My Cancer Journey - January 2012 Update

I see my oncologist every four months.  The routine is okay by me and I like my doctor.  She’s a hard-ass with a sense of humour.  How she does what she does I’ll never really understand or fully appreciate but she continues to allow glimpses into her personal life the more we get to know her.

I’m good and continue to improve

The check-up began with a nurse and a pre-interview.
  • On the scale to be weighed. - Now nearly two years since treatment began, my weight has returned.  I was 203 lbs back then.  Today I’m about 198 lbs.
  • Any pain, soreness that won’t go away or lumps? - The pain or tenderness as a result of treatments has all but disappeared.  I get the occasional muscle cramp in my neck and a little stiffness every so often, but overall, better than the last visit and no lumps.
  • How are you handling food? - I eat everything including spicy dishes.  Still have to process with milk to compensate for the damage to my thin saliva ducts, but even that is better.  Not the way it was by a long shot, but certainly better.  Have to be careful with indigestion though.
  • So your taste buds have come back? - I never did have a problem with taste, only processing.
  • What about your energy? - I have regained so much energy, I am increasingly bored.  I have not yet been able to rebuild my career, so am reading continuously, both books and articles and continue to write.
  • You’re looking good. - Yes and I’m feeling good, stronger every day.  My voice has come back in recent weeks and I am about to blow the rust off my announcing/voiceover skill.  Oh, and check out the new cool burgundy coloured desert boots.

Minutes later, in comes the doctor

OK, she's not blond and I'm not 10
  1. She does a manual examination of my neck and lymph nodes.  Her fingers gently probing front and back from collar bones to jaw line.
  2. With tongue depressors, she does a visual examination inside my mouth.
  3. She squirts the topical freezing up my nose and into the back of my throat.  Then a little lubrication in the nostrils.
  4. Time for the scope.  Up the nose and down the throat to see where the primary tumour used to be, evaluate any residual damage from radiation treatments, visually verify that there are no new issues and that healing continues.
  5. The final step is fingers in the mouth and poke around the tonsils.  She leaves this until last because most of us gag.  And yes, I gagged.

Followed by chat time

  • We talked about the importance of wearing a hat and using a sun block to guard against further sun damage to my face and bald head, plus the need to be diligent about watching for any sign of skin cancer.  
  • We talked a little about diet and the problems of controlling INR (the clotting tendency of blood) through the use of blood thinners.  She recommended a blood specialist to answer the question; will I have to take blood thinners for the rest of my life?  As you may recall, chemotherapy caused a blood clot for which I required emergency surgery half way through the treatment schedule.
  • We talked about the hearing loss I have experienced also as a result of chemotherapy and does it bug me.  I do have difficulty with soft spoken people and with room noise from time to time, but I can live with it for now.
  • We talked about my volunteer work as a mentor for other throat cancer patients.
  • And then she revealed a little about her day and her life.

Dedicated and determined

My appointment was on a Wednesday afternoon.  She told us how she likes Wednesdays because of how her patients are scheduled.  (I say us because my wife Terrie has been with me at every appointment since I discovered the lump in my neck back in September 2009.)

In the morning she sees the newly diagnosed.  She calls them her deer in the headlights.  This is where Dr. Hard-ass has to tell them the truth about their particular cancer and how her radiation plan will work. 
  • How sick she will make them in order to give them the chance to live.
  • No self pity.  Instead of asking "why me", ask "why not me"?    
  • The importance of maintaining a positive attitude, the support of family and friends, following directions and keeping schedules. 
I get it now.  To use battle terminology, she is the general in charge.  She must assert herself to be successful.  Her job is to save lives and she doesn’t always win.  The emotional highs and lows must be dramatic.

On Wednesday afternoon she gets to see her graduates, people like me who have beaten it and are working to remain cancer free with her expert advice.

She joked about cooking for her mother when she comes to visit.  And, about returning to her hometown of Winnipeg, but only in September when the mosquitoes are finished and winter has yet to be awakened.  I get that too having lived in Winnipeg twice through my career.

Is there anyone who doesn’t have the highest regard for doctors and other dedicated, determined caregivers?  Or, for how Winnipeg toughens you up?

Women run my life    
And, I’m perfectly fine with that.  I have four, my wife Terrie, my oncologist, our family doctor and our dentist.  I am one lucky man!