Saturday, February 8, 2014

Cranking Up the Engine

OK, time to get off my butt and get back in the shape I was in before I was rudely interrupted.

Over the holidays I went through a period of depression that was on the deep end of the spectrum for me (I'm usually a pretty happy guy). Part of it, I'm sure, was due to lack of exercise. I didn't play sports as a kid, but in my late 20s I got interested in sports like mountain biking and mountain climbing and I've been pretty active ever since. For the past 15 years my main sport has been road cycling. Since 2005 I've commuted to work by bike pretty much whenever the weather permitted.

Actually I misspoke. From 1999-2004 my main sport was mountain climbing and I used cycling as cross training for climbing. Once Progeny the Elder was born I wandered more toward cycling because it was safer and took a lot less time.

When I started thinking about exercising again I thought a lot about running. I've never run for exercise before. Or at least not since I was on the cross country team my freshman year in high school.

Yesterday I bought my first pair of running shoes and went for my first run. The novice running programs recommend that one start by alternating between running and walking - a minute of each at first. Being me, I felt good during that first run segment and went to two minutes, then settled into a 2 minute run, one minute walk pattern.

That probably wasn't a good idea. My legs hurt today. But that didn't stop me from going again today - and this time respecting the 1 minute interval pattern.

Who knows, maybe I'll fall in love with this new sport!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

When It Rains, It Pours

The In-Laws, who spent more than a month here in the fall taking care of me and mine, were both diagnosed with cancer in the months following their return home.

Mary was diagnosed with a very small breast tumor. Dennis was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Sheesh! That's a little too much for one family in one year!

Just as we experienced, they had a brief period of terror before settling into the process of treatment planning and now treatment. They are supremely calm individuals and have handled this in their usual way. At least from 3,000 miles away and through the conduit of Wonderful Wife that's how it has seemed.

Mary had a lumpectomy in December and then started four and a half weeks of radiation right after the New Year. She is now finished. With her usual humor, she says that she is feeling some fatigue but that it gives her an excuse to curl up in a blanket. Now she will take an aromatase inhibitor (Letrozole or Arimidex) for five years.

Dennis has had one hormone injection (testosterone suppression, Trelstar) after which they will wait a month to see how the tumor responds. I think the plan then is either more hormone injections (if it is responding well to them) or radiation.

Wonderful Wife is also handling it quite well. Her attitude, like it was with my cancer, is that she won't worry (too much) until someone tells her there is something to be worried about. Interestingly, that's not how she is about anything else in life! :) Anything less serious than cancer she can worry about better than anyone!

We would normally see the In-Laws during our February visit to the west, but due to treatment they are unlikely to be at their winter home. We'll see them this summer, but we'll miss them until then.

[I started this blog with anonymity in mind, but I started to find the blacked out faces humorous and now I consider the anonymity sort of a running joke. Dennis and Mary gave me permission to post this news, and also told me they do not require anonymity. Thus the real names.]

Monday, February 3, 2014

All Quiet on the Oropharyngeal Front

I had my periodic surveillance visit to Dana-Farber today. As you may recall I will see a doctor there every two months for the first two years following treatment, to make a visual inspection of my throat and make sure the cancer is not recurring.

I trade off doctors every visit, so today's visit was with Doctor Rad. We really like both of my oncologists but Doctor Rad is the warmer of the two. I sometimes envision socializing with her - inviting her family to a barbecue at our house or something. One spends so much time with one's doctors during treatment - and such vulnerable time - that they feel like family by the time you're finished.

If there can be a cool thing about cancer, the cool thing about tongue cancer is that to look for recurrence doctors can just use their eyes directly. They don't have to interpret images made by a computer after some system has shot energy beams through tissue and bone. It's direct and instant and less error prone.

To look at my tumor site they spray an anesthetic mist into my nostrils and then insert a thin, flexible scope in my nose and feed it down into my throat. Normally the scope doesn't hurt at all; it's just slightly uncomfortable. At the December visit my nasal passages were inflamed and swollen a little and it hurt more, but today was normal and almost painless.

The photo above shows me with the scope in my throat.

This photo shows what the doctor sees.

To orient you, you are looking down my throat from the back of my mouth. The bottom of the photo is the base of my tongue. The bright inverted arch is my epiglottis and at the end of the tunnel you can see my vocal cords. During this image I am saying "eeeeeee", which makes the throat open and round so you can see well. It also happens to stretch the vocal cords tight.

The scope is a little off center but you can see the groove on the "floor" that runs down the middle of my tongue. It didn't occur to us to take photos during my initial consultation at Dana-Farber on June 4. At that time the groove appeared much deeper because the tumor consisted of tongue tissue that was much puffier and "higher" on both sides of the groove. So high that it was half blocking my throat.

Now my tongue looks normal. Officially I am classified as "No Evidence of Disease" ("NED").

That's a good thing.

On Friday it will be six months since the end of treatment.