Monday, June 15, 2009

The cancer finals

Why Lakers fans would celebrate winning a championship title by looting stores, torching police cars, and marching up a freeway onramp is a real head-scratcher to me.

I sure hope I keep my enthusiasm in check when my doctors give me the good news that my cancer is in remission. "Man Loots Comic Book Store, Tries to Lift MTA Bus Following Cancer Clearance": that's not going to play so well on Eyewitness News.

I fully expect to trounce cancer in this fight for my health, but I don't see myself lighting firecrackers on the sidewalk outside Kaiser Sunset in the immediate future.

Lately it has felt like cancer has the ball and I've been on the defense. Last week, I started to get scared about the spreading numbness in my face, lack of mobility of my mouth, and the increasing pain in my jaw.

Rather than wait for my next scheduled appointment with Dr. B1, my head and neck doctor, I emailed his office and described my symptoms, and told him that I wanted to see him sooner.

I got into his clinic on Friday morning before going to work.

I hear other people complain about feeling rushed during their doctor's visits, but Dr. B1 has always made me feel that he has as much time for me as I need. If anything, I'm the one who tries to rush through my appointments with him, by preparing detailed lists of all of my symptoms and writing out questions in advance of showing up in his clinic.

When Dr. B1 walked into the exam room on Friday, I thrust my legal pad into his hands and watched his expression as he read.

After reading what I had prepared, Dr. B1 felt my neck and face and asked me where I felt pain. He couldn't see much by looking into my mouth because I barely can open it, but he dropped the fiberoptic camera down my nostrils and got a look at my tongue and throat through the back door.

Dr. B1's theory is that radiation therapy damaged my mandibular and inferior alveolar nerves, and that is what is causing the numbness and the rigid jaw. This isn't unexpected; in order to rout out cancer cells, radiation can damage healthy cells. Some of these cells will repair themselves over time, but it's too soon to determine what will happen in my case.

In the book by Gilda Radner that I just finished, she writes about about having similar numbness in her legs following her treatments. My facial numbness is uncomfortable and often painful, but at least I still have mobility. It's also a good thing that I can get nutrients and my HIV medication into my body through my G-tube, because there's no way I would be able to get anything in my mouth in this condition.

Dr. B1 also pointed out that my most recent MRI showed decreased fat in my mandible (jawbone), and that is another consequence of being radiated in my face. At least that MRI shows that my jawbone is in alignment with my gender. I'd have a lot of questions for my docs if what showed up on my MRI was a womandible.

Dr. B1 said that he could order more imaging tests to get a closer look at my face, but with a PET scan just around the corner, it would be best to hang tight for those results.

I guess I was naive in believing that the worst of my symptoms were behind me after I concluded radiation and chemotherapy. Here I am, more than two months after my treatments concluded, and side effects are still wreaking havoc.

So it looks like my fight against cancer is going into overtime, gang, and then after that I may be looking at an extended playoff season.

I'll keep my firecrackers dry for as long as it takes.

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