Jump to content

Hello again! I have cancer.


Recommended Posts

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. 

Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, BoneDaddy said:

I assume most of you identify as men, and most of you are in my approximate age cohort.

 

Firstly, sorry to hear that you caught this crud.  Best of luck in the battle you're in.  I'm seriously wishing some natural 3s into your dice rolls.

 

With absolute respect to people who identify differently than their biology would suggest - don't let that influence your medical decisions.  Mother nature is an absolute uncaring brute and your biological gender/race absolutely make a big difference in prevalence of certain ailments and treatment options.  I sadly know from first hand experience nearly getting my guts opened up by my young Japanese surgeon in Hawaii because he hadn't had enough haole (white - in this case Scottish) patients to realize my apparent appendicitis would, in fact, be more likely Crohn's or IBS and easily handled with a short course of anti-inflammatory's.  25 years later I still have my perfectly well-behaved appendix.

 

Also, thanks for posting in attempt to help others while you're critically ill - that's real heroism.  We need more people like that.  Like you.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Good luck.

I have a friend who has cancer and we found out early last year. He is still alive and still going which is good for him and his family but it meant that we did not see him or family at all last year.

My mother has had treatment for cancer and then had to have a stoma bag after her bowel burst late last year. She has to go and see the oncology people in about a week so we got a blood test today.

So I'm living with the fact that people close to me are fighting the disease. And I know that it is a fight you can win.

Go to it and know that we are behind you and wish you well.

Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, ScottishFox said:

 


With absolute respect to people who identify differently than their biology would suggest - don't let that influence your medical decisions.  Mother nature is an absolute uncaring brute and your biological gender/race absolutely make a big difference in prevalence of certain ailments and treatment options. 

 

This is a very good point, and 100% correct. No matter who you are, if you went south of the border for appetizers (or dessert I guess... de gustibus non disputandum and all that...) and the HPV Vaccine was not part of your life, just keep an eye on your throat. That persistent tonsillitis that doesn’t hurt? Those stanky tonsoliths that seem terribly large? They way you snore even when you aren’t large enough that one might expect snoring? Keep an eye out. It’s PROBABLY nothing. But only probably. 

Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Cancer said:

I strongly prefer that people don't get to say they have me.  If they do, I really prefer it when they say they got rid of me.

 

Recover and get better.  Best wishes.

I was hoping you’d drop by - the thread wouldn’t be complete without you being here!

 

Now BEGONE foul spirit!

 

 

my favorite moment when an NGD habitue was accidentally summoned was when someone said “I shake my fist in impotent rage!” And Rage dropped in to say “Hey!!!”

Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, BoneDaddy said:

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. 

 

See if you can talk them into doing an MRI first.

 

Magneto is much more powerful than Spider-Man.

Link to post
Share on other sites

That sucks man.

 

My refrigerator went out this weekend and I spent half an hour screaming "Why God???  Why me???" to the heavens.  Now I kinda feel a little selfish.

 

Anyway I'm glad to hear that you're set up well to fight this.  I've had several friends and family die this year from cancer, I'm glad you listened to your wife and got it checked out.  If you're anything like me, you ignore things like that unless it really really hurts.

Link to post
Share on other sites
17 hours ago, BoneDaddy said:

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'm on 400 mg of Gabapentin 4 times a day, which is close to the maximum allowable dosage to treat pain. I've been on that for maybe 17 years as part of my pain treatment regimen. 

 

I've found the best way to handle the keeping track of objects is to have one (or perhaps two) places for each item in my life. If it isn't on my person, it's in its place. And I don't ever put anything down without thinking about it or without walking it to put it in its place.

 

My drinking glass is at one place on the counter or is on the coaster beside my computer.

 

My glasses are beside my computer or on my box of medicine.

 

My keys are one particular chair which no one ever sits in.

 

My shirt is on the treadmill.

 

My pants are on the doorknob of my closet.

 

My hat is hung on the rocking chair.

 

My book is on my box of medicine.

 

My coat is in the coat closet.

 

If they expect you to have to be on Gabapentin for a while, it's worth your time to try to build those kinds of habits. And it came in handy for me several times when, as a dinosaur's chew toy (long story), I experienced head injuries so bad that I couldn't build my own sandwiches. Literally. But I could still find my keys. 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, archer said:

If they expect you to have to be on Gabapentin for a while, it's worth your time to try to build those kinds of habits. And it came in handy for me several times when, as a dinosaur's chew toy (long story), I experienced head injuries so bad that I couldn't build my own sandwiches. Literally. But I could still find my keys.

 

Is it a long story involving your attempt to wrestle a crocodile?

Link to post
Share on other sites
7 minutes ago, ScottishFox said:

 

Is it a long story involving your attempt to wrestle a crocodile?

:D

 

I once mentioned, but glossed over, my several serious head injuries. Scott Ruggels asked me if I'd been "a dinosaurs chew toy". The phrase amused me greatly and I now use it whenever I can.

 

To the best of my recollection, I've never been a dinosaur's chew toy. But you'd have a hard time proving it by examining me.

Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, tombrown803 said:

 

But given your previously stated brain injuries, can we trust your memories?

That's exactly the point. Maybe I have been a dinosaur's chew toy. :D

 

I did office jobs my whole career. I'd be going about the course of my day and a co-worker or my supervisor would stop me saying "you're bleeding all over the place" or "you're bleeding again". And I'd look down to find one of my wounds had opened up on my leg or arm. Or if not there, I'd check my head or the back of my neck to find that I'd bled all over myself.

 

I kept band-aids of various sizes in my desk. At my last job, they had a small shop and several times I had to buy a company t-shirt to wear the rest of the day because my shirt wasn't fit to wear.

 

I've always been very slow to heal any cuts or abrasions. Finally fairly late in my adult life, I came up as diabetic which supposedly explained why I was a slow healer. But I'd been that way for decades before my blood sugar ever showed up as being high.

 

I credit being slow to heal for my being as graceful as I am and for being able to navigate through rooms with my eyes closed. It's out of sheer self-defense. 

 

These days with my bad sense of balance, I often do graceful pirouettes as I fall (which makes the falling look like a move that I'm doing deliberately) and manage to catch myself against something before I quite go all the way down. 

 

I'm not as marked up now as I usually am, mostly just the deep gashes on each of my legs from when my wife did a backflip out of her chair last month and accidentally flung the chair into me. But back in June I still had extensive wounds up and down both arms and legs from an allergic reaction to a plant which was in my yard last September. Paid a fortune to people to remove that plant and the hedges it was in from around the house. None of those people had a reaction from being exposed to it but for the first couple of months, I was swaddled in bandages over a significant portion of my body (maybe 20-25%). 

 

I always seem to [b]look[/b] like I've been a dinosaur's chew toy.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been putting off getting tested for colorectal cancer (I've already got the kit) and from getting my shot to prevent shingles. I just always seem to have so many stressful things on my plate that getting tested for a cancer that the doctors don't actively think that I have just seems to be asking for trouble...as if the testing would [i]cause[/i] the cancer.

 

Yeah, dumb I know. But I fight so many battles over just getting my regular maintenance medicines and I get tested for so many things...and I so often seem to have whatever they're testing for...that I just cringe when a doctor wants me to take a test.

 

I'm going to try to use this cancer discussion as motivation to go ahead and take the cancer test this week.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...