It is important to remember when contemplating the negative, that there is always another side of things, a bigger picture to be seen. Here is the bigger picture.
|Yeah, this is my stomach.|
After the surgery, my stomach traveled to the pathology lab. There, it was preserved, mapped and chopped up into hundreds of slides. After weeks of reading all of the slides, the pathologists mapped out where they had found sites of early cancer.
I had heard relatively early on that they found cancer. It was about a week after surgery when my surgeon came into my hospital room and asked if I wanted to hear a preliminary pathology report. In my hospital-dazed state, I assumed he was talking about the results for some of the blood work that was done, since I hadn't expected hearing about pathology so soon. Then out of nowhere, he said it: they found sites of early cancer.
|Examples of signet ring cells in my stomach (yellow arrows).|
To look at these cells, the pathologists used a periodic acid-schiff (PAS) stain that detects a protein called mucin. While mucin is normally produced by certain cells and gets incorporated into mucosal secretions, it is overproduced in some cancer cells, including the signet ring cells that are the hallmark of diffuse gastric cancer. These cells show up on the slide as fat and round -- full of mucin.
As a scientist, it is satisfying to have visual proof of these signet ring cells. As a patient, I still can't figure out how I feel about them. It is somewhat terrifying to see the cells that, had they been left unchecked, would have at some point waged war against my body. At the same time, I am relieved that they are no longer in my body. And perhaps the weirdest feeling of all is feeling relieved (happy?) that they were there in the first place, validating my decision to have surgery. (Who in their right mind says they are happy to have stage T1a cancer?)
Regardless of how I feel, the facts are still there: I had 109 sites of stage T1a cancer in my stomach. I had surgery, and now I don't.
So there it is, my 109 reasons why this is all worth it.