Sunday, 15 December 2013

Swell and good

Followers - you may want to sign out now. Oh, I'll try to avoid the cliches, the ones that go like this...My 'fight with cancer'. Or, another common one, my cancer journey. This supposedly wonderful window of opportunity, bringing with it the chance to finally fully embrace life and live for the moment, cherishing each day and enjoying the sunshine. Every single time I sprout one those awful phrases, PLEASE please kick me. Promise? And really folks, feel free to sign off. Maybe it is not going to get nasty, but it might.

So I have not been posting anything lately because a 40-hour job and the garden have been taking up most of my energy. I began a new blog, Journeying, for my New York trip in April this year. Now I'm having a break from work again. When I talked to my boss a few weeks ago about my desire to resign, she said that HR would not accept my resignation. The option of leave without pay was discussed. I have 4 weeks - until after Christmas.

In the meantime I am truly swell and good. Not long after the New York trip I saw a lump on the side of my neck. That was seven months ago. The GP sent me to see an ENT specialist at Rotorua Hospital, who first did a needle aspiration (negative) and then an ultrasound, and finally a couple of months later decided to operate and take it out. That involved day surgery in Rotorua and a delightful week at home reading lots of wonderful novels - if you are interested, check out the Rotorua Library's Pinterest pages - one of them lists my favourite reads.

When I had my follow-up appointment a week or so later, he greeted me saying "You came alone. Your'e very brave". Clearly not good! He wrote down on a slip of paper "High grade Basaloid squamous cell carcinoma" and I tucked that bit of paper away so carefully that it never ever resurfaced. All along I been researching possibilities, lymphoma, rheumatoid nodule, harmless branchial cyst. I had it down as a 50-50 chance of being either nothing or lymphoma. Now I had something completely unexpected to google. The lovely ENT man sent me off saying that I shouldn't worry, that what HE was paid for, and it was very treatable, caught it early, etc. A week later I had a PET/CT scan. Radioactive tracer is flown up from Wellington and injected, and afterwards you exit by a side door having been told to avoid pregnant women and children for the rest of the day.

Somewhere during the waiting time that followed I saw my GP, who gave me a copy of the pathology report regarding the lump, and took a punch biopsy from a red spot on my chest that  had been previously zapped with nitrogen a couple of times. Why don't they just cut out these suspicious skin spots on the spot, which is what has happened several times in Australia? The long-term costs of that short-term penny pinching must be horrendous. The results came back indicating SCC, hello, is that a surprise?

SCC that has metastasised to a lymph node seems to be fairly serious. In several places I have seen research that shows the survival rate after 5 years is kind-of like 50%. As I have found out, for metasasis (seriously, I love that word) to appear on the neck almost always indicates that there is a primary source somewhere in the throat area. Head and neck cancer is the official phrase, and it is the 6th most common cancer worldwide, despite which I had never heard of it before. It is one of the fastest growing cancers - that is, statistically. One of the reasons it is on the increase seems to be that is often linked to human papilloma virus (HPV). Three out of four cases are in males. Who knew that skin cancer could arise in the throat - or for that matter in other parts of the digestive canal.

It is also quite common that no primary source for the cancer can be found - maybe because it can form deep within the complex structure of the nose and throat. So far this seems to be the case for me. The PET scan showed very mild activity around the tonsil area, but within normal range. I had to wait weeks and weeks to hear what the results were. Then in the same week I got appointment cards for both Rotorua and Waikato ENT clinics.

In Hamilton I was seen by Dr Theo Gregor, who scowled at the scar on my neck, and then chatted to his registrar about why the radiotherapy unit closes at the weekends. He gave me little information, just a piece of paper for the nurses to process - Fast-track Cancer Diagnosis. Four days later I was back at Waikato for another general anaesthetic, this time biopsies of the throat. At the same time the patch on my chest was cut out.

Then another long wait. Weeks of knowing nothing. I have another appointment card, so the story will continue.

BBC news today --

The number of people being diagnosed with cancer in the world each year has leaped to more than 14 million, the World Health Organization says.
The data for 2012 shows a marked rise on the 12.7 million cases in 2008.
In that time the number of deaths has also increased, from 7.6 million to 8.2 million.

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