Cancer: Round Two

This blog was never intended to be about me. It was about all the interesting people I met, and things I saw and experienced, while traveling around North America in a motorhome towing a Jeep. Unfortunately, cancer de tongue intervened last summer, and way, way too much of this blog since then has been about my cancer journey. When I was found to be cancer-free, I was looking forward to never having to write about me again.
Alas, as readers of my last post know, cancer-free does not always mean free of cancer. I am the proof.
To those who read this blog to find out what fun things we have been doing lately, stop now. This post is not that.
To those who know me and want to find out what is happening with my second round with cancer, here is more information than you could rationally want to know. Feel free to hit the delete key. I support your decision and, frankly, will never know.
One week ago, a biopsy confirmed that I have tongue cancer once again. On March 5, one-half of my tongue will be removed (a hemispheric glossectomy), and replaced with tissue from my arm to fill in the part that is missing (a “free flap reconstruction”). The new portion will have no function other than to exist. It will not move on its own, there will be no muscles in it, no taste buds – it will simply go along for the ride, but there is a medical consensus that it is better to have it than not. They will also perform a neck section, basically removing the lymph nodes in the neck.
The surgery will last about 8 hours and I will remain in the hospital about a week. The reconstruction will be done through the neck, and to avoid problems with swelling they will do a tracheotomy so I can breathe regardless. The trake will likely come out before I am released from the hospital. I will have a feeding tube for about a week or possibly more. A speech pathologist will be actively involved in my recovery, mostly to help learn how to swallow again. Speech comes later. I will have no voice for the first 2 or 3 days. After that, I should be able to mumble; within 2 or 3 weeks I should be able to communicate intelligibly. There is a lot of variability in how people recover from this, but I am hopeful that I will be able to articulate and enunciate almost as good as now, but there is no way to know. There is a separate recovery path for the arm since they will be removing not only skin but also an artery. Typing may be a one-handed process for a while, but ultimately it should heal well with some physical therapy.
Radiation will likely be recommended, but that is a decision for later not now, in part depending on what they find during surgery. Based on the side effects, both during and after radiation (loss of taste and enjoyment of food and drink are among them), I will have to give that a lot of thought. Hopefully the surgery will be so successful, and the margins and lymphatic tissue so clear, that they will not recommend it.
No question about it, this is not going to be fun. But the clock will continue to turn, the dates on the calendar will change, and by April or May life should be getting back to a new normal. In 2 or 3 months, my surgeon expects I will be healthy enough to get back on the road again. That was better than I was expecting.
In the meantime, I still have a lot of notes from past trips, so who knows? Maybe I can still crank out a post every now and then about past trips until I can start traveling once again, writing stories about the fascinating people I have met and interesting things I have seen.
Good-bye for now, but not forever.

22 thoughts on “Cancer: Round Two

  1. Jean and I consider ourselves to be members of “Ken’s Army”, everyone of whom are rattled by your latest post.
    We hope that you will take some comfort by knowing you have innumerable supporters – all of whom have you in their thoughts and are anxiously waiting for your next post announcing that the motor home is fired up and ready to go.


  2. Ken,

    You have been on my mind since your last post in which you announced the return of your cancer de tongue. Such devastating news. I can only begin to imagine the impact on you, Carol, and the kids.

    I, for one, really appreciate the details you share. From your description, it is clear that the surgery is complicated and that there are several different, and difficult, elements to your recovery. None of this is going to be easy. What shines through in your post, though, is your optimism. Some people might be tempted to question that this optimism is genuine but knowing you as I do, I know it is. Undergirding this optimism is the depth of love and support from your family that you know you can count on.

    That said, the minutes, hours and days must be hard. Real hard.

    Thinking of you on a continuous basis, brother.

    Love & hugs, df



  3. Ken, You are a gift to all of us. We love hearing about your travels and insight into life. The world is so interesting and you show us there is always a pearl in the oyster of every day life. We send our prayers for a full recovery.

    Chuck and Nancy


  4. Ken, I was so saddened to hear of this news a few days ago. You and I have shared a path, my tongue cancer having been discovered two years before yours. What is the chance that first cousins-once removed would be walking this road at the same time, albeit it in different countries. I have appreciated our phone calls and emails since last summer as you prepared for your Aug 12th surgery. You remain in my thoughts and prayers.

    I look forward to chatting with you once your tongue bounces back.

    Your Cancer Buddy
    Ted Fransen
    Winnipeg, MB


  5. Ken,
    Sorry you have to go through this, but thanks for being such an impressive role model. It’s encouraging to those of us on the eve of cancer territory. Both of my grandfathers and my dad died from some sort of cancer, mostly linked to smoking, but we’re also susceptible to others, especially skin. Your sharing is more helpful than you probably even know.

    On another note, let me know if you need help with anything. I can crash a big-ass motor home as well as anyone, so keep me in mind if you need it brought back to Portland…..

    Best wishes, my friend. Looking forward to hearing about the journey (the idea of using part of an arm for a tongue is absolutely fascinating) and reconnecting soon.

