Random Thoughts While Waiting For Cancer Surgery

by GregP_WN

This is the situation. You've been diagnosed with cancer, again, for the 4th time, if that's not bad enough, you have to wait two months to have surgery to remove the tumors from your neck. If you have never had to endure this unfortunate experience you probably don't have any idea how slow time drags on while waiting for your date to show up. For Donna and I, it's Jan. 28th.

You Learn Two Things From A Cancer Diagnosis

While I'm not looking forward to the recovery part of this, I'm past ready to have the surgery since surgery is my only defense this time against this cancer. The recovery for this surgery is said to be much worse/tougher than the last surgery that I had 11 years ago, and that one was the toughest to endure of anything that I've been through in 32 years of dealing with cancer. My oncologist told me that this surgery has a lot that can go wrong with it and the biggest issue for me will be healing after the surgery. I will be in the hospital for at least a week or until I have healed enough that the Vanderbilt Brain Trust thinks that I can go home. The doctor says she has seen people stay as much as month or more. *Thanks doc, good to know*

The official description of my diagnosis is Hypopharyngeal Cancer, squamous cell carcinoma. This surgery will take out all of my larynx including vocal cords. I will lose my ability to talk for a while. It might be possible to talk later when a second surgery will be done to install a couple of prosthetic vocal cords. I am supposed to be able to talk sooner by using an electronic device that will simulate vocal cords. 

This surgery will also combine a neck dissection of the left side. This is a process where they take out every lymph node that is near the cancer site, and any others that are visible. There are literally hundreds of lymph nodes in the neck so the number removed is not known until surgery. For my last diagnosis I had a neck dissection of the right side only. That surgery was the worst of anything I have had to endure, this one is going to be a tough one. 

I have had several people ask me how I can stand to know that I have something inside me growing that's trying to kill me and I can't do anything about it but wait for the 28th. My answer is one of many depending on how I'm feeling at the moment or that day. 

What Can I Do About It?

First there is this, what can I do about it? Nothing..... So worrying about it won't make it easier, go away, make recovery easier, or help in any way whatsoever. Going back 32 years to my first diagnosis I used to say this phrase all the time, "don't worry about anything until you have something to worry about". Simply put, worrying about this thing, small person, baby, gremlin, beast, killer, lesion, chunk-O-cancer, laryngeal cancer, or "this damn thing", whatever you wish to call it, won't make tomorrow, the next day, or the next three weeks any easier. The only thing it will do is steal today's joy, if you can find any. 

All I can do is trust in our doctors at Vanderbilt. And we do fully, completely, without any doubt. If you have had any medical procedure done there you probably know why I say that. They are the best at doing the things that I need done. (Get this stuff out of me.) Being a research hospital and one of only two NCI designated hospitals in Tennessee, Donna and I have full and complete faith in this facility. This means that they are on the top of the list of hospitals to go to for cancer treatment in Tennessee. Vandy is number one in TN. and in the top 20 Nationwide for cancer treatment in U.S. News and World Reports top 100 cancer facilities. All you have to do is ask one of the doctors to explain what they are going to do to you and listen for a few minutes. After that your answer is probably, OK, fine, when do we start. I have had two life saving surgeries done there so far, on the 28th will be my third.

In addition to trusting our doctors, we have to keep love, faith, and hope alive. A little distraction isn't bad either, quite helpful, actually.

Things I Think About

While taking the dogs outside to do their business at night, I sit in a chair and look up at the stars in awe of the beauty. Then an airplane comes over. 

Stephen Hawking Look Up

I wonder how fast that thing is going? 

If there are 100 people on that plane 30 of them will be diagnosed with cancer sometime in there life.

I wonder if anyone on that plane is waiting for two months to have cancer surgery? 

Why is that stupid dog eating rocks?

Here comes a helicopter, it's Vandy's lifeflight again. They fly right over our house on the way to Vandy almost every day. I'm glad I'm not in that thing, because no matter how sucky my deal is right now, whoever is in that helicopter is having a worse day than I am. 

Did that stupid dog take a dump yet? Now I have to give him good boy treats and I don't know if he was a good boy or not because I was looking at stars, planes, and helicopters. 

Things I Think About While Watching TV

Have you noticed that once you have something, it doesn't matter what it is, a yellow bug, a big truck, a certain style of house, or cancer, that you notice it everywhere, and it's on some episode of a TV show every night? Once you're diagnosed you will start to see how many people that are close to you that are affected by cancer.

Look, there's another commercial for another cancer trial drug. Maybe I can get on that trial. But, if you are put on a trial you are in bad shape because your first-line drugs aren't working, so I really don't want to be on it. 

Why are all these people so damn happy? Don't they know there's something inside me trying to kill me?

Cancer Is Everywhere

Hey look, it's ANOTHER show where the main character is dealing with cancer. I wonder if they will make it? When a TV character dies from cancer, does that put a better light on cancer, treatments, survivorship, and cancer research than if they made a miraculous recovery?

Almost every NFL team has either a player or a coach who has finished treatment and is back playing and coaching. And somehow, they managed to continue working out while having treatments and now they look like they never had a problem. Why have I always looked like a starving child from Somalia at the end of my treatments?

A news segment shows a person that for some reason thought it would be a good idea to ACT like they had cancer, shave their head, and start accepting donations to help them "fight for their life". HEY DUMBASS, you can have my cancer, come get it!

