Things Usually Go Right - But Sometimes They Go Left Down the "Highway to Hell"

by GregP_WN

Have you ever considered that when you go to a doctor for anything, a test, a check-up, scan results, biopsy results, or almost anything that you could be going to a doctor for, that things could go alright, or they could go left? 

Things Can Go Right Or Things Can Go Left Down That Highway To Hell

In the amount of time it takes to open a cold drink and take a sip you can go from everything is fine to something's wrong. It could be positive or negative biopsy, a clean scan or a scan with problems, blood test can all look good or one part can have a problem. 

In any of these cases, you go from thinking that life is good, things are moving in the right direction, to stopping at a stop sign and you are getting ready to turn right, where everything is good, or left, where the unknown lives, the Highway to Hell.

Such is the world I've been living in for the last year. Repeated trips back to the doctor for throat scopes to find a problem, they kept coming back "all good, no problem". Then finally, one scope revealed a little white lesion in my throat. My doctor said, "We need to put you to sleep and take a closer look". That visit went left. For the previous 11 years each visit including scans, blood tests,  ultrasounds, CT scans, chest XRays, throat scopes, neck exams, they have all turned out alright. Each time I had an appointment for a check-up we took a right at that stop sign and cruised down the good life boulevard. But this time I'm not so lucky. 

A biopsy was scheduled for about a month later. Again, that could be clean and be alright or things could turn left down a road I didn't want to be on. When I woke up from the surgery, one of the residents came over to my bed and quickly told me who she was and that it was bad news, it was cancer again. Flip a coin, 50/50 chance, or whatever you want to call it, it can go right and be alright or it can go left again. Once again, I turned left down another deserted road where I didn't want to be. To borrow AC/DC's title, I feel like I'm headed down the Highway to Hell.

The surgery that was set up to be the "cure" for this diagnosis was a big one. Several hours under the knife taking out my entire larynx and installing a tracheostomy in my neck and a second radical neck dissection, and more all at the same time. Life was changed for good during that day. Despite it being a life changing surgery and event, it went off without a hitch, no problems. It was said that there were "clean margins", which means that they cut all of the cancerous tissue out and with it, hopefully all of the problems. No lymph node involvement was detected either, which was a plus. So, supposedly, everything went right during that surgery. Even though it was considered the worst of the options for me at that time, the surgery was considered a success. 

After being home for three months after that surgery we have been back to the doctor twice for a check-up, at the first one, everything went right. It was said several times how pleased the team is with my healing and recovery process. Nothing but good things expected for the future. 

The second check-up was a different story however. Again, that visit started just like all of the other hundreds of visits I've had over the last 32 years. Everything was expected to be alright. But, somewhere about the time that I pointed out two issues I have discovered, things stopped at that stop sign and went left. The doctor said, we need to get a CT scan on your neck to see what that is that I'm feeling. (It was a hard lump, swollen lymph node) I was afraid that it was a lymph node, but the doctor said it could just be scar tissue from the previous surgery and radiation damage. My neck is so hard and stiff from radiation damage and scar tissue from all of the surgery that you can't feel for sure what's junder the skin. So, Just like that you can snap your fingers fast, and things changed again. We made a hard left. Cue the band, start the intro. Da nah dah, da nah dah........

We were able to walk straight across the street to the radiology department and walk right into a CT Scan because this was during the covid lockdown and the entire Vanderbilt campus was like a ghost town. This was on a Friday and results wouldn't be available until Monday. So we had a weekend of "Scanxiety".


We waited all day Monday for a call with the results, since the doctor said she wouldn't have them until then. I was checking the online system where test results are posted from Vanderbilt. Nothing, all day. 

Then Tuesday I checked online again. There it was. The radiology report had been posted and had a long medical term for the spot on the left side, the suspicious lymph node, which implied that it was cancer. The spot on my right side was said to be "insignificant", or no problem. Attached to the results was also a letter from my doctor to me telling me what this scan meant.  

So here we have been sitting at that stop sign all weekend waiting to see which way we were going, right or left. There could have been a dozen reasons for these two issues, all of them good, there could also be a dozen reasons that things were bad. It's like standing at a craps table in Vegas. Toss the dice and see what you've won. Dah nah dah.

Well, it appears that I've won another diagnosis, #5. We don't know yet if it's a relapse or a completely different type of cancer. The doctor was surprised at this report, she notified me by email since I cannot talk on the phone anymore, or talk at all for that matter. I could tell by the tone of her emails that this could be bad. 

So, as I sit here writing and thinking about what's coming down this road again, it's Sunday, May 10th, Donna's birthday. Not the best way to spend your birthday but we've had company for the weekend and in spite of what's coming, it's been a good day. 

Tomorrow, we go to Vanderbilt for a PET scan to verify that I don't have anything going on anywhere else. With head and neck cancer a relapse often occurs in the lungs or brain, so that needs to be ruled out. On Tuesday we have to turn around and go back to Vanderbilt for a Covid test. Unless they will let me take it tomorrow. I have to specifically have a test within 48 hours of the surgery date and test negative, or I can't have surgery. Then on Wednesday morning, I go back to have surgery on my throat to take out the offending lymph node, and biopsy the spot in my throat that has been described as "no problem". My 32 years of experience in dealing with tests has proven three times that "no problem", can often mean, it's a problem, we just didn't think it was. Can you hear the chorus playing yet? "Highway to Hell" nah nah.....

After the results are back from the lab while I'm still on the table, decisions will be made about what to do. Deeper surgery, stop and change directions, consult with the tumor board, etc. One great thing about Vanderbilt is when it comes to a biopsy during surgery, the results are known within thirty minutes. It's amazing to me that this can happen that quick when I have waited two weeks before for biopsy results. On Wednesday, it's unknown what will be done exactly, probably right up to the time that she decides to do it. 

Tonight, I'm sitting at that stop sign wondering which way we will be going. Tomorrow we won't know, Tuesday maybe, Wednesday the PET scan results will be available to the team before surgery, and we will know what they have to say about that. Then, the surgery will happen early that morning. By noon we should know which way we are going. Right and things are going to be OK, or left driving down a road through hell again. 

We are entering uncharted waters now for even me in dealing with cancer treatments. Radiation is done for me, not an option since I've had two rounds of radiation on my head/neck area already in my life. My treatment options are limited, so, except for in a worse case scenario of having "targeted radiation" to just one spot, if in fact there is only one spot full area radiation won't happen. Chemo could be an option, but not likely. Immunotherapy is a strong possibility. 

Stop Sign No Left Turn

But for now, we are stuck at this damn stop sign waiting to see which way we go. If we go right, and everything works out again, so be it. We will gladly accept it and see how many more years I can milk this thing for. But, if we go left down that Highway to Hell, I know the song. I've been down that road 4 times already, and being a musician I've played that song a couple hundred times. 

Wish us luck, we're pulling up to the stop sign today, please keep the right thoughts in your mind for us. 

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