Moving forward

Last week was a great week.  I visited my doctors and they all had good news which I will share with you all soon.  I am excited because mostly my life is returning to a new normal and soon I will enjoy the activities that I used to enjoy like exercising, cooking and working on my yard.  And in all that mess I plan to go back to work!  If there is one thing I learned from all this so far, it is to cherish those who appreciate you.  So what did the doctors say!?

So I saw my throat doctor first, the one who put in the trach in my throat so I can breathe better in case the cancer blocked my airway.  He explains everything in detail to ensure I understand what is going on.  He took a look at the whole in my throat and said it is closing up fine.  Currently, it’s the size of a q-tip.  It is amazing how the body heals itself.  I expect it to close in a week or so.  He also put down a microscope down my throat to see how everything is going.  He says it looks fine and that my body is healing on time.

I then saw my radiologist doctor who examined the damaged that going thru radiology does.  He told me that the hair in the back of my lower neck will grow back eventually which is a concern for me.  I really don’t want to have a high and tight for the rest of my life.  I am enjoying longer hair in my post military retirement.  He noticed that my facial hair is growing back just fine now.  His concern is with hearing in my left ear which is still muffled.  He told me that it is a 50-50 that it will return back to normal hearing.  He also mentioned that eventually my saliva will come back but that I will probably have to have a water source always with me for those times my mouth becomes dry.   But overall, he told me that I am doing well for going thru the treatment and that I should have no problems with recovering overall.

I then saw my speech pathologist who is teaching me how to eat again.  This visit was more on my lymphatic system and how to manually drain my lymph nodes when they collect.  And yes, my throat lymph nodes are out of whack, especially my left side.  So over the course of the day they fill up with fluid.  My doctor taught me how to manipulate my lymphatic system so that I can drain them manually until they are completely healed or to a point where I just do it every day.  So yes, I noticed my neck area gets filled with fluid and it looks like I have a turkey neck.  And every night, for about 20 minutes, I manipulate my lymphatic system and wake up with a normal neck.  I am beyond words to express how amazing the human body works.

Finally, my weight is up to 171 pounds.  That may not be a lot but I dropped down to 161 pounds all the way from 205.  Yes, that is a lot of weight loss in such a short period of time.  I hovered around the 166 to 168 pounds for about 2 months and just recently broke 170 pounds.  Primarily, I am eating my foods puree which caused the weight gain.  I was told that when I eat, yes there will be pain, but to bear thru it.  I guess that old adage is true, no pain no gain!

Again, thank you all for your kind thoughts, prayers, and good vibes.  God bless each and everyone of you all for your support.

Post 2 months

I know it has been awhile since I posted and I will tell you that battling cancer is no joke. Your body changes and not just physically but also mentally.  After treatment was complete, my body was still getting beat up by chemo and radiation and I didn’t accept it until about the 15th of April.  That is when I noticed my body just like almost gave up.  Physically, my body was drained.  And at times, even as two weeks ago, I get that exhausted feeling where I have no energy nor desire to do anything.

Mentally, I have really no desire to rush into failure.  I am taking my time in learning how to eat again.  Right now it is only applesauce.  That’s it, no other foods.  Maybe a milkshake or a smoothie but not much else.   I drink a lot of water because I miss drinking it and it does feel refreshing.  I also had a small amount of Root Beer soda which burned a little but it was worth the carbonation.  I will probably wait a month before I try that again.

My trach is out and the hole is slowly closing up.  Part of my issue is that I want the hole to close up completely before I start focusing on eating.  Prior to the doctors taking out the trach, my quality of life was miserable.  I was coughing up a lot of phlegm.  The day it came out, it was like a drop in production.  I still cough up phlegm, just not as much.  My only concern now are the blood clots that I cough up from time to time.

So, overall, I am happy where I am at in life.  Taking little steps for total recovery.  I don’t know when I will attain a full recovery but I will get there.  As always, I thank you all for your good thoughts, prayers and warm wishes.

You have got to be kidding right!?

So sometime during the last 2 weeks in which I had no clue whether I was coming or going, apparently, I turned into a 500 pound gorilla when I was asked a question which really did not require a response from me.

I exactly don’t know when this happened but I do know where at least.  As part of my treatment plan I have to get some lab work done from time to time.  And so I went to the lab clinic and get ready for the vampires.  They sucked the energy and life right out of people and they probably did me this time as well.

It is during this time when I am not all there, that Maria makes sure I get to where I need to get going to.  So if it was to a clinic to get vitals or to the Chemo/Hematology to get my port flushed, I can’t recall but Maria knows my schedule and ensure I got to the right place at the right time.

Now comes the time to draw in the conclusion from the lab work that was done earlier.  One of those vials of blood tested was to check my blood sugars.  Yes, yours truly is diabetic.  So they check my blood sugars and apparently I scored a 400, yes if you are going to go big, go big, or go home!

So the nurse is now looking at the paperwork and saw the blood sugar score, and nonchalant just ask, “Sir, what are we going to do with your blood sugar score because we need to lower it.”  Well I about cried.

