Yesterday I spent the afternoon at the hospital, chatting with Sharron – the Macmillan head and neck cancer nurse – and Lucy, my new speech therapist. They took me through my forthcoming treatment in great detail, answering all my questions, and preparing me for what is to come.
The biggest shock came when Sharron explained why they aren’t attempting to operate to remove the cancer. Essentially, it’s inoperable. Because of where they cancer is, and how it has spread – if they were to operate, they would have to remove my entire tongue, and a lot of the soft tissue inside my mouth.
This would leave me unable to talk ever again. And I would have to be fed through a stomach tube permanently.
So, they’re giving my cancer both barrels with the radio and chemotherapy in the hope that will be enough to eradicate it.
They took me through how my mask will be moulded to my face, and used to keep me perfectly still while I’m being bombarded by the radiation.
Things aren’t looking too good for my salivary glands and the skin of my neck and throat – which are essentially going to fry. They asked if I wanted to see photographs of what that will look like.
I politely declined.
They explained how my stomach feeding tube – or ‘peg’ – will be fitted next week, and how I will eventually be unable to eat and have to feed myself with nutrient packed milk through it.
Can’t say I’m looking forward to that.
Although that’s when I’m most likely to lose weight – which can only be a good thing. I often wonder whether the cancer would be so bad, or even if it would be there at all, if I’d taken better care of myself over the years.
Too late to think like that now.
When my throat is frazzled and I can no longer produce much, if any, saliva, my vocal chords are going to suffer. Hence the need for Lucy, the speech and swallow therapist. She said it’s quite possible my voice may be different when it eventually returns.
That will be weird. I wonder what – or who – I’ll sound like? It’s as though this cancer is robbing me of, well… me.
Bit by bit. Piece by piece.
My chemotherapy sessions – one per week – will last for five hours at a time. I’ve been advised to bring a book!
Still, the good news there is that this particular dose of chemo means I won’t lose my hair! Well, there’s a silver lining.
I’ll also be given an emergency telephone number to use should I develop any kind of illness or temperature during my treatment. Even something as simple as a stomach bug or heavy cold could have major consequences if my ability to fight the infection has been reduced.
That would mean being admitted to hospital straight away, hence the 24 hour emergency telephone number. Under no circumstances am I to wait and see how I feel in the morning.
This is far more complicated than I could ever have imagined. I have stacks and stacks of reading material to get through, each leaflet and letter providing yet more detail of the horrors I’m about to face.
I don’t want this. At all.
I don’t want to be strapped to a table by a head mask while being targeted by radio waves.
I don’t want chemicals pumped into my system once a week.
I don’t want to lose the ability to speak and eat.
I don’t want to have to feed myself through a tube that runs directly into my stomach.
I don’t want to have cancer.