By Dom Cioffi
I want to believe this chapter of my life is over.
On Friday of last week, I traveled to Jacksonville, Fla., for another check-up concerning my cancer battle. It was exactly a year ago when I went down for my first appointment after having agreed that the doctors at the Mayo Clinic would be the team I entrusted with my care.
On that first visit (in preparation for the chemotherapy and radiation treatments that would come in the following months), my surgeon performed three procedures.
The first was the movement of one of the major salivary glands in my neck. Because my cancer was located on the base of my tongue (deep in my throat), I would need radiation all across my neck. While this is effective in ridding the area of a cancerous tumors, unfortunately, it also destroys all the salivary glands in your neck, rendering you with permanent dry mouth.
A new procedure that the doctors at the Mayo Clinic pioneered, involved moving a major gland away from my neck and relocating it under my chin, just out of the way of the harmful effects of radiation.
This procedure was a complete success. The scar is barely visible, the feeling in my neck is nearly back, and my mouth is plenty moist, allowing me to eat nearly like I used to.
The second procedure involved the placement of a feeding tube. This was initially the least attractive part of my overall treatment plan. I hated the idea of getting my sustenance through a tube in my stomach and lobbied to opt out. However, the doctors insisted and, in fact, said they would not provide my treatment without one.
In the end, they were right. I lost 35 pounds, which was a lot considering that I’ve always had a thin stature (people who do not integrate the feeding tube can lose over 60 pounds). The feeding tube was a necessary evil that aided in keeping me full of nutrients during a time when my body needed maximum support. And to be honest, the idea of it was much worse than the reality.
Having the feeding tube removed several months ago seemed like such a victory. First of all, it marked a milestone in that I could finally eat and drink on my own. And secondly, having it removed made me feel less like a patient and more like a normal person again.
The third procedure performed during that first appointment last year was the implanting of a port in my chest. Anytime a person is heading into a period where they will be getting continuous blood drawn (like cancer treatments), some doctors prefer a port, which saves the patient’s forearm from constant poking and allows much easier access for the nurses who draw blood.
Once implanted just under the skin, my port looked like a half dollar-sized cyst on my chest, but was barely noticeable unless you looked for it. However, I always knew it was there, which made me continuously conscious not do anything that might bring trauma to the area. The one time I did accidentally bump into an open door hurt like hell and left me feeling like I may have to return to the hospital to make sure I didn’t break something.
That port has been inside me for a year, but last Friday, after another clean bill of health, my doctors agreed it was time to remove it. I thought the removal would be simple — a quick slice and gentle extraction — but that wasn’t the case.
As it turns out, my body did a wonderful job absorbing the port into the area where it was housed. The surgeon who removed the device remarked that everyone’s body reacts differently, but mine seemed to go the extra mile to make the port feel at home. I wasn’t sure how to take that statement, but I know it required a lot more energy on his part to dislodge it.
I went home after this last appointment feeling a bit beat up, but thrilled that after a year of battling cancer, I am one of the lucky ones who can move on with life. I’ve been changed by this experience both mentally and physically, but I am alive and deeply thankful for it.
This week’s film, “Annabelle: Creation,” features a young girl who also wants to stay alive (even though she is dead) and is willing to go to any lengths to make sure it happens.
This film is the prequel to 2014’s “Annabelle” and the fourth offering in “The Conjuring” series. This particular horror franchise works hard to deliver jarring moments that will make even the most mundane moviegoer jump in terror.
“Annabelle: Creation” is more of the same, but unlike many horror offerings, this one includes a viable storyline that makes the entire effort that much more compelling. It doesn’t sit on the top shelf of its genre, but it is entertaining enough to keep you interested.
A dislodging “C+” for “Annabelle: Creation.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.