A Positive Update on Susan

There have been a couple of stories to emerge in the IndyCar world in the past week since I posted here last Monday. Probably the biggest headline was when Formula One veteran Romain Grosjean announced he will be joining the NTT IndyCar Series for the 2021 season for the non-ovals (but possibly Gateway), with Dale Coyne Racing in association with Rick Ware Racing. I have some thoughts on that and other topics, but I will comment on that on Wednesday.

I’ve been living in a bubble for the last week in Louisville, KY, focused on pretty much nothing else besides my wife’s surgery for pancreatic cancer. Consequently, I wanted to devote today’s post to updating everyone on what has been going on up here. If you only care about IndyCar, come back Wednesday. If you want a complete medical update on Susan – keep reading.

I’m happy to report that we’ve gotten almost all good news since we’ve been up here. Susan’s scans showed that her tumor has shrunk significantly. When she was diagnosed in July, her tumor measured 5.7 cm in diameter. Last Monday, her CT Scan indicated the tumor had shrunk down to 2.0 cm. Her surgeon said she has responded exceedingly well to her chemo treatments. That gave her surgeon hope that he might possibly be able to completely resect the tumor if it had shrunk to the extent that it pulled away from the blood vessels. As promising as the NanoKnife technology sounds – the ultimate goal is still to remove the tumor, if possible. However, he wouldn’t know if he could do that until he actually got in there.

On Tuesday, we had the biggie – her PET Scan. That would show if there was any other cancer activity outside of the pancreas, meaning it would show if there was any evidence that the cancer had spread. If there was, there would be no reason to do the surgery and we would have been sent home, with her options drastically reduced. In all candor, it would have been a likely death sentence.

Fortunately that scan was good news also, so the surgery was on for Thursday. Few people complete this particular type of chemo she has been on for the past six months, because the side-effects are so harsh. From what I have witnessed for the past six months, they are incredibly harsh. The surgeon told us that only 10% of those that start this chemo actually complete all twelve rounds. Susan completed Round Twelve, on schedule, on Jan 8. She stuck with it and it has completely ravaged her body, but it looks like it may pay off.

Wednesday, we had the day off from tests and scans, but she could not eat anything but clear liquids after midnight Tuesday night. We had toyed with the idea to travel up to IMS. 2020 was the first year since 2000 that we had not set foot in Indianapolis and we wanted to end that streak this month. We had also planned to meet our friend, Paul Dalbey of Fieldof33.com, at Dawson’s on Main for an early afternoon dinner before driving back – even though Susan couldn’t eat. However, she was tested for COVID-19 on Monday and was told to self-isolate as much as possible afterwards. It would not have been the smartest thing in the world to go to a restaurant the day before major surgery, so we opted to spend Wednesday isolated in our Airbnb we had rented. I’ve been working remotely while up here, and I ended up getting a lot of work done for my day job that day. That saves my vacation time for attending races later this summer.

We turned in early Wednesday night, because we had to get up at 3:30 am to get her there for surgery by 5:30 am on Thursday. Despite our ripe old ages of 62, neither of us had ever undergone surgery before. I could tell by her demeanor that she was terrified, because this was major, MAJOR surgery. Although I was probably just as nervous, I felt like my duty was to talk about everyday things rather than what was directly in front of us. I took this photo of her just after we had checked in. About five minutes later, they took us back to pre-op.

Susan Waiting

Due to COVID restrictions, once they wheeled her back to anesthesia – I was not allowed to go to a waiting room. I was sent home (to our rental) to await phone call updates. This was probably better than sitting in a waiting room. I was able to do other things and take my mind off of what was going on just a couple of miles away.

The nurses were good about calling and keeping me updated, telling me she was still in surgery but doing fine. Then around 10:30 am, the doctor called telling me the surgery had been completed. He then told me the only bit of “bad news” we got all week – that he was unable to resect the tumor. There was still too much blood vessel involvement with the hepatic (liver) artery. He determined it would have been too risky. Still, he used the NanoKnife technology to ablate (zap) the tumor with high voltage electricity (about 2,000 volts) and effectively kill it. He said this procedure was a success and she was doing fine.

