Lumps, Bumps, and Shooting Blood!
I’M BACK…and boy do we have a lot to talk about!
Ok…so it’s been forever since I’ve been here bitching about my life with cancer. That’s because life slipped into a kind of normalcy. As a cancer patient you long for the days when life was “normal” (whatever that really is) but to me it’s life without pain issues, medications that make you nauseous, and the fear of dying. You hope that the exhaustion and the depression disappear as quickly as they came. Despite all of that still being present, I still try to exist as though it’s not. Cancer ages you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Some find a day when they are told they are cancer free and hope life goes right back to where it all began on happier notes, but not everyone. Cancer stole more than my tongue, it changed my entire way of life. Now some changes have been for the better, but then there is a definitely a darker side.
There comes a point if you are one of the lucky ones, where the cancer is at bay and push to get back to a normal life. I’ve been pretending I’m normal for about a year (no comments from the peanut gallery!) until one day I realized my cancer might have returned. One evening while having a massage, my massage therapist noticed a lump on the back of my neck the size of a small egg. I said, “I thought that was a muscle back there.” She said there is no muscle located in that area. AW CRAP! I’ve been clean 4 years and what I have feared most might become a reality.
There is no pain, just a fatty hard lump on the base of the back of my neck pressed against the spine. I have had a little trouble tilting my head all the way back when drinking, but I attributed that to the residual scar tissue from the surgery to the front of my neck.
Oh but there’s more…It has been a very difficult last 6 months. A few days after finding the lump, I had a horrifying ordeal when I noticed a thick hair protruding from my neck in the area that has never healed for four years. Since radiation, I have lost all my hair in the field where radiated. I even lost my mustache I’ve had since it first grew in and I became a big boy. I never shaved it off, ever. It just fell out. So I have no hair from my earlobes to the bottom of my neck, not really a bad thing because I don’t need to shave anymore. HOWEVER, a stray hair pops up on occasion and often causes an infection at the sight, if ingrown.
One day I found this thick “hair” protruding from my neck where my neck was sliced open during surgery. I figured I'd pull it out. I got the tweezers and pulled! Out came a very small piece of metal with some VERY fine wires attached. What I thought was a hair actually was left over shrapnel placed during surgery. Over the next few days more “hairs” started to appear at the sight, but one became more than I bargained for. When I pulled the thickest of them as I was staring in the mirror, I watched the most beautiful stream of bright red blood pulse out of my neck. The stream pumped and shot half way across the room!
At first I stared in amazement thinking, “Wow...that’s pretty cool,” until I realized the severity of what was happening. You guessed it, this wee piece of metal was lodged in an artery and the blood flow took several wash rags and towels to stop over the next hour. I should have called EMS, but I still didn’t think it was that big a deal at the time. This happened once before, but the bleeding stopped within 15 minutes.
So I went to Urgent Care where the doctor wanted to put me in the hospital. She saw the festered neck and looked at the lump on the back of my neck after explaining it was there before the fall and I am a cancer patient. She was actually panicked and that’s when I realized how serious this was. She swabbed my neck for a culture checking for Mersa (golden staph) and gave me a script for antibiotics: Bactrim and Levaquin. The culture came back negative.
I held in my hand a dozen or more pieces of metal which appeared to be parts of a Doppler wire and a few clips. I recall the day the wire was removed from my neck, the doctor just yanked and it snapped out of in my neck. I asked at that time, “Is that all you do? Isn’t there something left in there?” I recall being told it’s all surgical grade material and I have plenty of pins and things in there from surgery keeping me together until I heal. Some parts might be absorbed by the body, others will remain and should not bother me. HA!
If you recall, after my tongue was removed and a flap from my forearm replaced the missing muscle, a Doppler wire was installed in my neck. This was to check the blood flow to the “free flap.” skin taken from my forearm. Everyday I turned on a machine to listen to the blood flow. If I heard a whooshing sound, all was well. But, if I did not, that meant the blood was not getting to the new tongue flap and the tissue would die. Blood flow needed to be restored within hours. If the tissue died, I would have needed to start all over again with another donor area for more tissue. I actually slept with this machine attached to my neck by wires while in the hospital.
A few days after my spewing blood incident, I tried catching up on some yard work. Working to get life back to normal, I got the ladder and chainsaw out to begin trimming some palm trees. I guess I’m not as young and resilient as I used to be. Short Version: Climbed the ladder, swung the chainsaw to the right, the ladder shifted left, I realized what would happen next and threw the chainsaw as far as I could, and then fell down and went boom!
The next thing I know, I’m lying on the bed with my neighbor getting me pain medication I was requesting. I don’t remember falling, how I got into the house, how much time had passed, and I have no idea how my neighbor ended up playing nursemaid. She told me I called her. I don’t know her number! I would have had to make a real effort to look it up…all without knowing. WOW!
SIX WEEKS IN BED….SIX! I had pulled and stretched a groin muscle and twisted my right arm. Nothing was broken, but the pain to walk was almost unbearable! After the six weeks, I used a wheeled walker for the next few weeks limiting my mobility. I honestly thought life as I knew it, trying to be as independent as possible, was over. About week ten, I awoke one morning with only slight pain and began to exercise to regain my much lost muscle tone-what little I had to begin with!
I knew I had to get to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to have my neck lump checked out, but I could not travel until I could walk and that screwed the whole summer up. I didn’t want to think about cancer, being sick, or what my future might be in a wheelchair; even though I was reassured I would heal and be back to normal soon. AGAIN…whatever normal might be.
So the appointments were set up in June to see my cancer doctors in December. It’s not easy using doctors so far away, but I’ve always said I wouldn’t be alive today without them. So, I thought it time to catch you all up on what will be happening next! I'm headed back to the MD Anderson Cancer Center. Stay tuned.
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For first time readers...my journey begins here: THE VERY FIRST BLOG POST (CC1)