Dancing With Cancer For The 4th Time

by GregP_WN

Every cancer patient has an elephant in the room, a hidden worry, a cloud hanging over them that only they can see. Every time we have a pain, a swollen lymph node, a bad headache, even a bad bowel movement, most of us probably think that the next diagnosis is here. 

Diagnosis #4

I have spent the last 11 years going through much of what I just described. There have probably been 50 different events that have turned out to be "nothing". I went to the ER once with excruciating stomach pain. With a history like mine with three previous cancer diagnoses, a TIA, and all of the many side effects I have they don't take chances when you roll in. So they performed almost any test you could think of including CT scans, blood test, etc. After about four hours they came to let me know that the terrible news was that I had a stomach virus. Are you kidding me? I just went through 10K worth of tests to hear a stomach virus?

This routine has been repeated 4 or 5 times over the last few years. Once was a gallbladder that was trying to kill me. Another was high blood pressure that was trying to blow the top off of my head. But none of these events were ever the one that I have been expecting to come see me again, the recurrence, the 4th diagnosis, the damn thing is back. 

So, I now have Hypopharyngeal Cancer. A surgery is set for sometime in January with treatment of some type to follow. We are still in the planning stages for all of the details and Donna and I are still in the stage of trying to keep our heads from spinning off. 

The strange thing about this diagnosis is that it hasn't floored me, it hasn't made me break down and scream "why me"? It hasn't put the fear of dying in me. It hasn't had me worrying about what's going to happen, because I have been expecting it. For some reason going way back 11 years ago when I finished the treatments and recovery for stage III tonsil cancer, I have known that sometime it would be back. I just knew that based on all of the damage and side effects that I have from the radiation that saved me then, would be the thing that comes back to haunt me. 

I've had 11 good years after my third diagnosis and have mostly enjoyed them all. I expect this fourth run with cancer to be extremely difficult like the third was, but I also feel confident that the fantastic Doctors and staff and Vanderbilt will bring me through just like they did the last time. 

Tough Times Never Last

My biggest issue is the waiting. I'm an impatient person on any given day, add to that the idea that I have to wait another week to go see my Doctor, Dr. Sarah Rohde,Surgeon/ENT that performed my scope and biopsy to get her thoughts, then to see the oncology department two hours later to get their suggested plan of treatment, and a scheduled date to have the surgery some month to month and a half later. That's a long time to wait for the light that's coming down the tracks to get to you. 

This will be a life altering event more than the previous three diagnoses have been, as hard to imagine as that is. I am going to lose my voice since the entire larynx will come out. There are a couple of reconstruction techniques that may be able to give me the ability to talk somewhat without the use of an electric larynx device. A stoma will be placed in my neck to breathe through which is a life altering surgery in itself. 

A feeding tube will also be placed for at least a month for nutrition during recovery since I won't be able to swallow during that time. Swallowing is also a question mark. After recovery I should be able to swallow although some people never do swallow again after the surgery. I'm sure there will me a basketfull of challenges and side effects that we haven't even thought of or been told about. As it is with most cancer diagnoses, there will be a lot of things that just have to be dealt with when they pop up and we won't know what they are until they show up. 

Since we got the news, we have had an enormous number of phone calls, texts, FB posts, wishing us well and most with a sense of amazement that I am having to do this for a fourth time. I agree, I am amazed that one person can be given this much to carry in one lifetime. Those who are of faith say that God won't give you more than you can carry. If that's the case he must think I'm the Hulk.

Head And Neck Cancer Alliance

But as the saying goes, "it is what it is". We can't change it or keep it from happening. It's coming down the tracks headed right for me like a train getting ready to knock me off the tracks. So I can stand still and quietly let it hit me, or I can deal with it one step at a time and make the best out of each day. I plan on doing my best side step and make it miss me when it gets here.

One of the many positive things I have going for me is my previous 32 years experience in dealing with cancer issues. I don't think there's anything they can throw at me that I can't handle. I've seen almost anything and everything, so I'm ready for whatever is coming. 

Another positive thing is the fantastic Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Bill Wilkerson Head and Neck Cancer Center, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. There isn't any other place in the US I would rather be. VUMC is one of only two National Cancer Institute designated facilities in Tennessee. What that means is they receive funding from NCI to facilitate research to help develop treatments, drugs, and treatment protocols, and they are on the cutting edge of cancer treatment.

Donna and I thank everyone that has called, sent texts, messages, smoke signals, and notes by carrier pigeons, etc. Your thoughts, well wishes and support are appreciated. We will keep you updated as we work through this next year. This is a heck of a way to start out a new year, but now I don't have to worry about deciding on a New Year's Resolution, this one's easy, SURVIVE! 

So, while I'm not looking forward to this, and I believe that it's going to suck big time, I believe everything is going to be OK. #4 came to the party, so let's dance.

The sign below is one I made a few weeks ago before I had the biopsy and received the diagnosis for #4, maybe my subconscious was trying to tell me something. 

You And Me We Got This

A few years ago I wrote out my cancer experience story in a book, at that time it covered things up through my 3rd diagnosis. It looks like I'm going to have to make a few edits to that book. 

Read my complete cancer journey on WhatNext here. And if you're a cancer patient or survivor, please register and join the conversations. There are thousands on the site to connect with. 

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