Here I am, plugged in to a port that is feeding me a constant protein shake diet with no restrictions.  This machine is programmed to feed me 150 M/l on the hour every hour.  I have no way of changing my current diet.  So, as the nurse finished with the question, I was looking at my backpack, back to the nurse, and then back to my backpack which was holding my formula and pump.  I must have given this look of horror because he realized that I have no choice in this matter when it comes to checking my blood sugars and what I was being fed.

At this point I heard the nurse say, “It’s ok Sir, I got you covered.  Don’t worry about your blood sugars at this point in time.”

How long has it been???

I can’t believe that I use to write on this blog on an almost daily basis.  I really also can’t believe that I am almost complete with all treatment.  So lets play catch-up and get everything in order and up to speed.

My last chemo treatment was on the 6th of April, 2018.  It was on a Friday and I only remember this because Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise) and the rest of his crew were performing on the 5th of April.  I guess they did a bang up job,  I wouldn’t know.  I was too much of lets get moving forward than to worry about some chemical spillage.  It was also pretty cool to know that there was a celebrity in town who was focusing his energy on the troops.

My last radiation treatment was on the 11th of April, 2018.  Yes a few days after Chemo ended, I ended radiation treatment as well.  So now that both treatments are complete everything is good to go right?  Not necessarily.  You see, both chemo and radiation keep doing what they are trained to do even after treatments are complete.  Wait what?  So after the doctors put me on the verge of death, they keep me there longer in the hopes that the CHEMO and Radiation long term effects will continue to wrack havoc on my body.

And it did!  Oh my glasses.  If I thought the previous weeks were hard or difficult, this past week was hell.  There are no words to really describe it.  Just that a constant fire in the back of my throat was raging on.  Every time I cough out mucos, I can see old blood in the cells or see some dark cherry blood clot.  Not a pretty site to see but I know that seeing mucos was good for the passage of time.  I tried to keep my mouth as moist as often and that usually meant adding a solution of water, baking soda, and salt and swishing it around my mouth after spitting out some mucos.  This helped to spit out some more or for record keeping itself.  I did this for about a week and at the same time I was having other issues.

The first issue I had was maintaining a healthy diet. My weight dropped down below 160 pounds.  That was too much.  Luckily for me, I have my port and I am using that bad boy even as I type this out.  I also use the port for my water intake.  It took awhile to get the weight back up and now I am hovering just above 165.   I know that the nurses are more concerned over my diet than I am but we agreed on a plan of action.  For the first week after radiation is complete, just focus on swallowing.  Don’t push it or over do it.  After the 18th of April, try drinking a small portion of water and then slowly add vegetables and fruits to your diet.

So that’s been me in a nut shell.  Am I exhausted?  Heck yeah!  Like I just finished running 8 miles.  Hopefully, due to time, I am able to over come.

Again, I thank all of you for your happy thoughts and prayers, positive energy and good Karma.

Taking water for granted

I have lived or explored and yes even deployed to locations around this world that really makes you think how do these people survive without a reliable source of water?  For example in Afghanistan, way back in the day as in Alexander the Great time period, he created a system of water wells for the local population to use.  And then say around 2001, a bunch of folks with tons of hate and discontent came by and destroyed a lot of these water wells plus other historical sites.

As many may or may not know, I am fighting throat cancer, and this brings me to a few points about water.  I am being treated up here in San Antonio Military Medical Center, SAMMC if you like abbreviations.  When I was initially diagnosed I had no clue what was in store for me.  I literally placed my health to people who have more experience in treating throat cancer than I have crossed the sun.  And I will tell you one thing, I am grateful for the doctors that I have who were aggressive in getting me started on my treatment.  Before I knew it, I had a stomach port for feeding and drinking.  It’s quite convenient especially when you can drink some coffee down the tube!

So when I first started my treatment back in February, and yes I am almost done with treatment, thank God!  I remember looking at that stomach port and saying to myself, “there is no way I am going to get stuck feeding and drinking myself thru that device.  Besides how hard could this be?”  Little did I know that radiation treatment accelerated and altered my decision to rely heavily more and more on the port for food and water intake for the last two weeks.  And that changes your perspective on a lot of things, especially when it comes to good ole quality H2O.

I noticed that over time, the ability to swallow a normal size gulp of water was slowly diminishing to simple sips.  But I had to keep swallowing otherwise I could lose that ability for a long time.  So with all the meds I have to take, I am ok that I will be able to swallow once treatment is complete.  But I look at a tall glass of water like a policeman looks at Krispy Kreme doughnuts and this is the worst part of throat cancer.  When your tongue, mouth and throat all feel like it is on fire 24/7 then your ability to eat and drink become a challenge.  And you look at that water and realize you will not be able to drink it down in one good swoop like when you are out working on your vehicle, honey do list or even some basic yard work.

