There is really no other conclusion to be reached. I was pretty bad at surgery when they placed my PEG tube but I have been even worse at it this time.
I had a couple of surgeries at one time:
- The GI doctor tried to peform the balloon expansion of my esophagus but the smallest scope and balloon would still not fit. After a couple of tries, they decided to reschedule another procedure for October 23rd to try again with a scope and balloon designed for newborns. When I woke up and they told me I was incredibly disappointed but that was not the number one goal for the day.
- The surgeon removed the area around my left tonsil (the original source of my cancer) to make sure there were no cancer cells in the surrounding tissue. While I was in surgery, he sent samples of flesh from the edge of area to the lab and they were able to confirm - NO remaining cancer cells in that area. He sent the rest of what was removed from my throat to an outside lab for biopsy. They were able to confirm there were no cancer cells remaining anywhere inside my throat.
- Next, he made an incision from behind my left ear, down the side of my neck, and across the front of my throat just above the clavicle about an inch or so past the adam's apple. It is kinda gross so rather than make everyone look at it I posted it here for those that want to see it. They removed a few dozen lymph nodes inluding the one that was still showing some activity on my PET scan. He felt pretty sure there was still cancer present in the one lymph node. It was sent out for biopsy like the flesh from the tonsil area. The biopsy confirmed there was still some cancer present in the one lymph node but had not spread to any other lymph nodes. They made some further efforts to type the cancer and although their findings were consistent with the original squamous cell finding, the tumor also shows weird neuro endocrine markers that are not normally found in this type of cancer.
So, that is the wrap-up of the surgery. My ENT/Surgeon says I am cancer-free. That is the fantastic news. The next step is to have a number of other oncologists look at the biopsies and cancer types to see if they think more treatment is the right approach. More treatment would, likely, mean maintenance chemotherapy. Less toxic than the first treatment and NO radiation. But that decision will wait.
For now, I am incredibly thankful to Dr. Russell Briggs, his staff, and the OR staff at Cedar Park Regional Medical Center. You simply can't ask for better treatment than I received. All of my surgery was Thursday and I was recovering well Friday. About two minutes before Dr. Briggs arrived, I coughed and an artery that was not fully cauterized opened up. It would be impossible to convey the sense of panic I felt as this huge volume of blood started gathering in my throat. Terrifying.
Dr. Briggs walked into the room about a minute after it started. He was able to get it mostly stopped in a couple of minutes, rushed me back down to the OR, sedated me, cauterized the artery, and had me back in room in about 30 minutes, start to finish. Scary, but not as scary as it would have been if we had been discharged and it happed in the car or at the house. Definitely dodged a bullet there.
So, now I have been home a week and I have to say, the surgery around the tonsil is an incredibly tough recovery. Tons of drainage and phlegm that gathers in my throat and has to be spit up. Gross, incovenient, and very unpleasant. Hopefully, in another week, it will be back to normal.
That's it for now, but looks like there will be a few more entries in the blog before we are done.