Sunday, April 8, 2012

Diagnosed with Throat Cancer - Treatment 1 - Wearing the Mask

There was no "honeymoon" period between being diagnosed with throat cancer and the treatments.  there was no sticking my toe in the "getting comfortable" with the idea.  It was all about attacking this thing and giving us the best chance possible for beating this thing.  I began both radiation and chemo treatments while still in the hospital.

I said us......

Many of the stories and support forums talk about some individual's "fight" with cancer.

That's short-shifting a lot of important people in the process.

I mean, let's face it.  As a person diagnosed with cancer, you are put in just about the most vulnerable position of your life.  So what is this "battle" you, as a person with cancer, has to win? 

Not much really....

You show up for your treatments, remain hydrated, keep up your caloric intake and you keep everything except positive thoughts out of your realm of existence.

The Doctors, technologists and the technology will do the rest.

I don't remember much about my stay in the hospital.  I vividly remember having my throat slit open so a trach could be inserted.  Radiation treatments tend to make tender tissue swell.  Even after the tumor has been shrunk down enough to eliminate it as a blockage threat, you still need the trach in order to maintain good air flow.

Actually, in my case, I am wondering at the accuracy of that last statement.  My ENT wants to keep it in for 8-12 months after treatment.  Personally, I know for a fact that I am breathing 100% on my own without it.  I have bypassed it just to find that airflow is good without it.  If I could take it out today I would but I've been advised against it so in it stays.

For now.

It is extremely uncomfortable on all levels...physically, socially, psychologically...

It's a fricking piece of ugly plastic pipe sticking out of my neck....and I am painfully aware of it...

Again, on all levels.

So while in the hospital, they took me over to Texas Oncology and "made" my radiation mask.  It was horribly hot and took longer than I was comfortable with but once it was custom made to fit my treatment plan, it is my daily friend.

Just what the mask is and what it does can be found here, as well as some general information about the treatment itself.

I think what I found most disturbing at first was the overpowering feeling of being water-boarded.   You are laid on the table with your hands put into pull-down restraints and "the mask" is put over your face, head and shoulders then bolted down to the table.  Your head is completely immobilized and at first, I had to ask for an injection of ativan (lorazepam) in order to get through the initial treatments.

This is where I was taught a bit of self-hypnosis.  It would be easy to completely freak out here...but with some training and mental imaging of the rads being the "good guys" attacking the "monsters", I was able to find my happy place and get through it.

Because it honestly sucks to be locked down on that table.

But so does allowing this monster to run amok in my body.

So where am I?  I am about 2/3rds through my rad treatment and I show all the symptoms of a grumpy, burned, no-appetite-having, hair-falling-out, cancer treatment patient.

As far as this being "my battle"?

No, it's "our" battle and I want to thank my Dr's and technicians for fighting so hard for me.

I appreciate it more than you know.

Next:  Stay tooned....we're gonna talk about chemo.