At OldDogNewTits‘ request, here is the entire story of my cancer scare that I had back in ’03.
For about twenty or so years, I had been suffering from intense pain in my neck. At first I thought it was the deadbeat job I had, but my pain in the neck was much worse. This pain in the neck was worse than my nagging ex wife, worse than her lawyer, and even worse than the neighbour across the street, so I decided to do something about it. I visited my doctor.
“Look up at the light” He said, as he glanced towards my swollen throat. “Looks like a swollen gland”, he guessed. “Here are some antibiotics, take ‘em all and if it doesn’t go away, come back and I will give you more.” After three years of antibiotics, I guessed that he didn’t have a clue, so I began visiting the emergency ward at the hospital in hopes that a doctor on call would listen.
Years of pain, and hundreds of visits to the hospital, usually at night when it wasn’t as busy, and finally, one doctor who was walking down the hall noticed a large growth on my neck. He stopped and asked if it was bothering me. Very clever of him, I was only as white as snow, grasping my neck with both hands, in spasms and shooting pain as he spoke. He told the nurse that he would see me immediately, much to the horror of others who waited even longer than I did, and in minutes, he was actually touching my throat, feeling for lumps or anything peculiar. Most of the doctors here in the province are from foreign countries, and it seems that we Newfoundlanders must have plagues, as the foreign doctors stay about three feet from anyone they are diagnosing. This guy was different and local as well. “I don’t know what this is, but it looks bad.”, “I am recommending that your doctor send you to a specialist for further diagnosis”
Of course my doctor, whose name had more consonants than the English language would allow, took credit for the finding, but at this point, I didn’t care.
I was sent to a specialist in a neighbouring community, who diagnosed the swelling as a saliva gland issue, saying that it was a simple surgery that lasted about one hour, and I would be out of the hospital. The doctor said that he had only done one such surgery, but he knew another doctor who does a thousand per year. He asked who I wanted to do the surgery. Guess who I chose.
One thing led to another and suddenly, I was 700 miles from home, heading to the capital city on a bus for a so called ‘minor surgery’. When I spoke to the doctor, he said that he thought it may be a bit more than first suggested, and that I would need a needle point biopsy to determine more. I still cringe at the thought of this process, and it is very difficult to write about, but the process for this biopsy was to stick a long (6 inch needle) into the gland where the growth (tumour) was. What they didn’t know was that the tumour was in the nerve, not the gland, so you can imagine how it felt to have a six inch needle stuck into a nerve in my neck. The did the process once, and I nearly passed out, so they gave me two little yellow pills (still not sure what they were, but they didn’t do F*** all for me) and then they drove the second needle in, while three orderlies and one real mean looking nurse held me down. They were not aware of what they were sticking the needle into, but I figured it was my soul.
I remember afterwards, the little yellow pills took effect, and I skipped happily down the hall singing Christmas songs as loud as I could.
Next thing I remember I was on a gurney heading for surgery. 10…9…8…7….I counted down until I passed out from the sedative.
When I came to, I was surrounded by Oncologists and other doctors. The doctor who did the surgery held my hand tightly as he broke the news. “I know we said it was a swelling in your saliva gland, but it turned out to be much ‘more serious’” He said. I still remember the look on his face when he explained that the ‘more serious’ involved that word that brings fear to everyone, the ‘C’ word. The doctor squeezed my hand even tighter as he said that the saliva gland was not the culprit, but rather even deeper and under the gland, a large egg sized tumour that wrapped itself into and around the nerves that controlled the motor movements of the right side of my face. He went on to say that rather than the one hour of surgery they hoped it would be, I was in the OR for ten hours, and that the ten oncologists were certain that this was the beginnings of a brain tumour.
I don’t know if I was in shock, or I was reacting to all the drugs they had pumped into my body, but I wasn’t scared. My reaction to his statement about me having a cancerous brain tumour was “so what are you going to do about it?” He said that was the bravest thing he had ever heard from a patient, but to me, I wanted to know if they could do anything. This was December 12, 2003. I will never forget that day.
I remember going to the bathroom and upon looking in the mirror, almost fainting at what was looking back at me. Since they had to sever most of the nerves on the right side of my face, the left side of my face drew up while the right side sagged down. Add to that the stitches from the cut they made from the back of my ear all around to the left side of my neck, and you have the makings of a Frankenstein monster. I was unable to blink my right eye, and I had no feeling or movement in any part of my face to the right side of my nose. Speaking was also difficult, and after fifteen minutes, my jaw failed to open or shut, making it impossible to talk, and causing much pain. The doctor said that this may be permanent.
I was back home for Christmas that year. The doctor said that he wanted a little time to decide whether to treat me using radiation or chemo. I stood as brave as ever, and this is so not like me, I used to faint at the sign of ketchup, and all of a sudden, here I am with what they tell me is a cancerous brain tumour, and I just want them to be honest and lay it on the line, no bluffing, no pulling punches, I want to know where I will be in five years, here or in the ground.
That Christmas! People visiting to pay their respects like I was already in the ground. People bringing sweets and home-made jams (I am diabetic people!) and visiting and sticking around, asking me how I feel. People who never spoke to me while I was healthy, what are they doing visiting me when I am not? Even my employer at the time visited. He never did that before, how did he even know where I lived?
From early January to late March, I traveled to and from the capital city by means of a ten hour bus ride, which is torture in itself, to have MRI and CAT Scans, and to be poked and prodded by medical students and doctors province wide. I felt like a guinea pig in a lab, but hey, they were doing their best to fix what wasn’t broken.
One of the tests they had done told the doctors that some tumour still remained, a tumour a fraction of a hair’s width was entangled in one of the nerves in my face and they had to decide the next course of action.
In late March, I got a call from the nurse in Cancer Services, and she said that they had gotten the tumour back from the United States Naval base where they sent it for study, to determine whether it was cancerous our not, and the results say the tumour was benign. I think I passed out on the floor, phone in hand, dog licking my face to wake me up. In the years that followed, my doctor had me come in for a MRI each year, to determine whether the tumour that still remained tangled within the nerves was growing or not. In the fifth year, I met with a group of specialists who said that because the tumour had not grown in five years, it is unlikely that it would do any harm, and they felt they would leave it where it was. I feel fortunate that I feel as good as I do today.
While I was in the hospital, the entire community had special masses for me, and prayed that I get better. I never knew I had so much support. While I was in the hospital, I learned that many patients go through the toughest times in their lives, through serious surgeries and tests; some live, some die, and many times, nobody gives a damn if they live or if they die. I promised myself that I would use this information to make a difference if I am able to. If I can get through this cancer scare, I will make a difference. I did make a difference!
When I recovered (I have feeling in most of my face, I can feel my ear sometimes, and my eye blinks as good as ever), I went back to school and gained knowledge in starting a non-profit volunteer group. I began a project called Friends Visiting Friends, where I united youth and community members with people living in retirement homes, and people in hospitals. The project was so successful that I received funding from the Federal government to get the project started in various communities in the area. That was in 2005, and the volunteer group still exists in many communities today, some eight years after I lay in a hospital bed, fearful that I would lose control of the right side of my face, or even worse, my life.
This experience changed the way I think, the way I live, and even the way I love. Prior to the surgery, I was not an active person in my community, choosing instead to keep to myself, and not volunteer for anything. I had trouble keeping relationships, and I had no desire to better myself through education. Since the surgery, I met the woman of my dreams, became a step-dad, went back to school, and I am an active volunteer in any cause that needs my help. I would say that this horrendous experience was about the best thing that ever happened to me. I will always believe that the good Lord had a hand in the miracle that I lived through.