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.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 27, 2007 - Still here.... :-)

Yes, it was a very happy Thanksgiving indeed! It's hard to believe but it's been over a year since the end of my treatment and to the best of my knowledge, I am cancer free! My 1 year PET scan was completed a few weeks ago and there are no signs of recurrence at this point so the 1 year milestone has been achieved. I'm told that this is a very significant milestone because the recurrence rate for the type of cancer that I had is highest within the first year. And while a "cure" is still technically measured as 5 years, for SCC of the Head and Neck, 3 years is the unofficial measuring stick. If I make it 3 years cancer free, according to Dr. Tonnesen, I can probably start feeling really good about putting all of this behind me. Easier said than done I suspect but it is good to know that I'm probably now past the largest hurdle. I can't let myself get too comfortable though.

We spent this Thanksgiving at Disney World in Florida. It was a surprise for Mason who is now 6 and just tall enough to ride all of the cool rides! I could write for hours about what it meant to be able to experience firsthand the sheer joy and enthusiasm of my boy so I'll just say it was very profound for me and leave it at that.

Physically, I feel great. Taste is 99.8% back to normal. It really never even occurs to me any more and there is nothing I can't eat. Some dry foods still (and will always) require a little water but its hardly an afterthought at this point. It's funny as I read back through my posts from this time last year how afraid I was that I would never enjoy food again. I feel safe in assuring anyone who may be going through this now that it does get better... much better.

Which brings me to life in general. Part of the reason (the main reason really) that I haven't been nearly as diligent about posting as I'd like to be is the fact that my life is completely, 100% back to normal (to the extent it was ever 'normal'). This time last year I felt like cancer defined me. It was all consuming. Everything that I thought, felt, feared and hoped was in the context of my cancer. And while cancer will always be part of what defines me it is no longer some omnipresent burden that I am forced to shoulder. Now... it's kind of like your nose. You know its there and you're reminded of it when you look in the mirror sometimes but you certainly don't obsess about it. In the theater of my consciousness, cancer has now moved a few rows back and as more time passes, I suspect (hope) it continues to do so. It will always have a seat somewhere, but its view of the stage will get worse and worse!

So on Friday, I go to Hopkins for the last of my expirimental HPV vaccines. That has been a very interesting process which follows a pretty rigorous protocol of shots, site evaluations, follow ups and testing. All are done according to a predefined schedule that isn't exactly convenient (driving up to hopkins) but hopefully contribute to the good of humanity somehow. Or at least the good of my long term health. The shots themselves aren't too bad save for the logistics of getting up there to get them and having to go back for subsequent evaluations and testing. What did kind of suck was the process of "Leukopheresis" that has to happen at the beginning and end of the trial. Basically, you're hooked up to a large machine by very large needles in each arm. Through one needle, blood flows out into the machine where it is seperated and certain white cell components are extracted for measurement. The remaining blood is then returned to the body through the other needle. In all, this process takes two hours (or more when the blood doesn't flow like it should) during which you cannot get up or even move your arms. God forbid you have to go to the bathroom. This is before and after the trial to measure the effect, if any, of the vaccine on these particular white cell components. After my "booster" shot this weekend, I am to be evaluated periodically over the next 15 years. 15 YEARS!!!!! That's what I call optimism!

Well that's about all I have for now. The Terps managed to sneak their way into a bowl game this year so that is yet another cause for celebration. To those of you who have been sending me emails, so sorry for not responding sooner. I promise to check that account much more frequently!