Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Recovery in slow-mo

Cancer has fled the scene without leaving a forwarding address, but I still have regular pit stops with my Kaiser providers to monitor my recovery.

And so the month that began buoyantly with my doctors' pronouncement that I am cancer-free ended on Monday on a flat note, with my doctors acknowledging that I'm likely to be saddled with the side effects from radiation and chemotherapy treatments for longer than I would like.

My appointment in Kaiser's Radiation Oncology Department was my first visit there in nearly two months. The last time I was in Radiation Oncology was a real downer. I learned that my Jacko PET scan –so dubbed because it took place the day that Michael Jackson died– showed lingering signs of cancer activity, despite the barrage of treatments I had in February and March.

Even though that PET scan was disproved by my biopsy in July, Monday's visit was not exactly celebratory.

The pace of my recovery from radiation and chemotherapy is stubbornly slow. At times, it seems that I haven't made any progress at all over the past five months. My mouth barely can open; the pain in my face continues; I still have no feeling at all in parts of chin and jaw.

Dr. Chen, the lead doctor in Radiation Oncology, told me on Monday that we just have to wait and see how things go. Before giving me a chance to reply, Dr. Chen added, "I know you must be tired of hearing me say that."

I am. But I knew even before treatments began that the side effects could be severe and slow in diminishing –possibly, the damage from treatments will be permanent.

I didn't walk out of Monday's visit empty-handed. Dr. Chen said that I could resume exercising the mobility of my jaw. While I already have a TheraBite mouthpiece designed for these exercises, Dr. Chen recommends that I stick Popsicle sticks in my mouth for now. He even gave me a starter set, which saves me the trouble of buying a box of Popsicles and tossing out the part you eat.

I'll start with one Popsicle stick, and then add more if I think my mouth can handle it.

By the time of my next visit with Dr. Chen, I hope to make real progress. Eventually I hope to become the Jack LaLanne of Popsicle-stick calisthenics, and then move on to complete Popsicles.

And after that? Frisbees.

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