My Cancer Journey – Part 3

“The patient is the boss, not the doctor,” he said.

Those were the words of the surgeon who removed my diseased tonsil. Those words will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Getting a cancer diagnosis is a scary thing. Treatment can be brutal and life altering. The doctors are eager to get to work on your case. Maybe a little too eager?

For two years I’d had a bothersome, periodic soreness on the left side of my throat/neck. The annoying condition came and went. My doctor did the usual; he looked into the throat, did a strep test, couldn’t see anything. Nor could he feel any swollenness in my neck. In time, the annoyance would recede and I’d go on about my life.

The first record I have of this condition was in autumn of 2017. Thanks to the systems that store our medical records online, I was able to find the exact date of the first consultation. My symptoms were minor, but with the holidays approaching I wanted to make sure I didn’t have something I could pass on to others. The doctor did a strep test. Negative.

For two years my symptoms came and went. Two years before the issue manifested itself fully. In late summer 2019 (see part 1), my doctor referred me to a specialist. After diagnosis and surgery, I was ready to move onto the next step in my cancer journey.

Getting Ready for Radiation

While I was still undecided about chemotherapy, I was sure that radiation therapy would be in my treatment plan. The CT scan showed a few bright white spots beyond the area where my left tonsil had been, an indication that the cancer had invaded some adjacent lymph nodes. Still, the area was contained, which was good news.

I was to received five treatments a week, Monday through Friday, for seven weeks. But there was prep work to be done before the radiation could be administered.

Continue reading “My Cancer Journey – Part 3”

My Cancer Journey – Part 2

After the surgery to remove my left tonsil and the report from the lab that it was cancerous, the real journey began.

I wanted to find out as much as I could about my cancer and the treatment options. I also had sought a second opinion. My team was following the NCCN (National Comprehensive Cancer Network) protocol. So, I went to the NCCN website to familiarize myself with the data.

It makes sense that physicians rely on the guidelines that result from research and experience. The problem I have with protocols (aka systems) is that they can tend to become one-size-fits-all approaches. This is not just true of our medical systems, but applies to many procedures and processes.

As the patient, I wanted to be an active participant in decisions about my treatment. So, I did a little research. There is a lot of information to be found online. It’s easy to find reputable sources. Make sure you’re using reputable, fact-based sites.

Deciding on a Treatment Plan

As the patient, you should think about this: Do you want to turn all decisions over to your medical team, or do you want to be an informed participant in your treatment decisions? If you choose the latter, you’re going to have to do a little research on your own. The doctors will not, nor do they have time to, tell you everything.

I was of the mind that my treatment decisions were, at least in part, up to me. I am, after all, the sole proprietor and resident of this body. I get to decide what to do with it.

Continue reading “My Cancer Journey – Part 2”

My Cancer Journey – Part 1

First, you need to know this. I am a person who is mostly unfamiliar with illness. I never get sick. Not a cold. Not the flu. Nothing. At 65, I was on no medications. Once in a while I’d take pain medication for a headache, but first I usually tried relaxation, deep breathing, and hydration. I know that painkillers only mask the problem; they don’t fix what’s wrong.

I was in the gym 4-5 times a week, usually in the pool. I could swim a mile non-stop. Other times, I’d lift weights, do 3-4 miles on the treadmill, drop in for a yoga or aerobics class. I felt good. I was strong.

All that was about to change.

Second, you need to know that I am not a doctor. My posts are, in no way, intended to be medical advice. This is my cancer story, my own experience. There are many different types of cancer, and many different treatments. Your journey will likely be different from mine.

My Diagnosis and Surgery

My cancer made itself known in late 2019. I say made itself known because it had been developing for some time – who knows how long – until it finally became something that couldn’t be ignored. What had begun as a discomfort, coming and going for no apparent reason, bloomed and stayed.

The scope that the ENT performed, revealed problematic lesions on my left tonsil. I saw them myself in the real time. The doctor described what we were seeing on the screen as the camera went up my nose and down my throat. He also showed me the right tonsil, the healthy one, so I could see the difference between the healthy tonsil and the problematic one.

He was a kind, experienced man who treated me with respect, patiently listening to and responding to my questions. He told me what his concerns were, and he admitted to what he didn’t yet know. He would also be the one to perform the surgery to remove my tonsil.

Continue reading “My Cancer Journey – Part 1”