A wise person once said, “Good health is a crown on the head of a well person that only a sick person can see.” Never has this saying resonated with me like it has in the last four months.
Last May, my wife and I decided to have our routine screening colonoscopies together. We spent the day before prepping, which is what most people dread, but looking back, it was nothing.
After the procedure, when I was in the recovery area, my gastroenterologist came in and said, in a caring manner, “Damian, we removed three polyps and one of them clinically looks to be malignant. We won’t know for sure until the biopsy results come back.”
She showed me the images of the suspicious polyp taken during the colonoscopy and my heart sank as I saw the ulcerated and amorphous mass. I was in total shock and it felt like time stood still. A vortex of emotions all surfaced at one time. There was a mixture of fear, anger, stress, depression and, dare I say, resentment toward God all within the first minute of hearing this news. One minute seemed like an eternity. What added to the depth of these emotions was the look on my wife’s face, who was also flooded with emotions, and it pained me. After a minute, I was able to muster strength deep from within to ask about next steps.
My doctor said I would need to see a colorectal surgeon right away for further work up and treatment. Lucky for me, Dr. Tatiana Ramirez Dominguez, a talented Mercy colorectal surgeon, is my neighbor. I texted Tatiana and we spoke that evening via the phone. She told me to take the night to relax and that she would come by in the morning to discuss treatment options with my wife and me. The next morning, she came over with a pot of coffee.
Before we talked about the plan, I asked her to be straightforward with me. With tears welling up in my eyes, I asked her, “Will I be able to walk my little girl [she’s only 9] down the aisle one day?” She said, “Yes, and Damian everything is going to be ok.”
Those words were so soothing to hear, because I knew that not only did they come from her brilliant mind with colorectal expertise, but the cadence of her words was imbued with genuine care. At that moment, my wife and I knew everything was going to be okay.
The next week, I had a minimally invasive partial colectomy with Dr. Ramirez Dominguez and was home by postoperative day two. I was cleared to go back to work just two weeks later.
My procedure was performed utilizing the Da Vinci Xi robot, which I’ve been told is a game changer for patients as they experience less morbidity and are able to return to their normal lives faster in comparison to other more invasive approaches.
As I write this article, I am still undergoing adjunctive treatment, but I am doing well and back to work full time treating my own patients. I must thank a few people who have all been either directly involved in my care or offered up other forms of support:
Dr. Torri Findlay (my wife), my children (Victoria-Rose and Michael Damian) and my extended family. Dr. Henry Findlay (my father), Larry Webb (friend), Dr. Tatiana Ramirez Dominguez (Dios Contigos), Dr. Christina Min, Dr. Kiranmaye Tiriveedhi, Dr. Tamara Goldschmidt, Dr. Gautum Agarwal, Dr. Alison Gildehaus, Dr. Michael Curtis, Dr. David Meiners, Dr. Greg Tentindo, Dr. Rishad Shaikh, Dr. Rob Reti, Dr. Joe Ivory, Dr. Aaron Figueroa, Dr. Jerri Hines, Lynne Close, Paula Ware, Ryan Redmond, Gena Fish, Carol Kletzker, Pastor Aeneas and Tracy Williams, Pastor Ron and Debi Cathcart and the entire staff at Oral Facial Surgery Institute at Mercy Hospital.
The aforementioned people have been a part of my healing journey and I am forever grateful for their support. To those whom I forgotten to mention, blame it on my head and not my heart. Your words and gestures were also instrumental in my healing. I will end this letter with a plea from my heart. Please consult with your doctor to become informed on when it is time for you to have a colonoscopy. I am a living testament to the importance of screening and detection via colonoscopy as I was completely asymptomatic. I have allowed my misery to become my ministry. I am dedicated to use my platform as a surgeon and cancer patient to be an unapologetic advocate for the importance of screening via colonoscopy. This experience has made me even more proud to be a surgeon at Mercy Hospital.
I feel honored to know that the organization I give so much to has given back to me, in the form of my life. The combination of kind words from colleagues/friends, exemplary surgical care via cutting edge technology and prayers has sustained my life. My faith in God that was temporarily shaken has been restored. If we truly believe that health is wealth then we must invest in our health. I pray that the most that you ask of God be the least that you receive and may the only pain you experience in life be champagne!
Sincerely with love and admiration,
Damian Findlay DMD, MD, FACS
Division Chief of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at Mercy Hospital Saint Louis
Associate Surgeon Oral Facial Surgery Institute
Diplomate of the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
Fellow of the American College of Surgeons
Fellow of the American College of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon