17 August 2010

Cancer & Friendship

Right at two years ago to the day, after fighting and arguing with a (the) prominent local (Tyler, Texas) Ears, Nose, Throat specialist for four months that my sore throat was more than "drainage", I was finally given a CAT Scan and subsequent "surface" biopsy that indicated a non-malignant mass at the base of my tongue.

Not satisfied, after a quarter of a year of dithering, indifference and outright rudeness, I demanded referral to a different doctor.  On the first visit to the new fellow at Baylor in Dallas, a review of the CAT Scan and "hands on" palpitation of the area caused him to schedule me for an almost immediate deep-tissue biopsy which determined I had a malignant, stage four, squamous cell cancer on the base of my tongue.   A hurriedly scheduled PET Scan later indicated that it it had not yet metastasized. No, I hadn't smoked for 30 years.

While on the operating table for the biopsy; once it came back positive, I was fitted with a medi-port in my upper left chest and a feeding tube into my stomach just below the sternum and was referred to an oncologist and radiologist to begin chemo and radiation therapy.  Surgery is out of the question for this type cancer in this location due to the complex involvement of muscle, nerve and bone structure in the area.  Also, due to the slight possibility of radiation finding a cavity and leaking into the jawbone causing an almost always fatal condition involving necrosis of the jawbone, I had to have all my teeth, except for the front six, removed.

Following a healing period after my oral surgery, treatment began in early October and continued until the end of March at which time, after a CAT & PET Scan, I was diagnosed cancer free.  Subsequent exams have gone very well.

Six month of chemo and radiation beat the living hell out of me and left me 67 pound lighter than when I started.  Anyone who has gone through it knows what it is like...but, I had an outstanding medical team and a former Marine's instinct to keep on fighting, regardless!  It was miserable, but something happened when I was at one of my lowest points of continual nausea, intestinal vagaries, mental confusion, and general malaise that caused me to suck it up, put my head down and swing away.

I got a phone call from a guy who had been my best friend back in grade school and junior high and who I had not seen or talked to in forty some years.  He had heard of what I was undergoing and called to "check on me".  I can think of nothing, except perhaps the birth of my children, that affected me in such a powerfully emotional way.  That phone call made the difference, it was a turning point, a benchmark, in my treatment and recovery.

Lat year, in October, a year after treatment began, I made a journey to my home town (the first in several decades) and spent a marvelous afternoon with he and his wife talking about the "glory days".  We, in many ways, were the last generation of kids to experience the camaraderie and freedom of the "sand-lot" and life without adult interference and meddling.  Those experiences left us with a lot of rich stories and "characters" to remind ourselves of.

I was warned that cancer is a life-altering disease.  It is.  That phone call was also life-altering, and I can not explain the comfort, strength and calm that came from it and that remain with me to this day.

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