This may sound a bit strange after all that has transpired, but on Wednesday, March 17, 2010, although my diagnosis has been out in the open now for 2 months and 15 days…It hit me…and I realized, I mean truly realized that I have Cancer. How is it possible that I have been through all of the steps and just now can admit to myself, that I have Cancer?
After undergoing a painful biopsy and the 8 grueling days awaiting the results, receiving “the call”, scheduling appointments for and completing a CT Scan and an EKG; meeting with the first Head & Neck Oncologist to determine a plan, going under anesthesia for a pre-op exploratory procedure, taking a leave of absence from work, moving from one end of the state to the other to move back in with my parents while undergoing treatment; sitting in on 2 more consults to find the right surgeon, a blood draw to check my cell count, a chest x-ray, 2 more blood draws to ensure the correct blood type in case a blood transfusion was needed during surgery, traveling to the Bay area for the surgery, spending the last evening with my family before the big day, arriving at the hospital at 6 a.m. to prepare for surgery, undergoing 2 hours of preparation for the surgery, walking the endless hall to the operating room, laying down on the ice cold table, going to sleep for 7 1/2 hours, feeding tube, 5 days in the hospital, a liquid diet due to the inability to chew and fully swallow, the long sleepless nights, the damaged speech, the endless telephone calls, texts, cards and gifts; one follow-up appointment with my surgeon and now this…my first meeting with the radiation doctor.
It’s amazing to think that God has designed our bodies to protect our brain, our emotions and our hearts during a stressful time by slowly dispensing truth at a rate that we can more appropriately digest the news. Can you imagine having to deal with all of the emotions at one time? In 2005, I earned a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology, so it’s pretty obvious to me that I am working my way through the stages of grief. The stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance of the situation. In school, we learned all about it as applied to a person when there is a death of someone close to them. In my experience, grief surrounds us more often than we realize, and we have to learn to cope with all types of changes; changes in the form of a job loss, the end of a relationship, moving, empty nest, etc…these are all forms of loss with which we deal on a daily basis.
What astounds me; however, is the fact that for the majority of the past 2 1/2 months, I have spent floating in the “denial stage.” It’s not that I haven’t felt the pain or allowed myself to experience the feelings, it’s just that up until now, I haven’t really felt anything but a “let’s get in there and get’er done” attitude. I’ve been so caught up in doing and fixing that I haven’t fully felt sad or angry or depressed or a need to curl up in a ball and never leave my room.
But there I was on Wednesday, sitting in a room with a doctor who specializes in radiation, explaining all of the potential side effects of further treatment; the disturbance of my taste buds, developing sores in my mouth, the destruction of my salivary glands, potenial dental problems in the future, another feeding tube, a need for a morphine drip because of the level of pain, and possible secondary cancer down the road…when it hit me…I was pissed off and scared beyond belief! And I was immediately overcome with a deep sadness and an immense feeling of loneliness. The tiny room was filled with the doctor, myself and my parents, but it felt as if there was not a person in the world who could understand the agony of my situation. This obviously is not true as everyone on my online support group can testify to their own personal struggles with this unpredictable disease, but it felt that way, nonetheless.
The confusing thing about my current situation is that from the pathology reports, there is no evidence of any further cancer, which we’re all grateful for; however, the reason the doctors are debating the need for radiation is that the tumor was situated directly on top of a nerve. The tumor was invading the branches of that nerve which apparently makes it a very aggressive cancer, and the nerve can act as a highway to other areas, including through my mouth, up my jaw and finally, into my brain. So, while there is no clear cut reason to do further treatment, by completing the radiation, the doctor is saying that it’s a more definite way to make sure that particular nerve has been cleared. The difficulty lies in coupling the side effects with my young age, and we’re receiving no absolute consensus, either way, from all of the physicians associated with my case. In addition, I have a fear that if I don’t pursue further treatment, it’s just a matter of time before it comes back, but I’m also concerned that if I choose to complete the radiation that I will not have that as an option if the cancer does re-appear.
So many questions, endless emotions and not enough answers, and at this point, there’s not really anyone who can make the decision but me.