You have cancer. That’s what the doctor said. You have cancer. In my case, it’s stage 4 throat cancer.
I noticed something in my throat a little less than a year ago. It felt like a post nasal drip. I was always having to clear my throat. At my annual physical in July I mentioned it to my doctor, and he thought it might be allergies. He said to try Claritin. I did, but no improvement.
Later in the year I went back, as it felt worse. I was given a prescription antihistamine, which like the Claritin, didn’t work either. Going back a month later, as I was getting hoarse to go along with all this, I was given a stronger antihistamine. I was told if that didn’t work to try an Ear Nose and Throat Doctor. Which I did.
Ear, Nose and Throat
At the ENT, I was given a Nasal Endoscopy. Fancy words for sticking a camera up my nose and down my throat. Wheee….
The ENT told me that I had a “mass” on top of my vocal chords, and set up a CAT scan and an appointment with a Head and Neck Doctor.
You Have Cancer
That’s where I was told those three words, “you have cancer.” I was set up for a PET scan, and surgery to get a piece of the mass for a biopsy, and to remove part of it if it was possible.
I awoke from surgery with a hole in my neck, and a tracheostomy tube. The doctor said that was supposed to be the “last resort,” and he didn’t think it would happen. Well, it happened.
I anticipated not being able to talk after the surgery, so I downloaded an app to help me speak. It’s now my main form of communication. People think it’s cool.
I’ve started writing this as I’m laying in the ICU for the 4th day, hooked up to every machine known to man. I was only supposed to be in ICU for one day, but the hospital didn’t have any beds available, so here I am. More about my hospital stay in a later post.
Being in a hospital bed gives you plenty of time to think.
4 Thoughts That Ran Through My Head
These aren’t in any particular order, and some came before others, but all came after those three words “you have cancer.”
Thought Number One
This isn’t supposed to happen to me. This is supposed to happen to other people. I’m Larry. Larry doesn’t get sick like this. Larry might do something stupid like going down wet steps without holding on, thus slipping and breaking three ribs, which later caused a hole in his diaphragm which had to be repaired.
But Larry doesn’t get cancer. Other people get cancer.
Thought Number Two
Anger briefly ran through my head. I had just retired a little over a year ago, and my wife and I were ready to “hit the road” (when this pandemic went away). And now this. Yes I was angry, but didn’t know what I was angry at. If this was somehow my fault, or caused by the environment where I worked, I might have a reason to get angry. But I didn’t smoke, nor did I work anywhere with a cancer causing environment.
The doctor said it looked like a case of bad luck.
So since I couldn’t figure out who or what to be angry about, the anger faded away.
Thought Number Three
“That” thought. Yeah, you know the one. I can understand how it could easily creep into someone’s head. I was told that I may have to lose my voice box and have a permanent hole in my neck, I would never be able to smell again, I would also lose a lot of my taste, and not even be able to blow my nose. It would be easy to think “that” thought.
But “that” thought didn’t cross my mind. “That” thought was pushed out because of thought number four.
Thought Number Four
I am not alone. I am not alone in three big ways.
I am not alone because when scrolling Facebook I see post after post of people who either have cancer, have lost loved ones from cancer, or have recovered from cancer.
A friend of mine from work is going through chemo for cancer right now, my next door neighbor has been fighting both lung and brain cancer (and has now been declared cancer-free).
While this isn’t supposed to happen to Larry, It’s not supposed to happen to them either, and I’m sure that they felt the same as I did. Many people on this earth are fighting cancer right now, I’m just one of them.
I am not alone because of my family. They jumped to the task of offering any help they could.
My sister is constantly offering positive thoughts and encouragement, knowing that I can fight this.
My daughter knew someone who had contacts at Emory Winship for a second opinion, my son came over to help my wife while I was in the hospital, he and his wife picked up groceries for us, etc.
Our son and daughter-in-law in Tennessee have offered to come down to stay anytime my wife needs a break.
Speaking of my wife, (and I’m choking up as I write this) no one could have a more loving and supportive wife as I have. She has learned how to use the suction machine and suck out the gunk from my trach, clean out the nasty inner part of it daily, and all the other ugly stuff that comes with a new trach. She does all this while maintaining a positive outlook.
This is, after all, the person I nicknamed “Eeyore” because she many times dwells on the negative side of things. She’s no Eeyore with this, she’s a rock, keeping me positive and focused on getting rid of this, or whatever is going to happen. I don’t know if I could go through this without her. No. Wait. I know I couldn’t go through this without her.
This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me in my almost 68 years, but I’m glad that it’s me, and not my wife or any of my family that has to go through it.
Nobody should have to hear the words “you have cancer.”
And to think that I used to complain about Mondays.
To be continued.