Theoretically, the dead tumor will remain inside of her as scar tissue. While we would have preferred a total resection of the tumor, this is what we came up here for in the first place. The resection was never even on the table, until the surgeon mentioned it as a possibility last Monday. So, he accomplished everything we came up here for. He also gave me the good news that the tumor was a focal tumor. I had to ask what that was, leading him to explain to the dumb layman that not only had the cancer not spread to other parts of the body, it appeared to be a self-contained tumor and had not even spread to other areas of the pancreas.

When she was finally taken to her room and I got to see her, I was presently surprised at how alert she was. She was sitting up in the bed and was talkative, upbeat and very conversant. In fact, I was the one that was running out of gas. After being up since 3:30 am and going through an extremely stressful day, I hit a wall. I could not stay awake in her hospital room, so I left her around 7:30 pm, went home (to our rental) and crawled in bed by 8:30 pm.

Friday was not as encouraging. When I arrived, she was asleep. When she woke up, she didn’t know if it was morning or night. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but that was the first sign that she was not totally with it mentally. The nurses explained that it took a lot of anesthesia to keep her out for a four-hour surgery, and it would take a lot of time for it to clear from her system.

Susan had more tubes going in and out of her than I could count. Every time she woke up from a nap, she seemed confused why they were there and kept wresting with them. Plus she kept trying to get out of bed. Even to go to the bathroom took a nurse about five minutes to unhook everything or get it to where the tubes were portable and could follow her; but she seemed intent on doing everything without help. The tube that bothered her the most was the NG tube coming out of her nose. That night, it mysteriously got pulled out overnight.

Her mental state was probably compounded by the fact that she had not eaten anything since Tuesday night. I had hoped a good night sleep Friday night would make her a new person on Saturday morning. It didn’t. Although she was healing nicely physically, she still seemed very confused. I left at lunchtime to go back to our rental to eat and do a few things. After being gone for a couple of hours, they removed the NG tube from her and gave her a bath. When I returned Saturday afternoon, that new person was finally there. She was a lot more lucid and was the person I knew. We watched a couple of movies in her room and by the time I left her Saturday night around 10:00 pm, she had fallen asleep and was resting comfortably.

Yesterday morning, they gave her a popsicle. She said it was the best thing she had ever eaten. After they determined that she could tolerate that, they hooked up her feeding tube that she will have for about four to six weeks. Last night, they gave her broth, juice and Jell-o. She handled that fine, so today she will probably move to solid food.

We watched the first half of the Super Bowl together in her room, before I left her at halftime to go watch it alone in our rental. I missed the halftime performance, but from what I understand – I missed nothing. I’m still a little amazed at the Chief’s no-show. I thought Brady and the Bucs would win, because I would never bet against Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, but I thought it would be very close. It wasn’t…but I digress. Susan’s mind now seems perfectly clear, her spirits are good and she has had no complications so far. We still don’t know when she will be discharged, but whenever that is, we will still have to stay in Louisville for a few more nights, just in case.

There will be no photos posted here or on social media until she is discharged. I never care to see photos of people in hospital beds, with tubes and machines hooked to them. I will save her some dignity, and spare you from seeing unappealing photos. Suffice it to say, she does not look her best right now, but after what she has been through – she looks pretty good, in my opinion.

She still has a lot in front of her, but we accomplished what we came here for. Her surgeon is one of the best in his field and we really liked him personally. He has a very good bedside manner, which is severely lacking in the medical field these days.

We know what we are still up against with this disease and we are very realistic about it, but this NanoKnife procedure is getting great results in pancreatic cancer patients, especially in recent years – and he was one of the first to use it when it started around 2006. A cure is possible with this procedure, but not guaranteed. Our goal is to give Susan her life back for a few years and some normalcy. If the cancer returns in a few years, we will deal with it then. But for now, we are looking to get her back on her feet and recover from her surgery. There will be some mild chemo in her future for a couple of months, followed by six weeks of radiation treatment – wrapping up around mid-June. After that, she will undergo scans every three months for two years and then go on to live her life – hopefully cancer-free.

