People like to complain about how specific years suck. “2019 was the worst year ever and I can’t wait for it to be over” type of sentiment and I never subscribed to that. It’s not the calendar’s fault and personifying the year as something vengeful out to get you never sat well with me. Having said that my 2019 did suck because of health issues.
Long story, but I was feeling unwell since the spring and thought maybe it was heart related. After all, I am a 51 year old, heavier guy, who sits at a desk job most of the time. I saw my doctor and we started to run some tests. Nothing came back indicating anything was wrong with my heart, but I did notice a small pea-sized nodule near my thyroid that we decided to check out.
At first inspection (via ultrasound) it was decided that it was nothing of overt concern and that it wasn’t on my thyroid but in my lymph nodes. They said we’ll re-scan it in 3 months and see if there has been any change. Fast forward to July and the original nodule hadn’t changed much but I noticed a second one coming up in the side of my neck. Both were deemed “reactive” after an ultrasound, as in they weren’t big enough to set off warning bells, but my family doctor decided to send me for a biopsy.
Due to a host of issues the scheduling of the biopsy got dragged out and put off for the whole month of August. Meanwhile the nodules in the side of my neck got decidedly worse. By the time I saw a specialist in September I was beside myself with anxiety and worry what was going on not to mention that my body was out of whack with stress. The ENT doctor took one look at me and my state and said quite scarily “I don’t know what this is, but we’re going to stick a needle in it right now.” One of the delays had been my family doctor wanted to send me for a aspiration biopsy but the ENT wanted a core biopsy and my family doctor couldn’t order one, it had to come from the ENT. In the end it was the simple aspiration biopsy that the ENT performed in his clinic that got me the cancer diagnosis 4 days later. Funnily enough never once did I suspect it might be cancer. Maybe I was just in denial.
So on Sept 20th I got the diagnosis that I had cancer in my lymph nodes and on Sept 24th, I became a cancer patient at the North East Cancer Centre in Sudbury, Ontario. To say the process was overwhelming is an understatement. I was already stressed out long before the diagnosis. That first week of being a cancer patient was information overload. Getting diagnosed – it had spread to my lymph nodes from my tonsil. Being told what the treatment involved – 7 weeks of daily radiation and three rounds of chemo. Being told about the short and long term side effects and all the risks. At this point I hadn’t gotten a CT Scan to determine the extent of the cancer, nor had I had a proper biopsy to confirm whether it was caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Adding to my stress I was still working full time through this while we waiting for treatment to start.
Again due to scheduling and waiting for all these diagnostics to line up before a treatment plan could be devised took some time and I started treatment on Oct 21st almost a full month after getting diagnosed. Thus began my 7 weeks of treatment that just recently ended in early December. I could fill several blog posts with all the ups and downs of treatment, but suffice it to say it was an ordeal that I am still recovering from. The only saving grace was the fact I was able to partake in a clinical drug study that was in its final stages for a drug that decreased the effect of oral mucositis, which is the breakdown of tissues in your mouth due to the chemotherapy and radiation. Without the drug I would have had a even harder time eating and swallowing than I did.
So that was my 2019, which felt like it was consumed by this diagnosis and treatment. I am only now beginning to surface for air and feel like I am getting part of my life back. The road to recovery is still long and I won’t have any definitive answer whether they treatment was effective until a few months post treatment. The good news is that the cancer was HPV related which means the prospects of treating it are better than if it was not. Right now its a wait and see game.
I can’t thank everyone enough who has been there through this for me. My family, friends, co-workers, the health care providers. Here’s to hoping 2020 continues the road to recovery.