As any cancer patient knows – any in treatment, or out of treatment, for months or even years – you’re never that far from the disease. It’s like walking back from the precipice – that even though you’ve survived, you’ve seen it and you know that edge is there. You can turn your back and get your distance – but you never lose that sense of anxiety, that fear of falling.
I don’t think about cancer all the time and I’m not the disease – but I do tend to live in between appointments. When a reminder pops up that I have a followup exam due in a few days, I usually hold my breath and opinion until the doc gives me an all clear.
But like last week, sometimes the message is a bit mixed. A CAT scan from this past October revealed a progressive condition called osteolysis at the base of my skull, the site where the tumor – and the radiation target – had been located. The problem I’ve developed is fallout from the treatments, when the blood supply to healthy tissue is permanently compromised. And that leads to an unintended consequence of cell death, or, more medically noted, necrosis. Or, more roughly, bone death.
My ENT doc was concerned but he wanted to take a watch-and-wait attitude. That was in September. I trusted him so didn’t question his judgement – although his body language set off an internal alarm. Two things cancer patients become very sensitive to is tone of voice and posture of their caregivers.
When I became entangled in a billing dispute with the hospital this February, I requested a copy of the doctor’s notes and the radiology report. That’s when I read the diagnosis of osteolysis and the fact that it had progressed since a year earlier.
My oncologist last Thursday was not so reserved in his response to the report when I showed him a copy. I had already researched the condition and was aware of the threat of necrosis since that’s common among head and neck cancer patients, especially when they have injuries to their jawbones. Since the blood flow to the bone is compromised, the bone never heals and actually degrades from the trauma. Something as relatively routine as pulling a bad tooth can lead to major complications.
For me, this is all at once strangely fascinating and a bit frightening. Like staring over that edge into the canyon.
So the agreement is to go for hyperbaric oxygen treatment where I’m placed into a pressurized environment to force more oxygen into my tissues. And thereby stalling the decay in the bone. All I can think of is Lloyd Bridges in Sea Hunt. But that odd joke of memory is more from age than disease.
This Friday, I’ll go thru a complete PET scan to confirm there is no evidence of cancer – something that my oncologist is confident about. But we have to be 100% certain since the treatment can feed not only healthy cells, but any rogue cancerous growths that might be present.
Next Tuesday, I have an appointment to review my case with a physician at a treatment facility local to where I live. I’ll also get a chance to tour the chamber facility to rearrange the mental furniture to undergo six weeks of treatments, five days a week, thirty sessions in all.
So not exactly a set back – more a side road. Yet… still unsettling to drive so close to that nearby edge…
Looking Over The Edge
by DM Parker