I have cancer.
I know I should call a bunch of people to let them know but saying it to someone the first time is really hard. I am a pretty emotional person and after a few test runs, I know how that turns out. ;(
So here it is: I have oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (OSCC) that appears to have started in my left tonsil. It is also in my lymph node next to the tonsil. That is all they see on the CT scan so let's hope that remains true after the PET scan.
Our Journey So Far
I had a physical a few weeks ago. Blood pressure was good. Blood looked better than it has in at least five years. The doctor said he thought I might have a little swelling in my tonsil and thought I should see an ENT doctor. Spring Break was coming so I scheduled it for the Monday after, back to back with my dermatologist visit. I have always expected any cancer scare to come from a dermatologist. Had a really positive exam and almost no worrrisome spots. A couple of small spots that had to be frozen but no biopsies.
I headed over to the ENT. Three minutes into the exam, he said, "That tonsil really worries me." He poked and prodded a little then decided to take a better look with the scope. After a quick look he told me I also had a cracked tooth on that side. After feeling the lymph node on the left side, he said he was 75% sure it was cancerous. I had been sitting in the exam room less than ten minutes when he told me he was it was cancer. My head was spinning.
The next thing he did was the key to me keeping my head together. He said, 'It is probably cancer. You have never smoked or drank so the cure rate is very high, probably greater than 90%. If it is virus-positive, the outcomes are even better. Let's hope it is not cancer but we are going to start preparing like it is cancer.
- ordered a stat CT scan
- told me to get the tooth pulled as soon as I could
- scheduled a follow up for Wednesday to biopsy the tonsil
- called in referrals to a Radiation Oncologist and regular Oncologist
After scheduling the follow-up, I walked to my car and started the drive back to the house to tell Jennifer. I felt like the only person on the planet. I have never felt that isolated in my life. To get that kind of news and know you were 15 minutes from telling it to the most important person in your world...I felt like I was floating in space. Visions of Sandra Bullock in Gravity popped into my head. Luckily, I remembered to breathe before I passed out and drove my car in the ditch.
When Jennifer saw me, she immediately knew something was wrong. "Why are you home?"
I told her to come sit down and I talked. Then we cried. Then we cried some more. Then we started planning. What's next? Then what? Time to get moving.
I scheduled an appointment for my CT scan that afternoon. They were able to get me in quick. CT Scan...check. Meanwhile, while the ENT was looking at me with the scope he saw a cracked tooth and told me I should get that taken out as soon as possible. Can't start radiation if you don't have good oral health (a whole post about that later). I have never been diligent about dental appointments. I know it is stupid but I don't like them. Luckily, Jen and the kids are perfect patients and our dentist and staff love them. She called the scheudiling folks and, miraculously, the got me into an oral surgeon in South Austin for Tuesday morning. Amazing.
I headed out to the CT scan. In and out pretty quick. Found out I am not allergic to contrast dye. That is good news because I think there plenty of that in my future.
Back to the house in time to gather my thoughts for a bit before the kids arrived home from school. I was newly terrified at the idea of sharing this news with my kids.
Sidebar: Jen and I had to have a really serious talk about whether to tell the kids or wait on the CT or biopsy. This was probably the toughest decision of the day. I knew they could handle but being a high school sophomore is incredibly high stress. Taking on this news was going to be tough. We have always tried to be as hones with our kids as we could. This was not the time to back away from that.
They arrived home and we tried to keep everything light. Jen was putting dinner together and they were snacking and unpacking. I couldn't have picked a worse moment. Just as Jen put our nachos in the oven, I started the conversation. It went pretty well. If you want to talk about it, reach out to me. The internet is not the place to discuss my kids' private lives.
But, in a moment of comedy relief, I said, "I think the nachos are burning." Truly a sitcom moment. Jen ran over and they were very crisp (a few of the chips were a little ashy around the edges). I think the laugh saved us all from many more tears. As we ate dinner, talked, laughed, and answered the kids' questions, I think we turned the corner toward working the plan. There will still be hard days and tears but Day 1 is in the books.