Over the past few years I’ve been stunned by the number of people I know who are dealing with cancer of one form or another. I don’t know whether it’s due to arriving at that age where friends and colleagues begin to manifest these diseases, or if it’s part of a general trend caused by better diagnoses, or a result of the environment taking its revenge on the human race, or something else (though this report from the National Cancer Institute says that cancer incidence has been falling since the 1990’s). But whatever the cause, it’s been hard to watch people I know and care for suffering through the disease and the treatments.
Now I’ve joined the club of cancer patients myself.
A couple of weeks ago I went in for a routine visit to meet my new primary care doctor. He took a look at me and noted that I had some swollen lymph nodes in my neck which he felt were larger than is usually caused by routine viral events. He sent me down to see the ENT doctor, who took a look in my throat and diagnosed squamous cell carcinoma of my right tonsil which had spread to the lymph nodes. There is apparently a large increase in this type of cancer in males, caused by HPV infection.
That was the beginning of being sucked into the big cancer treatment machine – definitely an E-ticket ride! The good news here is that the University of Chicago Medical Center is one of the best places in the world to be treated for head and neck cancers, and they have a whole team of specialists in that realm.
The other good news is that they are confident in their ability to treat and cure this.
So last Monday I went in and had a biopsy which confirmed the initial diagnosis. But they saw no evidence of the cancer spreading beyond the tonsillar area. They also took out my left tonsil to see if there was any cancer present there – there wasn’t. But that gives me a perfectly good excuse to eat lots of popsicles and ice cream as my throat heals.
The not-so-good news is that I’m in for several months of chemo and radiation therapy. Friday we spent much of the day in consultation with the oncologists who did a very thorough job of outlining the treatment plan. I also got fitted for a radiation mask, which consists of a block of styrofoam molded to fit around the back of my head and a plastic mesh mask that clamps on and covers my face. It’s designed to keep my head completely immobilized when they give radiation (here’s a pic of some other guy in one).
Yesterday (Monday) I went in and got infused with some radioactive fluid and spent the day getting 3D images built up of my head, chest, and abdomen. That’s part of a study where they’re hoping to find better scanning sooner after treatment than the PET scan options typically used now.
And today the chemo starts. More later.