Facing Mesothelioma One Journal Entry at a Time: Part Four

Tara DeAugustinis

Tara DeAugustinis has been battling pleural mesothelioma since diagnosed in early 2016 at the age of 45. She and her husband, Rich, have maintained a personal website documenting her journey with the disease via journal entries, and they have decided to share their story with the mesothelioma community. To read part three of this story, click here.

T – 10 hours
Journal entry by Tara DeAugustinis — 8/23/2016

All,

This is Tara. I wanted to send out a quick note before my surgery tomorrow. I have 10 hours before the surgery begins. I want you to know that you (my support network) have been nothing short of amazing. You have overwhelmed me with your support and encouragement. Your love surrounds me as I get ready for tomorrow morning.

I am mentally and physically ready. I am at peace. I know that it will be difficult, but I am a fighter. I have a great surgical team. I know that God is in control and He will be in the operating room with me tomorrow. I know that He is good Father and that He loves me. Good will come from this. I stand on all of the promises that God has made. I know that He will ultimately receive glory from this situation. I trust Him.

Thank you for all of your prayers. There will be so many praying for me tomorrow. There is no way that God will not hear our collective prayers. He is my refuge and strength. I can do all things through Him.

I’ve got this. I look forward to catching up with many of you in the weeks to come.

Post Surgery Update on Tara
Journal entry by Rich DeAugustinis — 8/24/2016

A very quick update for everyone… It’s 8pm and Tara is out of surgery and headed to the ICU. I have not seen her yet, but will shortly. I am told she is fine by the nurses, but will know more in the coming hours.

The surgeons shared that the EPP surgery was successful at removing most of the mesothelioma (cancer). They successfully removed her right lung and removed/rebuilt the diaphragm and pericardium, and removed as many of the lymph nodes as they could from her right mediastinum. Her vitals were strong all day during the operation. I will provide more information on the results and the way forward in the coming days, but for today, this was the best outcome possible under the circumstances. We are so thankful for an incredible surgical and nursing team, and their care of Tara today.

The next few days will be very tough as she begins a long recovery. Please continue to pray for Tara and the doctors/nursing staff that will be caring for her. There is always risk in the days following a major operation like this – please pray that we don’t have any issues in the days ahead.

Thanks for the many, many prayers and well wishes today. I have been surrounded by family and friends in the hospital today and I could not have gotten through this without them. More on that later.

I am exhausted and will share more tomorrow. As a closing thought, I will share the following scripture that my beautiful daughter Aubrey shared earlier this evening:

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.” Psalms 46:1-5 ESV

On the Mend: Post Surgical Update #2
Journal entry by Rich DeAugustinis — 8/27/2016

Saturday evening update on my beautiful bride Tara: Y’all, I knew she was strong, but I really had no idea how strong. She is an amazing woman with amazing faith and will, and this week just confirmed that even more. First I want to briefly share the story about the surgery on Wednesday, then I will let you know how she is doing.

Wednesday morning started out as expected… we arrived at the hospital on time, and went through the motions to get ready for surgery. Everything was on track. She met the nurses, then the anesthesiologist team and then the surgical team. The night before, Tara had written them all a letter which she wanted to be read out loud in the operating room. We had printed the letter out and laid it on her on the hospital bed. I last saw her about 8:15am as they wheel her back to the OR. As I was to find out later, they respected her request and read the letter out loud to the entire assembled team before the surgery began… but more on that later.

I was thankful to be surrounded by family and friends in great measure on Wednesday. We have been so humbled by the outpouring of love and support through this journey, and Wednesday was no different. Tara’s dad and sister, my parents, my aunt, Tara’s best friend Molly, our great friends Greg and Jodi, Tara’s aunt and her husband, and my discipleship group leader Bill. We gathered and waited. And waited. And waited. About lunchtime I was summoned to a consultation with Dr. Sancheti (I was joined by Tara’s dad). I had expected this as I thought there would be a midday update. What I did not expect was the news he shared. He indicated that they were having a tough time getting the cancer out and getting through it to be able to remove the lung and the pleura. In fact, he indicated that he wasn’t sure they would be able to do it, and they might not be able to complete the EPP surgery (this after they had already made the massive incision). He left, saying they were going to keep trying, and would know if they could continue in the next 30-45 min.

We returned and briefed everyone. We promptly prayed as a group, asking God to intervene, asking the Host of Heaven to guide the hands of Dr. Sancheti and Dr. Force to break through and get the lung out. We then prayed individually for a while. I prayed for a lot of things, but the two biggest things I recall praying for were for the surgeons to be able to pull the cancer off her organs like a sheet off the bed, and that the surgeons would be successful so I wouldn’t hear back from Dr. Sancheti until the end of the day. And we waited. And waited. 90 minutes passed and then a call directly from the OR… they were proceeding with the resection of the lung and would be completing the EPP procedure. An answer to prayer… a miracle.