This is the crux of this blog: We take a lot of things in life for granted in life.  Our loved ones, family, health, education, even our ability to make money.  And the worst part of our society is that we idolize those with fame, money, and good looks.  You take that away from them and watch their true color; their true character and realize that there is more to life than what people wants us to believe in.  Take away the basic necessities for life and you realize everything that we take for granted such as hearing, seeing, touching and yes event tasting that basic glass of water.

A turn…for the worse? or for the better!

Living with throat cancer has it’s own unique challenges and struggles.  Mine is no different from anyone else.  Last week, after I ate dinner, I had a coughing fit so severe that I coughed up bright red cherry blood.  That is all I needed in my decision making process to get driven down to the ER at San Antonio Medical Center.

When I arrive at the ER, I tell them I am a cancer patient, they check my blood pressure  and other vitals.  Then they rolled me to a room.  After a few visits with the doctors they came to an early decision for me to stay overnight.  So staying overnight came with some good and bad benefits.  The good benefits of me staying over night is that I will have 24/7 patient health.  Really, I didn’t see an issue in staying over night as having any bad benefits, the only being is that my granddaughter will be on the road soon and I want to be home when they arrive.

So I was admitted and I didn’t think much of it since again the scopes were going to be done around noon on Thursday.  So again, your truly, didn’t question about the lack of an IV fluid.   So I asked my attending nurse and she was like there is nothing about you needing fluids in your admittance paperwork.  I told them that I am a throat cancer patient and I needed to drink about 3 Liters of water a day.  I also informed them of all the different medication I use.  I was given that blank stare that I knew I was in for a miserable time.  They look me straight in the eye and said, “We will let out doctors know but if it’s not in their notes there is nothing we can do.”  I have used this same technique especially in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

So let me recap it for you.  When I went to sleep on Wednesday night with no food and no water intake because GI (Gastroenterologists) wanted to do an upper scope and they would need me to go under.  ENT (Ear Nose Throat) also needed to do an upper scope but I don’t need to be on any food or water restrictions.  Now it is Wednesday, ENT came by and did what they had to do and pretty much I was clear from their view point.  Still no word from GI.  Then around 4pm, I was given the ok to eat from the menu as the nurse was hooking up an IV now.  But at this point in time I was no longer hungry.  I tried to eat but I couldn’t.  GI came in put me under did what they had to do and found the source of blood which was in the back of my tongue.  I was released by 4pm on Friday with maybe a whole litter of IV fluids over those two days.

By Saturday, I was running a low fever ranging from 99.9 to 101.0 and somewhere at 10pm, I checked my  temperature and it was 101.3.  It was time to get checked out as they ran a series of blood cultures, blood draws and more x-rays.  I was too happy to be going back home even if it meant being released at 4a.m. on Sunday morning.  I was enjoying the sleep when I felt my body temperature rise and took a quick body temperature; 102.8!!! Time to go back to the ER.   I was fortunate that common sense doctors were in charge.  They verified all the blood work was complete and if further blood draws were needed; then it was done at that time.  Again the doctor came in and asked if why not stay the night.  I told the doctor that the last time I stayed I almost lost it because I was denied fluids and food and ended up missing a lot of my necessary medicines.

So that happened about 2 weeks ago and this past week was just as flustering from visiting my Primary Care Doctor who again had to hear my rant as I don’t was to get admitted.  There was more concern of my weight lost and ok of me throwing up old blood versus bright cherry red.   Well despite having a horrible previous weekend, this past weekend was just as frustrating and unique with their own skills and challenges.  I attribute the attitude I have based on the military training, attitude, and spirit.  You learn a thing or two about yourself with every promotion one receives.  You learn to grow as a person, as a leader and at times even as a follow.

This past week I was more of the follower, I relied on my wife more than ever to ensure I was at the right place and time.  I didn’t give any healthcare provider a hard time but rather just my normal guessing my blood pressure which gets them to a relax a bit.  I met  a fellow cancer who we call affectionately Sister Jones.  To see her make it gave me hope when I needed it the most.  She was my inspiration with her love of life and her positive spirit.

A better Trach

So yesterday after my radiation treatment, I went over to the ENT clinic to see about removing my trach because it was very bothersome.  Trachs come in different sizes and my first one was a size 8.  It was pretty significant and I can really feel it inside my throat. Before I started treatment they downsized my Trach to a size 6.  Yesterday, I am down to a size 4.

There is nothing wrong with a size 6 Trach, however it was becoming bothersome to a degree.  At night, I was able to sleep with little discomfort but over time it became unbearable.  It was like my body knew there was a foreign object and was coating it with mucus.  Of course, the mucus became to much and I would have to expel the mucus.  The size 4 Trach is much smaller and I don’t really feel it inside my throat.

But the shrinkage of the cancerous growth in my neck also enables me to clear my throat by sucking the air thru my nose .  Now the last time I was able to clear my throat using this method was back in 2006 after my deployment to Kosovo.  Now, almost more than 10 years with no ability to clear my throat, I find this a great relief.  If I am laying down and get a coughing fit, I normally can clear my throat and sinuses clearly.

This is exactly what I needed right before I get into the final stretch here.