Triple Whammy or How to Cope with Multiple Cancers: Part II Learn to Ride the Dragon, Written By HD
In my last installment I wrote about how I woke up from surgery not with one, but with two different primary cancers. A throat and a thyroid cancer. They call them primary when the cancers are not related to each other.
So, here I was, my overinflated male ego, so it seemed, needed something to brag about, and promptly I contracted not just one, but two of these damn things. Shit! Now what do I do?
Lots of things went initially through my head, and of course I was very confused. – Also I didn’t want to believe it. Why me? What have I done to deserve this?
Somewhere long ago I read about the five stages of grief:
- Denial and isolation
I think in the first few days after diagnosis I went through very similar feelings, and it took a while until I could say, OK, so I have to accept now what is going on inside me, now I need to somehow deal with it.
Also, I started to realized that I really did not know very much about cancer at all. – And that was something I could begin to change right away. – I had three friends/acquaintances who had similar throat cancers, so I arranged meetings or calls with them. I am also very fortunate to have a very good friend who is a physician, and she happens to be a breast cancer survivor herself. She filled in many blanks for me; and even better, she was able to give me emotional support because she had been there, had felt the doom and desperation, and had to cope with similar morbid “what if” questions.
Talking to other throat cancer patients was very illuminating indeed. One person didn’t want to know what the medical prognosis for his cancer was. He didn’t ask questions about the procedures. He didn’t care about possible side effects, or about pain management. He just wanted it to be treated, and have it over and done with. (Later I met a few more people who put their entire trust into the hands of the people who treated them.)
I, on the other hand, wanted to know. I wanted to understand, I wanted to learn, I wanted to be prepared (as much as that is possible), – I guess, I also wanted to be in control to some extent. So, I set out to learn from others.
And I am glad I did. I saved myself some grief. – When you have throat cancer the radiation treatment makes the inside of your throat sore like raw hamburger meat, and after a while you may not be able to get food down your throat at all. One of my interviewees told me that his doctor waited far too long to have a feeding tube (it is also called PEG) installed (they do that by putting a scope down your throat into your stomach, and then shine a strong light through the stomach wall so that the surgeon knows exactly where to poke the hole for the feeding tube into your stomach). So, back to the story, waiting so long made getting the guide scope down the poor mans throat almost impossible and extremely painful. – I immediately decided that I will have a feeding tube inserted prophylactically (meaning ahead of time in anticipation), even if I don’t need the thing at all. I too had to argue with my G.I. (gastroenterologist) doctor until he agreed to put the tube in way before it was needed. … And yes, it was needed.
Similarly, I insisted they implanted a “MediPort” under my skin, that was later able to receive the chemo therapy intravenous cocktails without the nurse having to find a good vein every time I needed chemo. Another thing I learned from other patients.
There were other valuable things I learned. For instance: taking strong pain medication (which I knew I would have to later) also means that one often gets a really bad case of constipation. So various stool softener solutions and pills were made part of my treatment plan. This little detail was not ever mentioned to me by any doctor, but one of the patients I talked to had that very unfortunate problem and was kind enough to point it out to me. Thanks, Chris!
One fascinating connection was mentioned to me by one patient, namely that the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) seems to be responsible for an increase in oral cancers in men and women. That is the same virus that causes cervical cancer in some women. – So, why the connection with throat cancers? – The answer? – Some scientists now think it is because of oral sex! – So, fellow gents (and ladies too), be careful out there, and practice safe sex and put a condom over your tongues.
The internet is of course a wonderful wealth of information, and boy, did I make use of that. (But there is also a lot of junk out there on the net, like homeopathic cancer treatments etc. – Please be selective and find sources you really trust) - Sometimes the medical websites are rather, well, medical mumbo with lots of jumbo. – If I didn’t understand something, my dear friend, the physician, was nice enough to patiently explain it to me in plain English.
Rather than blindly trusting that the doctors would do the right thing for me, I became informed, and what was even more important to me, I became part of the decision making process, and thus part of the solution. That in turn had great uplifting psychological effects on me. See, the danger that you know something about, is much easier to fight, than the great dark unknown.
So, through learning as much as I possibly could about this cancer monster, I gradually learned how to ride the dragon. Was I scared? Oh, you bet I was! – But I strongly believe I was less frightened about the things that were to unfold than I would have been had I not done my research.
In the next installment I would like to talk about how important a support system is. Please join me here at Dear Thyroid for that.
Please let me know in comments how you feel about being educated vs. trusting your doctors with everything? Is it easier when you know? (even if the knowledge is as scary as hell), or do you prefer to be in the dark? Doctor knows best? — People are very different and have different needs. Knowledge worked for me.
Here is to your health!
HD in Oregon
P.S.: You may wonder why I am talking so much about the throat cancer, rather than the thyroid cancer, or that other cancer that I haven’t even mentioned yet (other than in the title of this series). – Well, to me, the throat cancer was the most immediate, and the most dangerous to my life. Also it was complex to fight: I had surgery, radiation treatment and chemo for it. And since papillary thyroid cancer is so slow growing, my doctors agreed that its treatment could wait till the throat cancer battle was more more under control. – As for the third cancer, this happened a little later, and I will get into how it feels when a previous double cancer diagnosis, is followed by yet another one. Talking about slapping a fellow when he is down. Whamm. – Stay tuned for that.
Tags: 5 stages of grief post cancer diagnosis, advocating for yourself, HPV causing oral cancer, Learn To Ride The Dragon, Part II, primary cancers, proactive patient care, speaking to other cancer patients regarding treatment, throat cancer, thyroid cancer, Triple Whammy Or How To Cope with Multiple Cancers, waking up from surgery with multiple cancers, Written By HD In Oregon