of my colon four weeks later after my body had a chance to recover from the appendix surgery. Waiting for a month to have that surgery was so difficult, knowing that I could be facing chemotherapy or years of battle. I decided not to tell my daughter until we could see her in person in April. I didn’t want to burden her or have her worry, especially with her busy life in the Big Apple.
I was happy to report good news for her when she arrived.
Five days after the surgery, the pathology report indicated that luckily the cancer wasn’t spreading. While I had some difficulty with the staples coming apart because I’m overweight (requiring yet another surgery to keep them together) nothing sounded better than when the oncologist completed a full-body scan and declared me cancer free.
In two months, I had three surgeries and even today, I’m still sore. Though there’s a slim chance of the cancer coming back, it’s still in the back of my mind every single day. My heart goes out to those who have gone through this and to the ones who will one day. I pray for those who lost their lives to this disease, too. While it was a scary experience, it’s made me appreciate and cherish my life and the people in it. I know now to never take anything for granted, especially my health.