Friday, May 21, 2010

5. THE BATTLE - The process

Michael W. Davis

“The Battle” is a series of articles related to my real life trip through a minefield to survive cancer. My purpose is to share my thoughts in the hope others may find counsel in the journey.

It is my belief that much of fear is derived from uncertainty. From the outside looking inward, the mind will play with your emotions, amplify the true negative implications of things you have never experienced before. I know that was the case for me. Each time I sunk deeper into the halls of the medical process to cure my cancer, a new procedure or process would be inserted into my schedule and for days I would ponder the scope of the new experience. For that reason, I will share my perception of the actual solution process to outcast the demon from my throat. This article is very direct so if you want to remain in the dark, you might pass it by. For each step in the process, I will provide my assessment of the degree (0-10) of yuck (pain/discomfort) that I endured.

Nose probes – To explore why my voice had disappeared, the throat doctor inserted an optical tube into my nostril and extended it down into my throat. They enter the nose because of the gag reflex. I had heard all kinds of horror stories about this procedure, but my first nose probe was only a 1 on the yuck scale. I felt nothing going in and only a slight movement coming out, no pain at all. The doctor clearly had the gift. He did use a numbing squirt in my nose ten minutes before insertion and that worked very will. The second nose probe was by a different doctor and he did NOT use a nose spray. This time my misery rose to a level 6. I’m going to talk to this doctor next time and strongly encourage the nose spray. I don’t lament nose probes now if I know they are going to use the numbing spray.

Needles – I’ve always been one that hated needles. By the second week, I had been poked so often, it became routine. I would just sit down, extend my hand, “Here” turn my head, and that was it. The yuck factor declined from 6 to 1 after the first six intrusions.

PET scan – I had heard real horror stories on this one. For me personally, there was very little discomfort except that derived from my large shoulders. I was required to wear a straight jacket device on my arms which was slightly discomforting after 30 minutes but no real big deal. I had also heard that the isotope they shoot into your body burned; not for me. I felt nothing. Even the medieval restraining mask was a piece of cake. I closed my eyes and could breathe fine. I would put this as a 2 yuck a meter only because of the problem for me to go 40 minutes without a nature call. I’ve decided next time to tell them I need a nature call half way in and I’m sure they will accommodate. I no longer lament PET test now that I’ve experienced one.

Chemo treatments – I had been told that chemo treatments could be rough because many become nauseous from the treatment. In my particular case, the chemo was administered once every three weeks for the purpose of enhancing the effectiveness of the radiation treatment against the tumor. I was given medicine before the treatment to fight off nausea. For 6 hours I sat in a lounge chair with about 25 other people lined in a row as three liters of liquid was dripped into my veins. There was no discomfort. You are allowed to work on your laptop as wife and family sit by your side. The nurses and doctors were truly compassionate, understand what you’re going through and did every thing they could to easy the mental anguish. Other than being hooked to a tube for 6 hours, this was a 1 on the yuck scale and I did not lament follow on treatments. The process may be applied differently at other facilities or for other forms of cancer but this was nothing (negative) like I expected. You do have to monitor yourself post treatments since, I presume some, toss their cookies, and the doctors become extremely worried about such incidences (dehydration). For that reason we spent the night of chemo treatments at a local motel near the hospital since they warned if things came up, we should race to the hospital. In terms of my reaction to the chemo, I will admit that I’ve never experienced anything so difficult in my life. For 7 days, everything that touched my lips, every smell made me gag, even with four different medicines in my body to fight that reaction. I also sleep 20 to 22 hours a day. Each chemo treatment became worst and when coupled with the burning in my throat, it was difficult to crawl to the top of the mountain near the end of my treatments, but I will. This part of the experience I would classify as 10 on the yuck scale. Note that many chemos do not cause this reaction at all and are barely registered by the patient’s body, but not mine.

Radiation treatments – In my case, I received 8 x-ray bursts ranging from 14 to 42 seconds 5 days a week for 8 weeks. I would lie on a table with a mask formed specifically to my ugly face and clamped to a rig in the table to immobilize my head (any movements would be a major no-no). In preparation for these treatments, every person I know, every doctor I saw, expressed those treatments would be a dip into the pits of hell, and they were right. The reason? The x-rays literally burn the flesh outside and inside your throat; a very tender part of your body essential to the daily function of eating and drinking. The mask is to minimize collateral tissue damage, but it still occurs. The side of your neck exposed to the beam experiences severe sunburn and your throat becomes sore to such an extent that they install a feeding tube in your stomach to bypass your throat. Experience has show that many patients suffer to such an extent, they refuse to swallow and stop taking in food or liquids. The tube is installed prior to the treatments as a contingency in case you shut down your intake. Was the pain as bad as every one predicted? Hard to believe, but yes, it was horrendous. By the final series of burns and chemo, I didn’t really know who I was anymore. My entire existence had diminished to surviving another hour of razor blades in my throat, and every 30 minutes stopping my violent coughing sessions which in turn would lead to a severe gagging response. This too became a 10 on the yuck scale near the end.

Esophageal penetration – From start to finish I encountered two sedated (in hospital) insertions of equipment down deep into my esophagus or stomach. I expected this to be about a 5 yuck factor, but afterward I would rate this as a 2. I was put to sleep and other than a significant sore throat for one day, it was minor. I did find the stomach tube discomforting. It was always there and difficult to protect during showers. I became sensitive to movement of my center torso because I was physically aware of its presents. I did not like the stomach tube at all.

I’ve tried to provide a fair assessment of the process and discomfort I experienced during my four month treatment period (from diagnosis of cancer to post processing). The next post will be the last in the series and offer my take on the ultimate cost (impact) to myself and wife to cure my cancer and to deal with post treatment side affects. Till than, have a good month.


linda_rettstatt said...

Wow, Mike. You've been through the mill, and with such a positive attitude. Your sharing could ease others who are facing this same experience.

Big Mike said...

That was my hope, Linda. Course remember, we each have a public and a private face. You have my word that I had some real down days, especially the last six weeks when the affects of chemo and the throat scorch began to accumulate. I'll spare everyone the gory details but there were days you wonder, "is it all worth it." Now that its over, the only answer that comes to mind as I play with my grand daughter is "HELL YEAH".


Carol said...
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