Therapy Complete

It is with much joy when I received word that my therapy was complete.  But it doesn’t mean that I am back to normal.  I will never know what that will feel like as I will always have some minor adjustments to make in the near future.  For example, I will always have to have a water source with me because of my saliva glands.  I may always have to keep massaging my lymphatic system in order to keep water from building up in my neck.  I may never get the full hearing in my left ear and I have learned to live with the ringing these past months.

Last week, I went to my speech pathologist doctor who is in charge of me being able to eat foods again.  She informed me that I was making great progress and did some tests and came to conclusion that I was ready to “graduate” and be on my own.  I still have to do certain exercises and activities to keep my neck limber and not as stiff.  But that is my new normal and I am ok with it.  It means I survived and this is the new me.  Some days are better than others still.  For example, I wake up now with a dry mouth and have to drink some water to alleviate the dryness.  Some days, like in the afternoon, my mouth will dry up pretty bad and luckily I have water with me.  Having a dry mouth is bad because it can affect your enamel on your teeth.  But there are some days where I feel that my mouth is not dry even if it is for an hour or so.

I also know and can predict which foods I can easily swallow.  Take hamburgers for example.  I love me a Whataburger any day any time, however, the burger is dry for me when compared to In and Out, Burger King or Wendy’s.  In fact if I go eat at Whataburger I would rather prefer their Fish sandwich.  I can also tell the density between liquids which helps when trying to swallow certain foods again.  I love my morning breakfast tacos and nothing helps it go down than a nice cup of coffee with cream.  Water just has no density and doesn’t really help.  Coffee with cream, carbonated drinks like Coke, orange juice, and certain tea’s really assist in breaking down the foods enabling me to eat.  Carbonated drinks really assist in breaking down any breads or foods made with wheat or corn.

What is left for my treatment are just now follow ups with my doctors.  And this is normal protocol and the standard of care for cancer patients.  I have a couple of doctor appointments for the remainder of this year and then I will have some yearly follow ups followed by a follow up in five years.  Yes, they will most likely stick a camera down my nose to see the throat and I am ok with that.  I am grateful that they are planning to ensure I remain cancer free.  Now it is time for me to focus on my career and my family, as it should be.

Again, thank you all for your prayers and positive thoughts and vibes.

Eating Again

A few weeks ago I received my normal supplies of liquid food to intake thru my stomach peg.  Its very convenient because I just fill up a bag of liquid food and let the pump do the rest.  It’s an all day event from morning to evening and I get in about 2,400 calories for the day.  Slowly but surely, I included food into the mix via mouth and weened myself off the liquid food.

That changed one day when I opened up my supply box of bags and it went from a 1200ml bag to a 600ml bag.  Now I used the smaller bags but at the same time I was ready to start eating again.  Before I go on or get criticized because what I did next can seem foolish, I felt a struggle to eat food as long as I was tied to my stomach pump.  It was like I was forcing myself to eat again when I was already full.  What I did was quit the stomach peg feeding pretty much cold turkey but I was already eating a wide variety of food.  I needed to know hunger pains again so I can teach my body that it is time to eat again and that it can prepare itself.

Name a food choice and chances are I already tried it.  I have had pizza, hamburgers, fried chicken, tacos of all sorts, soups and the list goes on and on.  Eating any type of bread is still difficult.  It gets very sticky and gooey and is difficult to swallow down and this is actually good for me.  Part of my therapy in eating again is to do a forceful swallow of sticky and gooey food.  And I have noticed a huge difference already in my ability to eat now than I did when I first started to eat again with that cup of pudding.

So I am not a complete fool now, I do track my calories.  I am averaging around 1800 to 2000 calories a day and I am not being as active as I was prior to diagnoses.  I am not running or going to the gym but I am trying to have some sort of activity.  I track my calorie intake with an app; LoseIt.  I am not worried about my sugar levels yet or how many carbs I am intaking.  I am more focused now on just getting the calories in and eating as much as I can.

600 Calories

So I track my weight progress and calories with an app called “Lose It”.  It’s a very good app especially if you are counting calories.  It is a free app which makes it even better.  The doctor has asked me how many calories I am eating by mouth.  I really had no clue at the time so I started tracking my meals.

