Ask the Guy Who Had Cancer this Year

Oh, and screw 2017, anyway.

So earlier this year I was diagnosed with cancer. Throat cancer on my left tonsil. It was - I hope you’ll understand - a bit of a life-changing experience. If anyone noticed I wasn’t moderating as much as normal this would be why. And thanks to my fellow mods for picking up the slack.

Anyway, I want to sort of get it all straight in my head. So I thought an ‘Ask the…’ thread might help me do that. I hope you people can help me sort things out a bit and maybe we can all learn something. But I do think it’d be helpful for me.

So ask away.

Did you get Radiation Therapy? I’m in school right now for radiation therapy and we treated an inmate with cancer of the tonsil that was untreated for way, way too long. They couldn’t perform surgery due to the size, I’m not exaggerating when I say it looked like the guy was growing a second head.

What symptom took you to the Dr and led to diagnosis?

How long did your treatment last? How uncomfortable was it? Are you still on medication?

Any insurance nightmares, or was it pretty simple?

I had both chemo and radiation therapy. I asked about surgery - hell, I still had my tonsils and sure didn’t need them - but was told it wasn’t a good idea. Why? I had no clue and would welcome explanation.

Radiation therapy is a bear to go through.

Believe it or not I was at my GP to get a vaccination for my youngest girl. The doc told me I was swollen and was it uncomfortable? I’d no idea my left jawline was swollen up. He took a picture with my phone and showed it to me. Dang if it wasn’t.

He prescribed some antibiotics and it went down. A month or so later it was back and we did another round. When it came back the second time - we’re about 3-4 months out at this point - he ordered a CAT scan, stat. They had me on the table in less than an hour and a prelim diagnosis of cancer an hour after that. A PETscan later confirmed the diagnosis and I went on disability right away.

No insurance nightmares until the end. In November I had finished treatment several months ago and my main oncologist - I had two oncologists, my GP and a ENT managing my treatment - ordered a follow up PETscan to see if the treatment had gotten it all. The insurance company denied that as ‘not medically necessary’. It took a few weeks for my oncologist talking to them to get it approved. Once it was they rushed it.

No meds now. The radiation guy prescribed oxycodone for pain and I balked at it. I lived for year in appalachia and it scares me. I tried to get by on ibuprofen and determination.

From my understanding it can depend on the location and how much vasculature is there with regards to doing surgery. There can be a risk of too much blood loss. Also the capsule of the tumor can rupture during removal and cause “surgical seeding” where cancer cells can be spread and cause metastasis in other parts of the body. Sometimes we will give radiation to a patient in an effort to shrink a tumor so the patient will be able to have surgery later.

Well, this part I can certainly sympathize with. Not that I had the Big C, but it still blew donkey balls.

The good news is…it ain’t over yet! :smiley: 2017 has a little over three more weeks to screw with me! :D:):o:(
So you didn’t feel anything “wrong?” Nothing to make you say, “I need to see a Doctor about this?”

Reason I ask: both mother and grandmother died of throat cancer. Or treatments for throat cancer, they maybe a photo-finish, I don’t know. G’ma felt ill, went to see a Doc, but by then it was really too late.

Mom lost her voice of all things, thought it was some kind of infection, went to her ENT, and hilarity ensued.

What kind of follow up do you have now? Any meds? Regular scans?

My gosh. I had no idea. How do you feel now?

Well, that makes sense, I suppose. But given how rough being in treatment was I might have made the choice and taken my chances. I believe my first instinct was to tell them, “Get a fucking melonballer and get it out of me!”

On discovery the actual tumor was about a millimeter or so in diameter. It had killed a lymph node - that’s scary, by the way - that cause a swelling of 29 millimeters. That’s what my doctor told me, anyway.

There was shrinkage, Jer! My CATscan at the end of treatment - I ended August 2nd - showed the swelling had shrunk to 11 millimeters.

I felt nothing. At no point was I aware something was going on in there until the GP saw it and got curious.

I sure felt things afterwards, but that was mostly due to treatment. The side effects were rough and some are still ongoing. My voice is still rough - my clients comment on it almost every day - and my throat still gets sore.

My radiation oncologist warned me it would be rough. I believe his quote was, “It’s going to feel like the worst sunburn ever and it’s going to be on the inside.” He wasn’t kidding.

Be better, Tank. Live the dream.

I was pronounced ‘cancer free’ following my last PETscan. Instead of just doing my head they did everything head to toe. Because of that, I’m on a regime of a scan every six months for three years and it’ll be reevaluated then.

They’re very cautious to tell me I can’t say I’m ‘cured’. I’m in remission and they won’t say cure until I’ve been cancer-free for five years.

An appropriate XKCD.

I think I can speak for all Dopers: I’m sorry you went through this, I’m thrilled you seem to be doing okay, and I really appreciate your telling your story and answering questions.

Honestly, shaky. Each day is apparently a random assortment of side effects. Sore throat and raspy voice, sure. But I still have trouble eating - I literally spent four months eating nothing but whole milk and Carnation Instant Breakfast - and that’s continued my weight loss. I’m down 85 pounds in six months, now. It’s slowed - no longer 20 pounds a month - but it’s still clear I’m not getting enough calories. Not eating for that long shrunk my stomach and I try to have several small meals but even that is a challenge. That’s what leaves me shaky.

My hands shake and the tips of my fingers on my left hand are numb from what’s called chemo-caused neuropathy. It’s rough to be like this. I’ve always been a go-getter who can knock down any obstacle. It’s been humbling to be so weak that I spent whole days doing literally nothing but staying in bed.

Thanks for the kind words.

I tried to keep a positive outlook. I posted each day’s treatment to FaceBook once it got out there among my friends and found the support there very good for morale. But I won’t lie, some days weren’t all that and a bad of chips - if I can use a cliche - and I could get pretty down in the dumps.

The worst day of all was Memorial Day. I’d been going through rounds of tests trying to determine whether it was cancer at all. Different doctors kept saying different things. One even told me he thought it might Cat Scratch Disease. No kidding, that appears to be a real thing. No luck, though.

Anyway, Memorial Day I’d had my PETscan to make the final determination. I was awaiting results that wouldn’t come until next week. I largely single-parent two girls and they had friends over for the long weekend. I stayed in my office - browsing here, mostly - and quietly lost my nerve where they couldn’t see or hear.

Do you know what kind of cancer you had?

A friend’s dog had squamous cell carcinoma of the tonsil, which carried a very poor prognosis.

Glad you got through it and hope the next year is healthier and happier.

No questions, but very sorry that you went through this, and glad the cancer appears to be gone. Best wishes on your continued recovery!

Hell of a thing to go through, JC. But I’m glad you’re here to tell the tale. Be well and best wishes to you and yours for 2018 and beyond.

I’m not sure on the medical terminology. I’m sure I was told but it was sort of a blur.

I had a form of throat cancer caused by the HPV-16 virus. The same one that gives women cervical cancer - which my ex-wife had about 10 years ago there’s a thread about it - gives men throat cancer. I’m told it’s becoming more common.

I have trouble believing this but the ENT told me it primary appears in middle aged men who don’t smoke or drink. I qualify on all of those criteria. So much for clean living and pass me a beer.

I was also told that the ten-year survival rate with treatment is 90%+. Given that I’m a 50-year-old guy I actually wonder what the ten-year survival rate for your average guy is at my age.

Still, I’ll take good numbers like that. Far better than the opposite.