We did not hear back from Dr. Sancheti until the end of the day, when he came out and told us she was done and the lung was out. The surgery was complete, removing 99% of the cancer in her chest cavity. They rebuilt her diaphragm and part of the pericardium (the enclosure around the heart) with pig and cow tissue (better than synthetic options — just amazing what modern medicine can do). Thanks be to God, whatever happened in the OR allowed them to complete the play on the surgery.

Following the surgery a few of us were able to see Tara briefly in ICU. As you would expect, Tara was an overachiever from the get go after the surgery. She had her breathing tube out and was on oxygen before we saw her. She was awake, but in serious pain. The good news was that in ICU, there was a nurse by her side tending to her all night long (made me feel better since they only let me in at midnight to see her briefly).

So back to the letter that Tara wrote to her surgical team. That evening as we were waiting to be able to see Tara, I received a call on my phone from Vida, one of the OR nurses that was in the room earlier in the day. She asked me to come down to the hospital lobby to meet her and one other nurse from the team. I hurried down to meet them. She greeted me with a hug and proceeded to share her story. In 12 years as an OR nurse, she had never encountered what she did this morning — a patient asking for a letter to be read to the team before surgery. She proceeded to say that she and the entire team were profoundly impacted by Tara’s letter and message to them, and wanted to express their thanks and love for her in return. She handed me a card, which somehow they had bought and had the entire team sign despite working under unbelievable stress on Tara’s surgery ALL DAY LONG. Just incredible. It was a heartwarming moment. Tara was determined to share the love of God with others even as she submitted to the most dangerous day in her entire life. The love of Christ is everywhere, and can work through even the most dire of circumstances.

So how is she doing? Like I said, she is an overachiever. She is doing very well. They removed her drain tube yesterday, and she came completely off oxygen last night (recall that she just lost a lung…). They removed the catheter this afternoon as well. She also started to walk today… just a little bit around the ICU, but she will walk more and more each day as pulmonary rehab is an essential part of her recovery. The blood pressure issue continues to subside (normal after a major surgery like this). Finally, her pain is under better control. It will be a while before she is pain free (it’s a long haul when you have a 9″ incision from your chest to your shoulder blade), but the team here at St. Joseph’s is doing a good job keeping her comfortable and the pain under control. She will be in ICU for a few more days, and will move to a regular recovery room on Monday. Earlier today, Dr. Sancheti said she is doing so well that she could go home as early as this coming Wednesday!

I need to conclude this update with a couple big thank yous. First, to our families and close friends, without whom we could not have gotten through Wednesday and the days that followed. Thank you for your love and support, and for your help taking care of Tara. We appreciate you stopping your lives to be here during the surgery, and to help take care of her in the days since. Second, to the incredible team at Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital. At some point in the future I will share more about our experience, but they have been just incredible. We are so thankful to Drs. Sancheti and Force, and the entire surgical and ICU teams. You have been the hands and feet of Jesus these last few days, and it’s incredible to watch you work. I know that she wouldn’t be doing as good as she is without your “A-Team” care.

Thank you to all of you for your love, support and prayer this past week. We felt every single one, and covet each of them. Prayer works, and I know that Wednesday’s miracle was firmly rooted in your prayer as well as God’s will.

More to come later this week once Tara gets out of the hospital and home to recover. In the coming weeks her focus will be on getting better and getting prepared for radiation in October, and immunotherapy soon after. I will share more on that later.

Love you all, and praying for you to have a great week this week.
Rich

Tara's LetterText of Tara’s Letter
Journal entry by Rich DeAugustinis — 8/28/2016

I am posting the text of Tara’s letter to her surgical team below.

August 24, 2016

Dear Dr. Sancheti, Dr. Force, and the rest of my surgical team,

I am pretty sure that I will be “out of it” before I see most of you this morning. I want have a chance to talk to you before we begin surgery.

First, I know that each of you were hand-picked to be part of today. I believe that God has a plan for all of us. He has known that I would be having this EPP surgery today since before I was born. That means that each of you have been part of His plan all along for me as well. I know that you are each amazing or you would not have been selected to be a part of my journey.

Second, I want you to know that you are being prayed for by literally hundreds of people this morning. My support network throughout this journey has been nothing short of amazing. I have prayed for each of you. I hope that you know that you are the hands and feet of Jesus today taking care of me. God is in control of today’s outcome and I am at peace. Each of you have been given special skills by God that will be needed today. Know that you are not alone. God is in this with us.

Finally, I want to make sure you understand what your To-Do’s are for today.

1. Get all of the wretched cancer out of my body. It is not welcome.
2. Don’t let me die.

Seems simple. Just two things for you to accomplish today. I am a fighter and have always been a can do person. Attitude is everything and I want you to have that same attitude as you complete my surgery today. I trust you and will see you once I wake up.

Warmest Regards,

Tara DeAugustinis

Continue reading Tara’s story here: Facing Mesothelioma One Journal Entry at a Time: Part Five

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