So as I end the month of August, I am eating roughly 600 calories a day via mouth.  Everything from yogurt, scrambled eggs, refried beans, homemade quesadillas, some Pho, bbq brisket, hotdog, pizza, cold cereal, apple sauce, smoothies, and the list goes on and on.  The key issue is that my throat is still healing and therapy is helping me swallow but it is still weak.  I am learning how to even eat slow now which is hard.  Ever since I went to Airborne school, I learned to eat fast and quick and that never left me.  Even out in the field, it was scarf it down and taste it later.  Now I am the slowest eater on the table.

But the great news in all of this, I had cheesecake the other day and it tasted like cheesecake!!!  Again, thank you all for your positive thoughts, vibes and prayers.

A New Life

About two weeks ago, I went in to get a PET scan to determine if I still had cancer in my body.  The total time for the exam is about 2 hours or so.  I was injected with some radioactive material and had to wait 45 minutes for it to get circulated throughout my body and then taken back.  I was taken to a MRI type machine and laid down and injected with another medicine that will make the cancer cells glow in the dark.  Again, this procedure took about another hour or so.  I had to wait for both my ENT and Radiologist doctors to read the results before I can learn about the results.  So that day, I went to eat at Cracker Barrel.

Last week, on Friday, I received the telephone calls from my doctors informing me that I am clear of cancer cells and that no further treatment or surgery was needed.  Praise God and many thanks to those who prayed for me or sent me good vibes.  I really appreciate it.  I will still have to see my ENT doctor and follow up accordingly.  That is the life for any cancer survivor.  You have to make sure the cells are long gone and don’t come back for a second visit.  This monitoring is for life.

I am fortunate that all my treatment was done at San Antonio Military Center and being a veteran I didn’t pay anything except for my food which I am taking via a stomach port. That is the only issue I have now.  I do eat but it is in small quantities.  I can eat about a cup to a cup and a half of food twice a day.  I count my calories daily and weigh myself twice a day to ensure I maintain the weight I currently have.  My weight is averaging about 174 pounds a day and I am happy at this weight.  I don’t have much back pain and I am loving that aspect of it.  I do plan to gain more weight but nothing over 190 pounds.  If I can maintain a weight of 185 pounds I would be happy.

Currently I am seeing a Speech Pathologist as part of my treatment program and we are working on eating more food.  The best way to explain this is that my throat is like that of a new born.  It takes years for a new born to eat solid food.  Imagine doing that at my age.  It is frustrating to see food that I was able to eat and know that if I try to eat that, that I have the possibility of choking because I am unable to swallow the food.  But I do the exercises, drink water, and continue to try and eat a more variety of food.

Again, I thank all of you for your positive thoughts and prayers as I continue on this new journey of life.

The Trach is done

When I started my trip with Cancer I was told by my doctor that it is highly recommended that I get a tracheotomy in place in case the tumor grows during radiation.  At first, I was doubtful about it until I saw it on camera how big the tumor was in my throat which was all the convincing I needed.  My cancer had grown to such an extent that it covered half of my airway.

Getting the trach in place was no fun.  Previously, I wrote how they had to stick a tube down my throat first.  Well, this tube pretty much blocked all of my airway so for a few seconds I couldn’t breathe, but I remember that once it was in place that I would be knocked out which is exactly what happened.  I remembered that I tried to relax and wait for them to knock me out.  The initial size of the trach was a size 6, which is pretty big.

Now the issue with the trach is that it interferes with the swallowing function, not a whole lot but it does interfere.  Having a size 6 trach is also very uncomfortable so I was happy when it was downgraded to a size 4.  Size 4 trach is the smallest trach size and I was happy for it.  It wasn’t as bothersome to swallow with it on but I knew it was there.  Now the joy of having a trach is that I can open it up while I was sleeping and it was an easy cure for my sleep apnea.  You talk about some of the best sleep I received.  However, in order to take the trach out, I had to show that I have kept it capped for at least 2 weeks.  So much for good sleep.

