Gee had been back in Virginia for about a week when I noticed she didn't look right. Gee had wanted to go visit her parents, down in Portsmouth. I told her to go down and see her father, a pediatrician, and tell him I thought she looked jaundiced. She drove down to Portsmouth the next day, Thursday, and I called her father and asked him if he thought she looked jaundiced. He said that she didn't. I still thought something was wrong.
The following Monday, her father called me and told me that Gee was looking very jaundiced and that he was going to have her see a gastroenterologist. The gastroenterologist wanted to run some tests. The first test was an endoscopic examination.
Gee was admitted to Maryview Hospital for the endoscopy. The endoscopy found a blockage of the bile duct—which was causing the jaundice. The doctor followed up with and ultrasound of the area around the bile duct to see what was causing the blockage. The ultrasound showed a mass in her pancreas, which was blocking the bile duct. It was Easter Sunday.
The doctors at Maryview Hospital did a biopsy of the mass. We got the results from the biopsy the next day. The biopsy showed that the mass was a tumor—a pancreatic adenocarcinoma—a very aggressive type of cancer. The doctors recommended surgery—a Whipple operation.
Gee’s father asked me if I wanted to cancel our engagement— not a particularly strange question if you think about the context in Korean culture— I am the only living son in my family and I am expected to carry on the family name— Gee’s diagnosis and illness made that less likely. Well, I'm not a traditionalist in that particular sense... in many others I am, so I told my prospective father-in-law that "Gee’s illness doesn't change how I feel about her, what she has come to mean to me or who she is— and why— in God’s name— would I abandon the woman I love, when she needs me most." I also told him, "Besides, when I met you, you trusted me with taking care of your daughter on our trip to Seattle— ever since I met her, she has always been my first priority— that will never change."
Gee’s father and I started on our plans to battle this disease. He did a lot of research and found that the most experienced team of surgeons for this type of cancer was up in Baltimore, at the Johns Hopkins University Hospital. Dr. Keith Lillemoe and his boss were the two leading experts on surgical treatment of pancreatic cancer. We planned on getting Dr. Lillemoe to be Gee’s surgeon.