Where's My Head?

Mom always said I'd lose it...

An Unexpected Journey

Life Health

April 21, 2016

Life is not what it's supposed to be. It's what it is.
The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.
— Virginia Satir

I was going to hold off on writing anything more until I had put this health stuff to bed but this is apparently going to take longer than I anticipated. So I may as well document it, huh? To do that, though, I have to give a bunch of history. You can skip this part if you don't care.

A few years ago, I had a whitish area show up on the bottom and side of my tongue (ewwwww — yeah, I know) and, not knowing what was causing it, my dentist suggested that I have it checked out. I went to an ENT specialist who did a biopsy of it. Um, ouch. Yeah. That recovery was rather painful but hey, pain meds. Better living through pharmacology, amirite? In the end, it was determined to be nothing to worry about. The real medical type word is "hyperkeratosis" which basically means that it was a calloused area. Or whatever the tounge-y equivalent of a callous is. In and of itself, it didn't hurt and it wasn't threatening but we didn't really know what caused it. It could have been just where it had rubbed on my teeth or we also had a theory that it could be a reaction to some fillings in that area. Life went on.

And lo, it came to pass that after these intervening years the keritosis was still hyperized and it was somewhat bigger than it was previously. I had the older fillings that were in question replaced with newer materials to see if that would help. In pretty short order, though — namely over the past three months — I started having some pretty intense inflammation on the side of my tongue. Most of it was red and swolen but one part was ulcerated and darker. Oddly, though, this none of this really coincided with the whiteness but I didn't totally rule out a connection. Initially, it was just uncomfortable but it quickly escalated into all-out pain. Like sharp stabbing pain. Like every time I would swallow. Or talk. Or think. The dynamics how the tongue moves around in the mouth are deep voodoo and are only understood by about seven people in the known universe so trying to avoid things that caused pain was simply folly. I was pretty much living on applesauce, soup, macaroni, pudding and ice cream. It was hard to find a position to lie in bed that didn't cause at least a little discomfort so I hadn't gotten a decent night's sleep for many weeks. In desperation, I went to see the ENT again and we decided that it was worth another biopsy and that he could excise the really inflamed parts while he had me up on the rack.

Surgery day came and it all went swimmingly. As I was waking up from the anesthesia, however, I had a weird response which caused my heart rate and blood pressure to fall through the floor. One moment I was eating pudding (mmmmm……pudding……), the next I felt really nauseous and the next there were people hovering over me trying to revive me from unconciousness. Whee!

As I was at home recovering over the next few days, the doctor called me. We discussed a few things and then he said the words.

"Moderately differentiated squamous cell carcinoma."

Most of that was just a bunch of blah blah blah blah. It sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher. "Whomp wha whomp whom whaaaaaaaa." But that last word was clear. It wafted down and landed on my brain like a feather. Tied to a brick. Tied to an ocean liner. And it's meaning was unmistakable.

Cancer.

The pathology report says that it's early stage and very treatable — so that's good — but the margins were positive. For the uninitiated, that means there's still stuff there. That means that I will have to have more tissue removed from the area on my tongue and it's pretty common for oral cancers to move to the lymphatic system so there will probably be some preemptive removal of some lymph nodes as a preventative measure.

And now you know pretty much what I know about it. I have my first consultation with a head/neck oncologist at the beginning of May and I'll know more about our path forward at that time. I know it will involve a more invasive surgery, a hospital stay and a longer recovery but there are no specifics of what that means just yet. There might be some radiation treatments as well. Hey, maybe I can get rid of that little night light in my bathroom then. (What? Too soon?)

At this point, the prognosis is good and I'm holding onto that. I'm not going to borrow trouble from a future that will likely never happen so I'm not going to be anxious about anything until there's something to really be anxious about. And besides, Phillipians says not to be but to give it up to God and let Him "guard your hearts and your minds." That's what I'm aiming for.

This is a journey that's just beginning and there will be much more information to come. I don't want or need sympathy but I do covet your prayers. My own is that I will learn to trust God more through this. I have been blessed beyond measure and am truly thankful for that but I don't always lean on Him in all things. In both the good and the bad, He is my rock and I can — and should — take refuge in Him.