    Will Nolan, CFA
    Chief Investment Officer

    Greenbridge Investment Management, LLC
    4248 Galewood St.
    Lake Oswego, OR 97035

    (503) 505-9699 (office)
    (503) 803-7781 (cell)

    Emails to and from this address are subject to archiving and to review by regulating authorities and supervisory personnel. Email is subject to transmission failures or delays. PLEASE DO NOT RELY ON EMAIL FOR TIME-SENSITIVE MATTERS such as orders to buy or sell a security, withdraw funds from an account, etc. Such orders or instructions are best conveyed, or at least confirmed, by a two-way telephone conversation to clarify important details and confirm our ability to act within the relevant time frame.


  6. Another interesting journey for you. Information is fascinating and as new for us as you. Lots of miles ahead of you and we know you can beat it and be back at the wheel of your motorhome . We will be thinking of you and sending best wishes for a speedy, successful tongue reconstruction, and waiting for you to say “Happy times are here again”.
    Big hugs to you and Carol,
    Harvey and Jean


  7. Another interesting journey for you. Information is fascinating and as new for us as you. Lots of miles ahead of you and we know you can beat it and be back at the wheel of your motorhome . We will be thinking of you and sending best wishes for a speedy, successful tongue reconstruction, and waiting for you to say “Happy times are here again”.
    Big hugs to you and Carol,
    Harvey and Jean


  8. We’re rootin’ for you every day, Ken. And that includes George, Jeff, Joe and Bob-we had a gourmet lunch together Tuesday at El Pollo Loco.

    Best pictures ever, and I’m sure there are many more where that came from.

    Your strength and optimism will get you through this !



  9. Ken, I’m so sorry you have to go through Round 2. It sounds challenging, to say the least. Your photos, your sharing your journey, I really appreciate. Thank you. I look forward to reading more, both about your cancer journey and travels you write about as you are able over the next months, and pray your surgery and recovery will go well and produce a good, lasting result for you. Hugs! Carol Nicolet Loewen“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” C.S. Lewis Blog:


  10. I’m glad it’s “not forever,” the good bye part. Ken, I am so sorry you have to go thru all this. Again. The photos you interspersed with the horrific descriptions of what will happen to you were good distractions, and almost worked to make one forget about the looming specter of scalpels, incisions and sutures. I wish you and your surgeons a 100% success rate. Hugs to you, Carol, and the family. I’ll be thinking of ya… Love, Cyn



  11. I have no words to describe how I feel after reading your blog. It sounds so scary, frankly. Your positive attitude is so amazing! You are a trooper! I love how you are looking forward to that next RV trip!
    Well, I found some words, but they seem inadequate. Please know that you are in my thoughts. Here’s to facing the challenge with a great spirit! All the best to you in your recovery.


  12. Howard and I are amazed at your determination to tackle the stupid cancer. We appreciate your perspective & want to be kept apprised of your journey. Said briefly, “YOU ROCK!”


  13. Ken Well, this was still a fine interesting story about a ‘new’ person, cancerized Ken Fransen!

    We waited until the new news to respond.

    Inquiring minds want to know. 1. Where is this all happening… surgery recovery etc? 2. How is Carol doing, physically and emotionally? 3. Can we offer any support? We are retired, so have few critical obligations. Be glad to assist if you let us know. Shopping, transport, Carol companion, etc.

    Looking forward to your memory blogs of past experiences. Love and concerns, Tom & Linda 9712000771 5032311290

    Tom B From iPhone 7 Plus



    1. Thanks TomB. It will take place at OHSU in Portland, a block from where we live, and with a really terrific surgical team. They have my complete confidence. Carol is doing fine, and our kids and their spouses are doing whatever is needed, and my sister is planning to come up and help. We are well taken care of, but thanks for the offer.


  14. Ken, Thanks for the update. So sorry you are going through this. But you are strong and will get through this. I’m pulling for you. Angel. 😇

    Angelica ‘Angel’ Pilato, Lt. Col. USAF (Ret.), Ph.D. Angel’s Truck Stop: A Woman’s Love, Laughter, and Loss during the Vietnam War (A Memoir) | Follow on Facebook| LinkedIn 5055 Foothills Dr. Unit G Lake Oswego, OR 97034 503-754-7334 (PST)



  15. Ken, I have been admiring your photos, especially that gorgeous ram clinging to the side of mountain. Of course, the main reason to click in was in response to a comment from John Smith. After reading about your very challenging climb to recovery, I understand why he urged me to check out your blog. Please know that you have many friends pulling for you.


  16. Hello,
    You don’t know me, but I came here through my wonderful and beautiful friend, your sister Shirley. Just wanted to let you know that even people who you don’t know will be praying and rooting for you!

    I will also be reading your blog from the beginning. Just from reading about this unfortunate subject, I’m intrigued…as your writing comes through as clear and genuine.

    This definitely was NOT 2 wasted minutes. Godspeed!



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