I recall a great line from “Fiddler on the Roof.”
“I know we’re God’s chosen people. But once in awhile, couldn’t he choose someone else?”
I think my family has a right to feel that way. My dad died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 54 back in 1983. My twin brother died of a stroke at age 49 in 2004. My older brother died of lung cancer at age 54 in 2008. My oldest sister died of cancer at age 57 in 2009. Cancer has struck other members of my family as well.
And now, it’s come ’round by our house.
Back in November, Gail… my wife of 22 years … started complaining of a sore throat and ear ache. I mean, how serious can that be? She went to see her family practitioner sometime in early January and was given an antibiotic.
It made her sick and did nothing for the earache or the sore throat. So, in early January she goes to see an ENT doctor. He takes one look and has a good idea what he’s looking at. He sends her for a CT scan, and it shows a “mucosal thickening” in the area where her left tonsil used to be. On January 31, the ENT doc takes a biopsy. He calls us with the results on Feb. 7, 2012.
“Moderately differentiated squamous cell carcinoma of the oropharynx.”
If there’s any good news here, the CT didn’t show any lymph gland involvement. The ENT recommends we go to see one of the top guys in the field at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, which we did yesterday.
Here’s how I explained it in a family-wide e-mail:
Hey everybody, Bill here. Just wanted to fill everyone in on the events of the day. Gail would love to talk to you, but they prodded around her throat pretty good so you can imagine she’s rawthuh sore! 🙂
The good news is, the tumor is small and they think they may have caught it early. It’s just in the left tonsil area (or, where her left tonsil used to be), and they seem to think they can nip it out of there.
So, the plan is this. Tomorrow we will get word on when they’re going to do a PET/CT scan. That’s where they give her an IV of radioactive sugar water and then do a whole body scan. Tumors love this sugar water and they light up like a christmas tree on the film. That’s a way the doctors can tell if the cancer is just in the primary location, or whether or not it’s spread to any lymph nodes or to any other organs in her body. Like I said, tomorrow we’ll find out when that test is. It will be very soon, because…
On Wednesday, Gail goes back to the doctor for a pre-op physical. The reason they’re doing this (EKG to check her heart, lung x-ray, etc.) is to see if there are any problems they should anticipate when she goes under anesthesia… because…
On Friday, they’re going to put Gail under anesthesia and really get in there with scopes and such to have a good look around. Hard to do that when the patient is gagging, so will put her under general anesthesia so they can take a good, close look. By then they’ll have the PET/CT scan results. Then we’ll all huddle and decide what to do next.
If the PET/CT don’t show any other tumor in the lymph nodes or any other organs, the plan would be to cut out the tumor from the back of her throat, then do what they call a “neck dissection.” That sounds worse than it is. It just means they would remove the lymph nodes from the left side of her neck so the tumor they might have missed in the “cutting out” part has no where to go. Cancer travels through the body in the lymphatic system, and if there are no lymph nodes, the tumor can’t spread that way. If the PET/CT or closer exam shows there is a chance that there is some tumor in the lymph nodes, then the treatment will probably be removing the tumor, removing the lymph glands, and radiation therapy. Depending on how many nodes may have been affected, they may add chemotherapy to the list.
But, as I said, the doctor feels pretty confident that this was caught early. The earlier CT scan didn’t show any lymph node involvement, so we’re really hopeful that they’ll be able to take care of this once and for all sometime in the next few weeks.
After we get the word on what the game plan is, I will let everyone know.
Gail is comfortable, just kinda sore as you might imagine from having fingers and stuff jammed down her throat and tubes up her nose and down the back of her throat to take a look.
Much love to all, and stay tuned for further updates.
OK. Now it’s 1:30 Tuesday afternoon. No call yet about the PET/CT scan. I’ll wait until about 3, then I’ll call them. Tomorrow at noon, hippity hop to the hospital for her pre-op exam. Thursday afternoon we’ll check into a nice hotel within walking distance of the hospital (Gail will not be able to drive after coming out of anesthesia, and I can’t drive because of the Parkinson’s disease — which will not be a topic of this blog). So we’ll have a nice, comfortable place within walking distance for her to rest after the operative endoscopy on Friday.
Things are moving very quickly now. Almost too quickly for Gail, who is having understandable trouble wrapping her head around this whole thing.
I’ll use this blog to post updates.