Off to Hamilton I went to meet the Radiation Oncologist, Chris Hartopeanu. The nurse told me he is Romanian, though I had picked up another South African accent - and yes, he did work there for some time. He took time to explain to me what the PET scan meant, and he relayed the essence of the discussion that took place about my case.
It is possible that I could choose to have the base of my tongue resected, which would mean that I could have a more-targeted, less compromising course of radiotherapy aimed at the neck area but sparing the throat (relatively sparing, that is - there would still be some effects). Not sure what resection means in this situation, but I gather they can take out the suspicious area and reconstruct the tongue and voice functions as best they can). But it would be likely that the cancer would remain active and resurface, and so the safer course is to be more aggressive with the radiotherapy. I gather I could even insist on having further biopsies done rather than starting any treatment, given that the first lot found nothing.
The consensus at the meeting then had been in favour of radiotherapy of the bilateral neck area (because if there is something in the throat, then it can move to the lymph system on either side) PLUS the area at the base of the tongue around the tonsils. He reckons that this will almost certainly clear the cancer completely. Here's that But again...it is going to cause permanent loss of quite a lot of salivary gland function, which brings its own dangers down the track. He urged me to get a second opinion. I gather that he was here in the realm of the psychology of being a cancer survivor - making sure that I am fully certain that I have made the right choices from the beginning will affect how well I cope with what is to come.
Ok, that's the not-so-fun bit, now here's the rest - they have a Mould Room. I guess it is like a library where keep everyone's moulds. You wear the mould each time you get the radiotherapy so that it goes to exactly the same target each time. I had my mould made today, and also got a spot tattooed on my chest for helping to line me up on the machine.
The grid over my face is the mould - it is a flat sheet that they warm up, it goes soft, they press it firmly over the head, then wrap it in a cold towel which sets it.
Then I had a CT scan which will be used to set up the radiation dose plan, so they injected tracer into the line in my arm - which is pretty funny stuff because it makes you feel for all the world like you have just peed your pants, except you don't. Whew. And the machine does a washing machine noise and slides in and out of the scanner.
The nurse was going to then put in a P. E. G., but lucky for me they decided that can wait a bit. The PEG is why I got a professional strength blender. When my throat starts to feel like it has been sunburned, I can slug spinach and broccoli directly into my own stomach via a syringe through the tube!!! Let's just hope that I don't actually have to do that very much. Still, it would make it easy to choose between a chocolate and a bit of broccoli. "I'll have the artichoke and asparagus puree now, yum."
I visited the Cancer Society's Lodge, and all I can say is, thank you thank you to all the people who donate to the Cancer Society. It is like a 5-star hotel. Minus the mini-bar. Ok, not quite 5-star.
But wait, now comes the REALLY fun bit. I got home and rang the Peter MacCallum in Melbourne, and I'm off to see them next week. A holiday in Melbourne instead of a week at work at the Rotorua Library? High five!