Every two months my husband returns to his cancer center for a checkup. We pray often that his cancer will never return, that it is gone for good, and that secondary cancers will not surface.
I don't think I ever actually mentioned this, but his cancer last summer was Stage 4. As of early June, we knew it had spread (the large mass on his neck was evidence enough, but a PET scan also showed activity there), but we didn't realize it had spread so extensively, involving extracapsular spread out of the lymph nodes. We discovered that in early July after his 11-hour surgery; the surgeon had to remove part of my husband's hyoid bone and jugular vein because they had both been encroached upon, and that was when I realized fully how aggressive this "little cancer" really was. After radiation and chemo began, he couldn't really talk for weeks, and he couldn't eat or drink for months.
Life is such a gift. Time is the greatest blessing. He's healing so well now. Every two months we look forward to getting the green light for another two months--getting the affirmation that there's still no cancer to be seen. At our next check-up, in late June, he'll undergo his first chest CT scan, because if this cancer spreads, it tends to go to the lungs. So we pray for a clean and clear scan.
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Head-neck cancers are becoming much more common in younger people with no risk factors. In fact, not long ago I was talking to a lady I'd just met who said she knew a 17 year old girl who had just been diagnosed with tongue cancer. Seventeen! The girl, like my husband, had no history of smoking, alcohol use, or a viral infection. This lady theorized that cell phone use might be causing the increase, but I gently told her that my husband doesn't use a cell phone. So much for that theory. :)
To that end, I want to create a few posts that are specific to head-neck cancer, just in case anyone out there is going through the same thing. This first post entails my tips for keeping up with your health in a preventative, watchful way. (Not a worrisome way! No one needs to be a hypochondriac and I do not believe in living in a state of fear about the future or "what if" situations.)
First, be sure to see your dentist every 6 months for a cleaning and exam. The 17 year old girl knew she had a spot on her tongue but she never told her parents and she ignored it; it was her dentist who found it and sent her to an ENT. The dentist knows what a healthy mouth looks like, so be sure to always keep up with those visits for yourself and your children.
Second, if you have a sore in your mouth that will not heal after a couple of weeks, go to the doctor and have it checked out. My husband noticed the ulcer on his tongue sometime in the late summer or early fall, and thought it was a cold sore that would go away. It never did, so he finally (wisely) went to the doctor later in the fall and she sent him to the ENT. Anytime your body isn't healing up quickly, it's not a bad idea to get checked.
Third, if you or a close loved one is diagnosed with a head-neck cancer, including tongue cancer, my vehement advice is to go straightaway to a comprehensive cancer center. They do not exist in every state, so you may have to travel (we did). During our initial brush with cancer, we thought it was a simple Stage 1 and so we stayed in our small city, which has a reasonably good health care system. In retrospect, this was not the best idea, and once the cancer returned a few months after my husband's initial surgery, I knew we had to go elsewhere. And here's a fact: the course of treatment that the tumor board in our city recommended was in opposition to the standard of care, which we learned after visiting two different cancer centers in two different states. If we'd not sought second and third opinions, we never would have known this. Look here to find a comprehensive cancer center. I am so grateful for the care and expertise that we received.
That's all for now, but next time I'll write a bit about the practical bits of going through treatments and some tips on that.
Until then, I think it goes without saying how grateful I am to have my husband looking so fit and healthy, with skin healing and hair growing back and a bit of weight gain happening, as he looked at Easter (in the photo above). And in remission!!! Thanks be to God.