Soapbox time

I had my latest three-monthly prodding and squirrelling session a couple of days ago, this time with my original Consultant. He seemed happy enough with what he saw: it’s also the first time I felt completely comfortable with the nasal endoscope. All this time, it’s felt like my head is being violated and my nose feels physically detached from my head for a couple of hours afterwards. You endure the discomfort, but I’m cool with it now. Just a check on my thyroids to go and it’s ‘see you in 3 months time’.

It’s now two years since I noticed the original lump in my neck, and 19 months since I completed my treatment. As the first couple of years post-therapy are critical in terms of any reccurence, the closer I get to that milestone, the happier I feel. Now the next bit will sound like soapbox preaching, but it’s important, so please read on…

In the UK there is relatively little public awareness of head and neck cancer, but squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is the sixth most common cancer worldwide. It constitutes about 4% of all cancers in the United States and 5% in the UK. Head and neck cancers often spread to the lymph nodes of the neck, and this is usually the first (and sometimes only) sign of the disease at the time of diagnosis.

This type of cancer is strongly associated with certain environmental and lifestyle risk factors, including tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption, Patients with these types of cancer are at a higher risk of developing another cancer in the head and neck area but – the crucial point – this cancer is highly curable if detected early.

The symptoms of head and neck cancers may include a lump or a sore that does not heal, a sore throat that does not go away, difficulty in swallowing, and a change or hoarseness in the voice. These symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious conditions.

I’m not writing this to frighten people: I just want to make you more aware of this particular type of cancer, and emphasise as strongly as I can that it is important to check with a doctor or dentist if you have concerns about any of the above symptoms. Who knows, you might thank me for it one day 🙂

Okay, sermon over with.

We’re soon to do a bit of sailing, this time around Sardinia and Corsica. We’ve sailed there before and had much fun, including one of the most startlingly beautiful entrances into port – sailing into Bonifacio harbour in Corsica. I’m very much looking forward to it!

Until the next time – enjoy life!

PS. Bonifacio from the air – pretty, n’est pas?

Bonifacio_00

Seven Months On

I had my latest consultation today, including the nasal endoscope. Results from the latest blood test shows that my thyroid function is fine, and that the Oncologist is happy with what he can see down my nasal passage and back of throat – this is a good thing 🙂

Normally, with the camera in place, I’m asked to call out an elongated ‘eeee’: this time we added a couple of ‘heee heee’s’. I was then asked to inhale through my mouth whilst he pinched my nose hard and told to blow through my nose as hard as I could. I imagined how ridiculous this charade will have looked (it felt it): it certainly made the nurse smile. I’ll know it was all a prank when I see a clip of it on YouTube.

So, seven months post-treatment, this is the state of play:

  • My taste buds have re-awakened: I can discern most obvious flavours but not subtle ones. It’s all still a bit brash and temperamental, with some days better than others. Since pre-treatment days I’d had just two mild curries (think Korma) until last week, then a stunning home-made vegetarian feast. I struggled with a Dhal and two of the ‘dry’ dishes, but in the main, I enjoyed it all. This is another good thing.
  • I still cannot digest starchy foods without taking on lots of liquid. Gravy works well, especially with spuds, but water tends to bugger up the taste of certain things, like bread/toast, nuts, etc. Flaky fish works, dense meat (e.g. pork) doesn’t. Frustrating but it’s now the norm. Fresh pineapple and yoghurt is still a favourite though.
  • My throat remains sore at night, but I no longer need to get up every two hours to dispense with vast quantities of liquid; just the one trip. I’m down to sipping 2 litres of filtered water a day, excluding coffee (which was never a problem). It still has a metallic tang (bottled water less so), and I’m not sure if it’s as bad as it has been over the past months, or whether I’ve just got used to the ‘new’ taste. Not really a successful brand strapline (new improved water, less metallic taste). The next trick is to try a Peptac liquid in case acid reflux could be an issue. Hey, I’m happy to try anything…
  • My teeth feel ‘loose’ in the morning: it’s a bizarre effect, like having my gums melt overnight. They feel better after I’ve eaten something, but never quite ‘right’. The dentist is casting his evil eye over my wisdom teeth. I’m anxious about this (no, not the dentist’s evil eye). Worse, the Oncologist mentioned osteoradionecrosis (ORN), but added that this is not normally an issue for another ten years or so. Having just read up on the subject, it’s yet another thing to look forward to…
  • The Lymphoedema is manageable – some days are better than others. I’m constantly massaging my neck, and if I keep the Kinesio tape on for a couple of days, it helps to stop the ‘neck pouch’ developing for a longer period. When I forget the tape, the bulge becomes very noticeable.
  • The tiredness comes and goes, with some days better than others. The days of feeling ‘wiped out’ are less frequent.
  • I can now ‘do’ good red wine in small quantities (no cheap rubbish) – this is a joy (the third good thing), as I was missing my favourite tipple. Spirits are still a no-no, but I no longer yearn for a G&T. White wine and the occasional beer are good. Apart from when we are on holiday though, my intake is a fraction of what it was pre-diagnosis. However, after months of properly flushing out my system, I definitely feel it when I’ve had a drink.

I’m just over half a year into my remission period, but there do seem to be new issues occurring. Reading up on the potential after effects 12/24/60 months post-therapy, you realise how much you’re not aware of when your Oncologist outlines the treatment schedule. You are warned about most likely scenarios immediately surrounding the treatment, but there was scant discussion regarding long term conditions. I hadn’t imagined it would take as long as it has, but I’m told that it can be a year – or longer – to return to ‘normal’ and the continuing after-effects of radio/chemo treatment differs for each individual. I’m not bitter about this because, at the time, what are the alternatives to what’s on offer? At least, alternatives you would seriously contemplate.

Having whinged on a bit, it’s only when you speak to others that you realise how much you’ve actually improved over the past seven months. All things considered, I’m bloody grateful for where I am today…

Apart from that, I spent some time with friends in the southernmost tip of Devon, at Prawle Point. Lots of great walks, fairly decent weather, great company and wonderful food; a perfect break.

I raise a singular glass of red wine to you all!

 

PS Rock sofas in Devon – it’ll never catch on.

Image