If you're trying to get the fact that you have a serious cancer growing inside you off your mind, you can't do it by watching TV.

While at Work

Most of the time at work I'm busy and keep occupied and don't think about this stupid cancer that much. But when the customers know me and know most of my story, they want to talk and wish me well. I get comments ranging from "is there anything I can do for you", "I will take you to the doctor anytime you need to go, when is your next visit", to "is this going to affect my service on our property?" 

I do have these fleeting thoughts though. should I take this job, I might not be able to work any longer after this. 

Everything was going along just fine for the last eleven years since my last diagnosis, why did this have to come along now?

Why have I spent the last 30 years working my ass off just to have this happen in the end? This is not how it was supposed to go.

Random Thoughts That Pop Up At Any Given Time For No Apparent Reason

I wonder if this means I won't get that lucrative singing contract? 

What will the dogs think when I open my mouth to yell at the new puppy "Journey" and nothing comes out?

Journey also has another name "NO Damnit"! That dog is like a 3 year old boy on a chocolate latte high.

I hope Donna Doesn't Worry About Me Too Much Through This". Things like this are often harder on the caregiver than the patient. 

Where are all of my life insurance policies?

If I am going to be breathing through a hole in my neck will I drown myself taking a shower?

Is this going to be the one?

"When I push a blended combination of ice cream into a feeding tube in my stomach, will I be able to taste it"? "If not, what's the point"?

I have had so many procedures, surgeries, CT scans, PET Scans, X-rays, radiation, chemo, ultrasounds, blood draws, shots, it's really a miracle that I'm still alive. I keep dodging the grim reaper, and I plan to keep one step ahead of him. 

Staying Positive

I also have a lot of people that ask how I can stay so positive about this when it's the 4th time. This is a tough one for sure. I mean, how many more times do I have to do this? I have tried to live life as a good person, helping others, and doing as best as we can, so why do I keep getting hit in the head with a cancer club? There is a common phrase that says "God won't give you more than you can handle". If this is true, then hello, I am Superman, Batman, Hulk, and a little WWE wrestler all wrapped up in one little package.

The "numbers" for this cancer are not real good. For example, the 5 year survival rate for this diagnosis is 33%, unless it's caught at an early stage. I am only a stage 1, the earliest, so I fall into the 53% survival rate category. Better yet is the "localized" diagnosis where the cancer is in a small area and hasn't moved around. As long as this two month wait hasn't allowed this enemy to get up and move around, then I am now in the 60% category. You also have to take into account that these figures are on average 5 years old. The significance of this is that in the last 5 years there have been new treatments, more information available to treat all cancers, so if these numbers were checked today, they would all be higher.

Don't Worry About The Cancer Numbers

Some people might say that those numbers are not that bad, 60% is pretty good. OK, you can roll the dice with your life then and see how it turns out, like a little Russian roulette, any takers?

I also have the frame of mind that if the survival rate is 60% then that's where I will be. This is going to be a tough one, but I will take it one day at a time, and when that becomes too difficult, I will take it one hour at a time. In the past I have even broke an entire day down into smaller segments. Whatever it takes to get through it. I can take ANYTHING for 15 minutes (or whatever) at a time. Then I'll worry about the rest of the day later.

Every Bad Situation Will Have Something Positive

I have also always had the attitude that you can either find the good and positive things in every situation and concentrate on them, or you can wallow in the gloom and doom of the situation. No matter how you want to think, just thinking will not change the fact that I now have cancer for the fourth time. But, it will make living with it a little more tolerable. If you want to go through each day mad at the world and screaming at everyone for your bad luck, that's up to you. But it won't change anything other than make the rest of your life miserable as well as the lives of everyone else around you. 

One of my favorite motivational quotes of all time: "Tough Times Never Last.......Tough People Do". I just hope that this quote is still standing strong and will stick with me through this. 

Tough Times Never Last

I am, and I will!

Donna and I thank you all for your kind words and positive thoughts that have been sent our way, they are much appreciated!

Other Posts About My Cancer History

Diagnosis #4 Just Got Real

My Hodgkin's Disease Description Video

5 Side Effects of Head and Neck Cancer You Must Know About

Living With Head, Neck, And Throat Cancer

Click To Join Us At What Next (1)

Many people have asked how they might help Donna and I through this. I will say that this 4th cancer diagnosis and major impending surgery has humbled me deeply. We have always been the ones that have helped others. We have been very active in Relay For Life, I am a Voice of Hope Speaker for the American Cancer Society's "Voice of Hope" program. We have had a Company Relay Team for each of the last 10 years except 2019. Several of the bands that I have been in have played benefits and raised thousands for others. 

Now, we find ourselves on the other side looking out. I will be deemed 100% disabled according to my oncologist and others that have already been through this before me. I am in the landscaping  business and will not be able to perform those chores any longer. 

So, my Sister-In-Law started a Go-Fund-Me account to try to offset some of the massive medical bills that will follow. We are fortunate enough to have enough insurance to get me in the hospital and surgery done, but about half of the bill is all that gets covered. Below is a link to that fundraiser for those that have asked. I remain humbled and do not ask for those who are following a similar path as me to donate, we all have our own demons to handle in our own house. This is simply for those that have asked. Thank you for your support. 

See Fundraiser Page Here

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