Joining a club I wish wouldn’t accept me as a member

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.



33 thoughts on “Joining a club I wish wouldn’t accept me as a member”

  1. I’m glad you’re writing about this! It’s good therapy for you and good for your friends to hear your voice in this! We all love you babe!


  2. I agree with Ed, it’s good therapy. Also, you have Michele! I can tell you from experience, she is the best person you can have by your side as you go this! Love you – sending good energy your way to help with your healing!


  3. And it’s a club where no one wants to say “welcome” either, so I won’t. But we’re lucky, such as it is, as university people to have the best care waiting right there for us, and good health insurance to cover it. Imagine if we didn’t. As it happens I just finished a monthly round of my clinical trial chemo today, so I can relate even more. But now I’m off to make latkes! So there! I’ll try to make one that looks like you.


    1. Thanks, RL! Been following your exploits on your blog too – big inspiration. Have a latke for me – I go whole how: applesauce and sour cream together on mine!


  4. Sending love from California, Oren. We’re in this together and here for you always. The journey is so unexplainably rough, but for some reason I feel with a spirit like yours…you’re going to be a conqueror. Share, share, and thank you for sharing your journey with us! We know a few family members that are doing well themselves since their diagnosis, and I’m sure you will join them in beating it! Love you much, and Mich & Mo! Love, Bill and Mary Ann


  5. Oren, I hate it when people I know and love join this )(^&(*&%&%$*$ club.
    I remember all of the emotions when I was handed my membership card.
    Life just changed overnight by no choice of my own. I wish you didn’t have to go through any of this, but you will undoubtedly be strong and emerge triumphant. You have the very best medical care and a loving family and gobs of friends in your corner. We love you and we are sure there will be plenty to celebrate following your treatment. Sorry we won’t get a chance to see you next week, but Ron and I will be out to Chicago in the coming months to join your cheering squad. Love, Diane


  6. I’m so sorry Oren, but if anyone can kick cancer’s ass its you my cool cousin. I’m with you every step of the way, sending love and good ju ju.


  7. Oren, I know you’ll get great care from U of Chicago and Michele. Just wish this wasn’t happening to you, RL, or anyone else I know. Sheesh, there’s a lot of this going around. very best, Lori


  8. Wow, it’s great to hear from everyone and feel the love! Thanks for all the good thoughts! I wish I was close enough to hug you all!


  9. Oren: I’ve been thinking about you a lot and I’m glad to hear that you’re in the right place to get the best of care. As you know, Sandy has been going through breast cancer treatment this year. (She’s done with chemo and halfway through radiation and is doing well ) I know your positivity will see you through. Love you. Brad


  10. Hey there, it’s your littlest goddaughter. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen or spoken to you, and I’m sad that this is situation in which we reunite. I just need to say that I know that you are going to be just another warrior in the fight against cancer who shows cancer who’s boss.

    Oh yeah, and happy holidays.

    With much love,


  11. Oren,

    I am touched by your story. We are scattering light and love for your treatment. We will be mindful to keep you in our hearts and minds, this day, and every day. Know you touch so many and we are here to reach back out to you during this time.

    Now go kick CANCERS ASS!

    Much love to you….

    Denise, Michael, Peter, Tim and Maddox Malario xoxoxo (from Connecticut)


  12. Oren – we’re with you on this. You are loved and you are strong. It’s great to read the wonderful support you have from friends and family. Add us to that! See you soon.


  13. Oren – thanks for writing about your experience. We all wish we could be there with you right now.. I want to echo the sentiments of your friends from Connecticut who want you to kick Cancer’s ass! It needs to be kicked. Several times.


  14. Oren – So sorry to hear that you joined our club. My thoughts will be with you over the coming months. Take care.



  15. Glad to hear that the primary tumor was knocked out! Yay! You can’t imagine how happy that makes us feel. Prayers going out to you for complete healing, and may you have no (or at least minimal) side effects from this round of treatment. Hang tough, Oren!
    — Love and hugs through the mile, Mary Ann and Bill


  16. Just happened to check in on your Chicago life and I see this…I’m a little behind. Sorry to hear about your membership to this club but I’m sure you’ll be kicked out after awhile. According to Facebook, you’re about to go home from the hospital and your dear old Dad is there, and Michele and UC are all taking great care of you! I’m wondering if you got to wear that awesome special mesh mask yet and for how long did they make you wear it. Must be part of the hazing for the club.

    Thinking of you and sending you healing vibes and lots of love!


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