It's been 10 years since I was diagnosed with Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma... cancer. I started this blog to share the many emotions, fears, experiences and, hopefully, triumphs that I will face throughout this journey. I have two goals for this blog, 1. To gain some degree of personal therapeutic benefit and, 2. To help others who may one day face a similar struggle by detailing the process of diagnosis, treatment and recovery so that they may know what to expect.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Quarter Mile Mark

August 25, 2006 - Today was my ninth radiation treatment which effectively makes me 25% finished.

I met with Dr. Tonnessen on Wednesday who examined me by feeling the tumor at the base of my tongue. He indicated that it was noticeably smaller, maybe shrinking from the size of a pea to a "split-pea." My initial response was that this is obviously a good thing but it occured to me later that I really don't know if this is something to be excited about after one week of treatment or if this degree of progress is par for the course. I suppose those things aren't mutually exclusive, however, so I'll remain guardedly optimistic. Really, in my mind I was hoping the conversation would go something like this:

Tonnessen - "The tumor is noticeably smaller. It's about 1/2 the size it was last week."
Me - "Is that a good thing or is it to be expected?"
Tonnessen - "It's a very good thing and serves as clear, unequivocal proof that you will be cured and will never have to worry about cancer again!"

Is that too much to ask? As for my weekly meeting with Dr. Dar, he examined the beginning stages of my Erbitux "rash" (read: horrifying acne) and made the comment that at least with colon cancer patients, that rash is considered a good thing because those patients who exhibit it generally do better. Of course, no definition of "better" is offered nor does this necessarily mean that such results hold true for head and neck cancer patients. As he is wont to do, Dr. Dar prescribed me some sort of antibiotic for the rash which, of course, I will not be taking. Don't get me wrong, I really like Dr. Dar but I imagine most medical oncologists like to prescribe alot of medicines. It's what they do.

Now, on to my current condition. The effects of radiation are becoming more prominent. Food has begun to taste different or lose its taste altogether. Many things have a somewhat muted and slightly bitter flavor. Also, the texture of many foods seems different all of a sudden. I tried to eat an apple and had to spit it out. It was like biting into a burlap bag. Even bottled water has begun to taste like it came from a rusty pipe. It just makes the idea of food very unappealing. Mealtime is becoming quite a chore. Fortunately, I don't have any physical discomfort from chewing or swallowing... yet. I know that is yet to come but I'm thankful to have made it through two weeks without it so far. Aside from the taste issues, I am really starting to feel the fatigue of radiation poisoning begin to take effect. I'm not motivated to do much of anything... including update this blog. I want to read more, meditate, work out, catch up on the Terps, etc. but all I've really been able to rally for the past few days is the trip from my bed to my sofa. Thank God for satellite TV. I can't begin to imagine what I would do without it these days.

Besides the radiation effects, the biggest issue I am currently dealing with is the Erbitux rash. To look at me, you'd think that heaven had rained down some sort of terrible pox on me as though I were Pharoah himself holding captive the Israelites. I half expect to wake up tomorrow to find my house covered in frogs or locusts. It is that bad. I'm sure you're thinking that I'm a little paranoid but no... it is THAT bad. It covers not only my entire face including my lips and eyebrows but it is also covers my neck, chest and back. It's in my ears and covers my scalp. No one told me about the scalp. For some reason, that part itches terribly. The sores are generally puss filled like normal acne but unlike normal acne, they seem to die off much more quickly by oozing and ultimately drying out, only to be replaced by three more. What is most remarkable to me about this is that there is nothing gradual about it. It doesn't get worse by the day but, literally, by the hour. I tried to take some pictures to post but none of them do it justice so you'll just have to take my word for it for now. I promise to get some up soon. For fear of frightening small children, I have made the choice to confine myself to the house save for necessary trips for treatment and Mason's football games. It's only for a few more weeks (or so I keep telling myself.)

There is one experience from the week that I wanted to mention. The place where I get my radiation treatment also does PET scans. This week, I noticed a young woman, maybe late 30's or early 40's waiting in the reception area. I assumed she waited for an elderly parent but was suprised to see a young girl, no more than 17 or 18, come out to greet her with the telltale bandage on her arm and goody bag of snacks in her hand. This was her daughter. The mother was stoic and business-like as she instructed the nurse to make sure the results were sent to the right doctors. Clearly she had done this before, perhaps many times. She wanted to make sure that her daughter's new oncologist was consulted and not her pediatric oncologist. It struck me that there may be no two sadder words than pediatric oncologist. I am so thankful that this is happening to me and not my little boy...


Blogger Fox Cular said...

God places the heaviest burden on those who can carry the weight...

Quarter of the way home my man, we'll be toasting before midnight madness..


1:30 PM

Anonymous Jenn Mapp said...

Wow Mike, you're a warrior. No doubt about it. Perhaps its gauce of me to suggest medicinial, ehem, organics? BUTT considering the tactless conversation tract we've met on so many years ago -- what's the harm in being a litte offensive! Get it, BUTT? Think about it. Wow. I am a winner! Back to the organics though.... I know some people who know some people. For real, you are a hero. I'm rooting for you. Matt's rooting for you. The Terps are rooting for you! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO MIKE. I'm rambling. Must be the organic medicinals. LOVE YOU jennmapp

2:01 PM

Anonymous Coz said...

I started watching Brotherhood(series on Showtime) this weekend. Since you are watching a lot of TV, you should check it out if you haven't already. It's like Sopranos meets West Wing meets The Wire. Go Terps!!!!

2:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a lurker on TT Premium Forum, but I have been following your fight, and you are going to win this fight. I have no doubts about it. Let Mason and Michelle be your inspiration to get through this. When you get through this, in 2 years you will see Josh Portis lead the Terps to a national championship in Football in person at the Rose Bowl. Keep your spirits high and keep fighting the good fight.

2:46 PM

Anonymous Jonny Imerman said...

Hey Mike buddy I am sending you much love and good thoughts and positivity and strength and all good things my man... thinking about you.... You've got the survivors out there in your corner starting with me buddy, and you'll be just like one of us soon enough.. for now just keep taking it one day at a time, just one day brotha... and I know Michelle is telling you jokes everyday and keep that smile on your face... and you know my cell Mike, 312.307.4948, call me anytime, anytime brother... here for you and STAY STRONG you've got so many people in your corner... sending much love buddy... Jonny Imerman

2:47 PM

Anonymous Shany said...

I have been thinking about you and your family and have kept you all in my thoughts and prayers. I am so happy to hear that you have hit the 25% mark! Understandably, it is a tough fight, but with the support of your family and friends, I know that you will be able to get through the rest.

Take care,

2:48 PM

Anonymous Elizabeth Haigler now Kellenberger said...

Hey Mike, Lizzy here!! Bet you didn't expect to hear from me?!!? (Ran into Cular at the beach a few weeks ago and he passed this on to me). I am truly sorry for what you are going thru! However I am extreamly impressed by you positive attitude and willingness to fight. I went thru my own double breast cancer scare 2 1/2 years ago. Things did turn out ok for me, but I know of your intials thoughts and fears. New job, new town (philly now) new INSURANCE and new marriage. I did not know what to do with myself. Could we have kids when we were ready? So again I commend you for your bravery!
When in doubt look at that sweet boy of yours and know that you WILL do this, not for you, not for Michelle but for Mason.
You are loved by so many friends and family. I will pray for your strength and will to continue. Best of luck to you and your family. I look forward to seeing you again in the next few years! Keep up the good work buddy!


Take care,
Elizabeth AKA Lizzy

3:22 PM

Blogger Mr_Lynch said...

Hi Mike;
Continue to fight and you will win this battle. Best luck for your treatment.
A hug from the other side of the Atlanctic.

4:07 PM

Blogger mikeschafer said...

Ahhh, Jenn. Now your potty humor is published for all of the world to see and interpret as they see fit! Aren't you happy about that?!!! As for organics, did you mean to say hydroponics? :-)

5:16 PM

Anonymous Your Wife said...

Mike is the! He will prevail!


5:50 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Mike, great to read that you're hanging in there and now starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Keep up the good work and enjoy the Terps this season. The Fridge is ready to bounce back with this group, I can feel it.

9:24 PM

Blogger FamnBlan said...

Mike you are coming around the bend of the marathon! Keep your eyes on the finish line!! And I guess we can all wish that the Terps are headed to the championship game!! What there are no Arizona WildCats on this blog?? T
PS: Oprah is always a good day time way to lose oneself!

10:07 PM

Blogger Pilar said...

Mike, we heard from Michelle that you are starting to feel the side effects of the treatments, and we want to let you know that we
cant wait to see you doing the things you enjoy again. In the meantime, stay comfortable and try not to blow out your satellite.
Lots of love from salti balti:

2:14 PM

Blogger Pilar said...

Mike: We just heard from Michelle that you are starting to feel the side effects from the treatment, and we want you to know that we cant wait to see you doing the things you enjoy doing again! In the meantime stay comfortable and try not to burn out your satellite.
lots of love from salti balti:

2:21 PM

Anonymous Tom Rice said...

Mike --

I really enjoyed your blog journal here -- you are a heroic person for all that you have gone through so far. Stay strong and the end of these treatments will be over before you know it. Mason has a great Dad that he can look up to the rest of his life. You've got a wonderful family and me and my family wish you all the best as you win this fight.

2:26 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know that you don't know me that well,but Susan has probably told you enough that has given you some laughter about how parents get in the way of kids when they want to do things that parents don't want done.
I have 2 girls that went thru this canser thing that you are going through.
I wish they had done what you are doing with this history thing you are documenting.
I was there but never really new all that was going through there mind about the trils and tribulations at the time.
I feel sure that one of the goals you set for this biog. will be reached.
Gary M Miller

2:55 PM

Blogger Jenn Caugh said...

Hey Mike. Just wanted to let you know that I was thinking about you and keeping you in my prayers. We were discussing last night what a great writer you are, and the "Quarter Mile Mark" entry left me craking up in regard to your "I half expect to wake up tomorrow to find my house covered in frogs or locusts". Seriously, you can't make me laugh like that, I'm at work for God sakes. So hang in there, and know that my offer still stands. If you guys want to get out of the house sometime this week, I can do Thursday. Next Tuesday, Thursday as well. I know you said you're not leaving the house, and that you're tired...but if you change your mind or feel up to it the offer is there, just pick up the phone and I will be there. Hang in there Mike. We all love you!


3:38 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Mike. I hope you know how often we are all thinking about you and rooting for you. Often times, people on the outside don't want to call in fear of bugging those who are going through it, so it is so nice for us to be able to share your experience like this. I can't begin to pretend that I know what you are going through, but do know that you have the strength to overcome. This will be behind you before you know it, and will remind us all how important it is not to take the little things for granted each day. Hang in there - let us know if you need anything at all.


9:45 PM


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