Thanks to all of those who followed our updates on Twitter and Facebook, and for the calls and texts from friends; and the e-mails from readers of this site that we’ve never met. There were also a few people that we’ve never met that sent gifts to Susan along the way. You know who you are and I cannot tell you how much that meant to her. It gave her the strength to get to where she is now.

Thanks for indulging me by getting all the way through this fairly extensive update. I will return Wednesday with a much shorter medical update and some IndyCar thoughts and opinions.

George Phillips

21 Responses to “A Positive Update on Susan”

  1. Incredible! So happy that your surgeon accomplished everything that you went up there for. Can’t wait to see track updates from both of you in the near future!

  2. Thanks for the update, George. So happy that things went very well. Your post op experience sounded very familiar. She is going to be just fine.

  3. Denise Weltzin Says:

    Thank you for the update; that’s all very positive news! Thoughts & prayers to both of you. Susan is one tough cookie for sure.

  4. Bruce Weinberg Says:

    Lynn and I are with you both in spirit and wish for continued positive movement. Susan and you have been through so much and we are eager for you two to get back to living a normal, racing fan life. I’m looking forward to seeing both of you at a future race!

  5. Rick Johnson Says:

    That’s a very encouraging update. Great news.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    This is so good to hear, George, thank you for updating us.

    We continue to pray earnestly for Susan’s healing, for her doctors, and for peace and strength for the both of you.

  7. I read the entire post. Prayers to both of us. Those of us at IMS and INDYCAR are thinking about you, and we’ll buy the next meal at Dawson’s. — Curt

  8. Michele Porten Says:

    Thank you for the update George. It must be a major relief to have the surgery and the first few post op days in your rear view window. Prayers to a speedy recovery to get you both back home.

  9. Wonderful news. Thank you so much for allowing us to come along on this journey. I appreciate all that you share. Susan is amazing and such an inspiration. I’m praising God for the wonderful results and continuing to pray for the future. Look forward to seeing you both this summer and hopefully able to give you hugs. – Patti

  10. Melissa Fox Says:

    George – thanks for the update. I have been following the updates during this process. Let Susan know I think of her often and can’t wait to spoil her when you guys are back at the track with a great meal at Honda Hospitality!

  11. So wonderful to hear that. She is one tough lady. God bless you both.

  12. Leslie Bissell Says:

    I am so happy to hear this wonderful news! Continuing prayers for you and Susan!

  13. Jana kennedy Says:

    George, thank you so much for this post. It cleared up so many questions I have had about what was going on. Please know we are praying and here for anything you or your family may need.
    Jana and the Dessert Designs crew

  14. Wonderful news!! We don’t need any IndyCar today. Thanks for sharing both of your experiences from last week. I am thrilled that it went so well. Cheers to Susan.

  15. Mark Wick Says:

    Wonderful news. I read all of this with greater interest than any of your other posts. I recently lost a family member to cancer and currently have at least two others fighting it. Dad beat one kind, held off another for many years, but couldn’t beat another.
    You both have wonderful attitudes about this and are great partners in this journey. When you get back to IMS I can see from previous responses that you will have some very special experiences.
    You have a lot to look forward to. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Tom from Lake Forest Says:

    Thanks for posting this update, George. This is encouraging. I continue to pray that God would show His love and kindness to you and to Susan.

  17. Brandon Wright Says:

    This is excellent news! Thanks for sharing and I hope you all are through the worst of it!

  18. Well written friend! Blessings for a “FULL” recovery!

  19. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    I am praying for you both and am thinking they are being answered. By the way, I actually enjoyed the halftime show. Much better than the game.

  20. Steve from Rockwall Says:

    Great stuff! Continued prayers

  21. Late to the proceedings here, but this is quite honestly the best news from 2021 so far. So happy to hear that things went so well, and that the outlook for the future looks so bright. I’ve been thinking about both of you quite a bit, and hoping that I’ll get a chance to say hello at a racetrack sometime in the not distant future.

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