This blog is usually devoted to interesting people other than me. I travel a lot, and wherever I go I find things to write about. The last few posts, however, have been about my personal journey. A journey that began on Friday, July 19, when I received word that I had cancer of the tongue.
In the future, this journal will return to the search for the quirky, the unusual, the fascinating – but not me. However, since so many avid readers have expressed interest in learning about my cancer journey, I will share one more post about it.
I write this from the OHSU emergency room. Two days ago, I had surgery to remove the cancer and take samples (biopsies) of nearby lymph nodes to make sure it had not spread.
Removing part of one’s tongue produces some interesting challenges, such as chewing. The tongue, it turns out, is a tool, although in the hands of some it is a weapon. As a tool, though, you use it to push food around your mouth, to line up that food for chewing and then placing it in the queue for swallowing. When a chunk of your tongue is removed, it takes a while before your mouth, throat and tongue figure out how to deal with each other again.
In the meantime, you are on a strict liquid diet, until you graduate to mush. It’s only been two days and this is what I have learned so far: first, the 2019 vintage of Ensure is pretty good stuff; second, a good Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is an essential component of a liquid diet; third, the second one was a total bald-faced lie, because you are on such high-powered pain meds that a good glass of wine might be your last. So it’s back to Ensure and pudding and the fabulous chicken broth that your daughter-in-law made just for you and who cannot believe you did not add any salt to it but loved it.
About pain meds. I have a some experience in the pain department, having had RA (arthritis) since 1960. I have also had five surgeries over the years and in each one I have declined any pain medications. No Oxy, no Percocet, no Vicodin, no drips, no pills, no nothing. I was not trying to be a hero, I had just learned how to detach myself from the pain in my affected joints. This time, however, it became immediately apparent that the pain from this procedure was another octave higher, and it was impossible to detach myself from something as close as my tongue and jaw.
So bring on the pain meds! And do you know what? They work! What a revelation! I am now two days into using OxyCodone and tylenol, and I am already worried about becoming hooked on it. That is healthy and suggests that I won’t. But I can certainly understand how people who get relief from major chronic pain do not want to ever stop taking what helped them. In my case, the tongue and surrounding area will heal. This pain will not continue, nor will the need for high-powered pain meds. But I still have a healthy concern about it. Which means I think I will be ok.
Talking is another challenge. It took hours before I could stand the pain of uttering anything, and what came out sounded like Daffy Duck saying “sufferin’ succotash.”
Speaking of which, I have picked up a new competitive sport: drooling. Do not challenge me on this – I have become an expert. You will lose. And think hard before coming to visit. Dress appropriately.
But the body wants to heal itself. One of the doctors told me that half of medical treatment is just keeping the patient occupied long enough to allow his or her body to heal itself. My new, sleeker tongue will make friends with my mouth and throat, and a speech pathologist is coming to see me tomorrow to help me learn how to talk and swallow again.
But all that healing will take some time. Last night was a rough night, and today the doctor told me to head to the emergency room to check on a hematoma that appeared to be growing. A flock of medical people flew in and out of my room, confirming that all was healing nicely, but deciding that I should remain in the hospital for observation overnight. So I sit here in a private room in the ER, writing this post, taking up space that could be better used by those lying on beds out in the hallway. But the ER nurses like me, mostly because my needs are pretty limited right now, and they don’t want to give me up to a hospital room upstairs.
Earlier today, my doctor brought some news. He’s a good doctor. Under-promise, over-deliver. He initially told me that it would take a week or two to get the results of the biopsies (the pathology) from the surgery. They didn’t. They came back today.
He got all the cancer out, the margins are clear of any cancer, as are the lymph nodes. I am cancer free.