I consider myself to be very fortunate. When this damned cancer and I had our collision, I was in the right place with the right specialists close at hand. Thanks to Doctor Williams and the surgical team who have chosen to work and do their research at the University of Alberta Hospital and the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton, Alberta.
Four years ago yesterday a surgical team specializing in ‘head and neck’ exorcised (love that word!) a demonic stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma from my right tonsil. They executed a mandibular swing to get at all the nasty bits and effect a clean neck dissection, removed a piece of the tongue, and all the lymph nodes. A ‘forearm flap’ technique was used to reconstruct the back of my throat and tongue, including the use of the radial artery from my left arm to replace the vascular plumbing affected by the tumour. And while they had everything disassembled, they moved salvia glands from the right quandrant to the lower left in an effort to protect them from the yet-to-be-administered radiation treatments. And today, four years on, I have so little to complain about that it just sounds like whining.
Okay, so I admit to wearing high collars, and loud ties to distract from the visible scarring, which is minimal. Vanity has me sporting a beard to hide what I consider to be the worst of them, not that I really need much of an excuse to keep my beard. Close examination of my neck shows what appears to be the beginnings of a goiter, but that just so happens to be where those salvia glands were tucked out of harm’s way; my saliva is very good. No ‘dry mouth syndrome’ here. The autonomic responses of the tongue are not what they used to be; it doesn’t effectively ‘sweep’ debris from my teeth as I eat. And because of that wee reduction in functionality of the tongue, and the somewhat tighter throat, I do need additional liquids to help flush things down the slightly constricted pipes. However, I can taste…really taste. And I can talk…something which I seem to do incessantly some days. As part of my work, I occasionally present a marathon 3 day seminar; my throat and voice haven’t failed me yet. My teeth are in great shape; I sacrificed only one to the mandibular swing.
So when I read through my correspondance with other throat cancer survivors and try to comprehend what some went through, and are going through, I realize that I have nothing to complain about. Absolutely nothing.
And I am especially grateful to the woman I married who refused to let me ignore the symptoms…