I keep thinking I should write about something other than cancer, and I will again, of course. But since my husband’s diagnosis and the ensuing onslaught of activity, everything else has receded to the sidelines of our life.
We’ve now been in Phoenix 16 days, as the doctors administer test after test, attempting to locate the original site of the disease. Finding it is important to facilitate better targeting of the radiation, when we get to that point.
It’s beginning to look like a snipe hunt.
Meanwhile, the tumor on the right side of his neck continues to grow. It is now causing him some discomfort as it presses against nerves and muscles. He’s had some mild head and ear aches. Clearly, it has to go.
On Tuesday, he will be admitted to the hospital. The surgeon will look down his throat with a laryngoscope, take some tissue samples for biopsy, and perform a tonsillectomy. The prevailing theory is that the original site is a spot at the base of his tongue or on his tonsils.
During the same operation, the tumor will be removed. That part of the surgery is called a neck dissection. I read about it when I began researching head and neck cancer, and it scared the hell out of me. It can be brutal, resulting in disfigurement and permanent disability.
Dempsey’s surgeon assures us, however, that he can remove the tumor and the other involved lymph nodes without affecting the structure of the neck. He will have a significant scar, the idea of which he hates, but overall that is a small consideration.
When he is well enough after surgery, we’ll return home to Austin. Our family doctor will monitor him, and in four to six weeks, when he is sufficiently healed, we’ll come back here for two months of radiation and chemo.
After that, there will be quarterly, then bi-annual checkups to ensure the cancer stays gone. Simultaneously, we’ll be rebuilding his immune system and using several natural protocols.
Emotionally, this is a roller coaster ride. I hate roller coasters.
Today is a milestone birthday for my daughter. One of her friends is throwing her a big party, and I am so disappointed I can’t be there. She understands, of course, but I hate it.
Tuesday, surgery day, is also Valentines Day. One day I hope we will celebrate it as the beginning of the end of our cancer story. But for now, it just seems like rotten timing.
The therapist in me recognizes I’m deflecting my anger. I’ve been mostly too busy to pay attention, but I am furious. I think later today I may drive up to one of the mountain parks, and yell until I can’t any more.
Dempsey is a big, strong man physically, but I am now seeing how strong he is mentally. He had surprisingly little pain after the dentist pulled four teeth last week, and he told me is programming himself to get through this treatment with minimal discomfort and maximal healing.
We have spoken to so many people who have recovered from Stage IV cancers. One of our closest friends had colon cancer, found during a colonoscopy. His treatment – surgery, chemo and radiation – lasted almost a year. Now, many years later, he remains completely well. He has been calling and encouraging Dempsey.
Yesterday we saw the other possibility. The cancer center has a contract with our hotel and many of the other guests are patients. We talked with a man and wife from West Virginia. He was diagnosed with throat cancer (a variation of head and neck) in July. He had surgery that necessitated the complete loss of his voice, then radiation. Now it has spread to his pancreas.
We felt for him, of course. But it struck fear into our hearts, as well. As Dempsey put it, the gravity of the situation is sinking in.
As someone who eschews negativity, I’ve never liked the metaphor of “fighting” cancer. But now I understand it. This is a fight for his life.