I don't have any profound writing in me today, so this is just an update.
We consulted with the Head & Neck Oncology Surgeon (one of the best in the country) last Friday, and we are all in agreement that the remaining lump in my neck needs to be surgically removed. I'm four weeks post treatment now, and it is still the size of a small almond.
The doctor explained that this surgery is made a little trickier because we're doing it after radiation, so the skin and the tissues involved aren't in tip-top shape; this will likely prolong my recovery period slightly, too. He then went on to say quite casually that he will remove the lump, the lymph nodes surrounding the lump, and my jugular vein on that side.
My brain went white at this news, and I placed a hand gingerly on my neck.
"Isn't the jugular vein something you need?" I asked, fearfully.
"Nope," he answered, calmly. "You don't need two, and we're just taking one of them. In fact, it used to be standard procedure to remove the jugular vein during this procedure, now we only do it depending on the placement of the mass".
Right. Whew. For a second I was concerned. READ: sarcasm
I will have another CT scan and pre-op physical the week before the surgery, which is scheduled for April 4th. The external skin on my neck is completely healed, at least as far as I can see, but I still have a lot of internal mouth/throat pain from sores/burns, so those will need to heal up more for us to stay on track and have surgery on the 4th.
I will be in the hospital for two or three days, and then likely in full recovery mode for a couple of weeks after that.
These are all the facts, all straightforward and simple-sounding. They don't touch how I feel about all this, which I'm still trying to sort through.
I'm mostly tired. Emotionally tired. I'm tired of feeling like there's just one more thing between me and recovery. I'm tired of worrying. The fact that the chemo and radiation didn't fully destroy the tumor worries me. The surgery, while I'm in the best hands possible, sounds draconian and scary to me. The voices that whisper bad outcomes to me are harder to keep at bay.
I'm tired of pain. The inside of my mouth and throat are in near-constant pain. The medication I take helps a lot, but it doesn't get rid of all of it (which I'm grateful for, actually, because I do not feel like a drooling vegetable on this pain medication). I still receive most of my calories through the feeding tube, but on occasion I have a drinkable yogurt, cream of wheat or some finely diced scrambled eggs. I can only drink water and - interestingly - Pepsi - comfortably.
Basically, this has been going on since early October (when I found the lump) and I'm Just. Plain. Tired.
It's hard to sustain strength, hope and positivity that long. The longer this goes on, the more my worrying gets a foothold. Did I mention I'm also tired of worrying?
There is one thing I'm not, though, and for this I'm grateful. Despite how this post may sound, I'm not feeling sorry for myself ... feeling like "why me?". I haven't felt that way once through this whole thing. It's my turn, and I'm going to stand up and face it without whining about the unfairness of it all. This sort of thing is NEVER fair - why would it be more fair to wish that it happened to someone other than me?
And so I'm in a waiting period, again. I'm hoping that my mouth/throat do heal enough to allow me to have surgery on the 4th. In the meantime, I will do what I've been doing: sleeping, reading, making jewelry and praying.
I did end up losing most of my hair in the end. After radiation was complete, which was a real kick-in-the-pants. I'm not bald on top, but it's so thin there is very little I can do with it but wait for it to grow out. There is too much hair on top for a wig, but not enough hair on the bottom to NOT look like a cancer patient.
For some reason I wrote that last paragraph with tears streaming down my face. That's how close to the edge I am these days.
On a positive note, though? Yesterday my Mom took me shopping and I slip easily into a size that I haven't worn since high school. I'm not gaunt - at least not yet - but I am damn skinny and it's nice to walk into a store and have every. damn. thing. look good on me.
So that is where I am. Thank you all for listening to me, for hanging in there with me. It helps to vent it all here, although I'm also tired of coming here and writing about cancer.
Someday I will write about what it's like on the other side of cancer, though, right? Right?
That is my wish.