BoneDaddy Posted August 18, 2020 Report Share Posted August 18, 2020 I have cancer. Keep breathing, I will almost certainly be ok eventually. I want to talk to you all about what kind of cancer I have, and how some of you might get it, or might have it. I will also tell you how I am and how I expect to be in the future. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink to anything like excess - I had four drinks one birthday and that was frankly one too many for me. I’m not overweight. I exercise, I lift weights. I’m 47 and I can bench press my body weight, run two miles in about 20 minutes (tortoise slow for a real runner, plenty damn fast for my age cohort) and knock out ten pull ups without breaking a sweat. A few years ago we stopped eating anything with nitrites, last year we went dairy free. I wear sunscreen, and my covid mask is rated for asbestos removal. I’m healthy and risk averse is what I’m saying, and I’m also saying that there’s nothing you can do to avoid this one. It isn’t from bad habits. Mostly. I have squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the throat. SCC is usually skin cancer, but apparently it can show up elsewhere in the body in different circumstances. If it’s in your skin, no big deal. If it’s in you throat like mine is, closer to a big deal but still not an automatic death sentence. Something to act on immediately with haste and determination like a grease fire in a frying pan, but nothing too serious yet. If it gets to your other organs, usually through your lymphatic system, life gets much more tenuous. That is house-on-fire serious. Mine started at the base of my tongue, between my tonsils. It spread to the lymph nodes on either side of my neck. We all have hundreds of lymph nodes, they are about as big as a coffee bean usually, and they squeeze lymph back and forth around the body. The two closest to my tonsils are currently about as big as Lima beans - honestly not very big, nothing that looks like it’s trying to kill me. If the cancer spreads beyond them ... We aren’t discussing that today. One way a human body, one like mine or yours, can be persuaded to make cancerous squamous cells in your throat is as a response to HPV, the human papilloma virus. There are many varieties of this virus, and almost every one of us has been exposed to at least one of them. The ones marked number 16 and 18 are the bastards of the bunch, the one that the Pap smear is looking for, the one in my throat, the one there is now a vaccine for. HPV 16 is my enemy, my uninvited guest, the traitor at my table, my very own deep state conspiracy. There is no test to detect HPV in your throat before it is cancerous. The primary tumor is frequently so small as to be effectively undetectable. They had a hard time finding mine with a PET scan and had to perform a surgical biopsy to get to the tissues involved. The tumor doesn’t hurt, doesn’t effect my ability to speak or swallow or breath or do any of the other things one does with a neck. I had no idea it was there, and no one would have had any reason to know it was there until it metastasized to my lymph nodes. My very slightly swollen lymph nodes that also don’t hurt. They aren’t even red. No pain, no fever, no sore throat, no tight range of motion, no trouble at all, no reason to know things are bad and could get much worse. I’m trying to scare you. I wasn’t scared, and I’m still only a little scared now thanks to antidepressants. My cancer doesn’t look scary. It looks just like something a little weird that’s probably nothing. I’m 47, my lymph node is a little swollen, no pain, no big deal, right? Wrong. Massively big deal, cleverly disguised as no big deal. I woke up one morning and the lymph node on the right side of my neck was swollen. It didn’t hurt and wasn’t green or anything. I called my doctor, and she reasonably explained that sometimes the ducts that connect lymph nodes to the rest of the body get clogged up, and she recommended hot compresses and some antibiotics. This did nothing but make my neck warm. I ignored my slightly swollen, pain free lymph node, and went about my merry way for another month before I called my doctor again. A month. That month may have been very, very important. A gentle spousal rebuke prompted that follow up call to my doctor, who referred me to an otolaryngologist for a biopsy, and a CT scan. When I told my friends I was having a needle biopsy stabbed into the gooey center of the mini Cadbury egg on my neck, they all looked worried as though I might have cancer, and said reassuring things. I scoffed. “Look at me, I’m fine.” And I am. Mostly. There’s a ticking time bomb in my neck, but aside from that there’s not a thing wrong with my physical health. I keep saying that over and over because I want you to understand that this tumor has been slowly growing behind my tongue for an indeterminate period of time with zero symptoms whatsoever. Then the doc told me I had cancer. I had to/ got to tell my lovely wife. “Had to” because I didn’t want to say the last thing she wanted to hear. “Got to” because there’s no better partner on the planet, no person I would more want in my corner, on my team, by my side or at my back than her. We had to figure out when to tell our kids (after the PET scan, which showed no distant metastases. When giving bad news, it’s best to know how bad the news actually is.) I’m lucky, really. I have an easy cancer, detected early. I have great health insurance, the kind every American should have. I live 20 minutes away from the literal best team on earth at treating this exact kind of cancer. This is like getting mugged when you have the Avengers on speed dial. It’s a puny cancer, and a team of Dr. Banners are already angry at it. To be perfectly clear, we’re sitting pretty from a financial standpoint. Lovely wife makes lovely money, and our insurance will keep paying for this until the cows come home. (We sent our cows to college and we haven’t seen them since. Maybe cooking school was a mistake.) This message does not end with a plea for money or anything at all. We are very lucky. My treatment regimen is very close to the standard practice for this diagnosis - about 7 weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. It is tiring and painful as they very carefully and precisely rain atomic hellfire onto the cancer and not the rest of me. I need to keep eating and drinking and chewing and swallowing so my throat will remember how to function. There are nutritionists and pain management specialists to help with this process. We started with Gabapentin, which sounds like fun but hardly worth the price of admission. It makes pain management much less hazardous, but wrecks short term memory formation and makes keeping track of conversions or where I put anything down a real challenge. So far I have found 5 shirts of mine around the house, workshop, and yard. Shirts that I was wearing! I am losing clothing, keys, my phone, innumerable plates and bowls of food, and so on. I need to do some exercises for my neck muscles to keep my full range of motion. The lymph nodes with cancer are right under my sternocleidomastoid muscles, (SCM for short) the ones that make a “v” shape from your ears to your clavicle when you yawn. This cancer that I’ve never heard of is now the 6th most common cancer being diagnosed in the US. HPV related throat cancers in middle aged men weren’t even on the radar until about 15 - 20 years ago. Usually SCC in the throat comes from smoking or heavy alcohol use. As a society we all stopped smoking enough that it the cancer’s continued presence became a mystery worth exploring, and the HPV link was discovered. The cancer seems to show up 10 to 30 years after initial infection. In my case it is probably about 25 - 30 years. HPV is a STD, the cancer that comes from it is very slow to show up in your tonsils or grow to any appreciable size. Just like yourself if you have it, it isn’t trying to rush things. This is the big takeaway folks. I assume most of you identify as men, and most of you are in my approximate age cohort. If you and your partners were sexually active before the HPV vaccine was available to you or your dating cohort, this could be a very important message for you. If I had known this was a possibility when I was dating, I would have rolled my dice and taken my chances. But I didn’t know that the GM was used an obscure Iron Crown critical hit/fail table just for the PC’s sex life. I’ve been reading about radiation treatment, and there is a very small chance that I might get super powers out of the deal. Mostly I was reading spider-man, but it seemed credible to me. Christougher, Enforcer84, TrickstaPriest and 3 others 3 3 Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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