When they took the trach out, the doctors told me that it will close up on its on naturally. I was given special gauze and tape to place over the hole and every time I coughed, sneezed, drank, eat, or talk, I had to apply pressure on the outside so that air won’t escape from the hole.  Sometimes I was successful and other times I wasn’t, it was difficult to find the hole as it was shrinking.

Earlier this week, I just felt like the hole in my neck had closed up.  And sure enough, today as we changed out bandages, it has.  I tried breathing out of it by holding my breathe to no effect.  However, it still looked a little raw so we still placed a bandage over it just to allow it to heal more.

I am so grateful for this event.  It means my body is healing one step at a time.  Next is my ability to eat more food and be cancer free.  As always, I am grateful for your prayers, good thoughts and kind words.

Missing an Old Friend

A year ago, I learned about the horrific death of a childhood friend of mine, Nicholas Bazan.  I grew up with the Bazan brothers as we lived on the same street.  There was two groups of kids who would go out and hang out in the summer in the Texas heat.  I belonged to the older group of kids while the Bazan brothers hanged out with the younger group of kids.  When both groups would get together to play a sport like baseball, with a wiffle ball, or street football, Nick was always picked last because he was the youngest in the group.

It was hard for him of course being the youngest.  He was still learning to catch a football which meant he hardly was on the receiving end of one.  When it was his turn at bat, you know everyone in the outfield moved closer because he hadn’t developed the upper strength yet.  In due time, the older group of kids moved on and eventually the younger group of kids were included more into the kids activities.  The group also eventually expanded to other blocks within the area as we realized and this was more than welcomed especially for our annual Turkey Bowl played at the old track behind Mcallen High School; you really need 22 kids, 11 for each side!

In the end, my lasting memory of Nick, was a kid with a heart of gold.  Yes, he complained about being picked last or never getting his hands on the football much.  But when he wasn’t, he was a joy to be around with.  I remember his laugh and his silliness and I can only imagine as an adult those traits continued over.  With facebook, I was able to connect to some of my old neighborhood friends and that is when I learned of his death.  Part of my childhood died on that day.  But I know Nick would not want me to be sad as he was the first of us to get to Heaven.  Rest in peace now Nicholas Bazan and we’ll see you on the high ground!

Pudding

Today, as I am typing this out, I just opened up a small container of sugar free chocolate pudding.  I know it’s not the best tasting but I need to watch my blood sugars.  And it is in celebration that I am eating this snack in the afternoon before dinner.

You see, the last time I tried pudding was with my speech pathologist and it was my first attempt at eating.  Now at first glance, pudding looks easy to slowly.  I mean really there is nothing in pudding but just that.  It is soft and it looks easy to swallow.  But when your throat has been eradicated by radiology and your throat muscles are weak it becomes a chore.  I remember the difficulty I had when I first attempted to swallow.  My mouth was dry and it was just a sticky mess inside.  And when I swallowed it just hanged in the back of my throat.  Luckily, I had my water container handy and I was able to drink it down but it was terrifying that I couldn’t swallow something as easy as pudding.

Today, I had another appointment with my speech pathologist and it was good.  We talked about increasing not just our food intake but also the different types of foods to take; those that are mashable and saucy.  Think mashed potatoes, very watery refried beans, yogurt, steamed vegetables mixed with ground beef, chicken or turkey; foods which I can easily make at home not just for myself but for the family as well.  Tonight’s dinner, spaghetti because of the sauce.

After our education on what foods to start eating, my doctor then placed a pudding packet as well as sliced pears in natural juices container in front of me.  I ate the pudding first with no issues.  It’s great when your saliva glands decide to work!  Then my doctor told me to eat some cut up pears which I did.  It took a bit used to as I had to chew it for a bit but still no issues when it came to swallowing.  Afterwards, as we were wrapping up our session, I noticed that I ate pudding with no issue and I mentioned that.  The doctor was surprised that I made the connection and told me that my throat is healing and getting stronger.

Eventually, I can see myself eating a #1 from Whataburger!  Again thank you all for your kind thoughts, prayers, and good vibes.  God bless you all!