By Dom Cioffi
The second phase in my cancer journey is officially complete. The first phase involved my diagnosis and subsequent revelation to friends and family, while the second phase has been the completion of a series of procedures to ready my body for the third phase, which is the actual chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
These procedures, which took place over the last 10 days, included three minor surgeries: the placement of a feeding tube, the insertion of a chemo port, and the relocation of a gland in my neck. Also involved were a series of trainings for exercises that I will have to complete during treatment as well as the fitting of a high-tech mask that will protect my head from the punishing radiation.
The feeding tube is a necessary evil because any significant loss of weight during treatment will throw off the precise angles of the radiation beam. I fully admit that having a tube coming out of my stomach is far from “comfortable,” but I am getting used to it. While I don’t need it now, in the coming weeks when swallowing will become nearly impossible, I’ll be thankful for the option and the ability to pump much-needed nutrients into my body.
The chemo port is a nifty device that is placed under the skin on your chest. It looks like a small cyst but in the coming weeks when I am being poked with a relentless stream of needles, I’ll be glad this device is there because it saves you the punishment on your veins and the subsequent pain that results.
The third procedure involved the relocation of one of my main salivary glands. Unfortunately, radiation on your head fries your glands so a new technique has been developed where one of the glands is relocated under your chin and out of the way of the radiation. The result should mean that I will still be able to produce saliva after my treatments are over (which means less chances for chronic dry mouth and more protection from tooth decay).
I then had a swallowing analysis where I stood inside an x-ray device while a nurse handed me a number of different foods and drinks, each laced with barium. (Barium lights up under x-ray conditions, giving technicians a clear view of any issues.)
Afterwards, a specialist reviewed the x-ray video of my swallowing, explaining to me how the process works and how I will need to workout the numerous muscles in my throat so they won’t atrophy during treatments.
I then moved on to the development of my radiation mask and the digital mapping of my tumor.
After a long conversation about radiation, my nurses readied me for the procedure, but prior to heading in, I was asked if I would like some anti-anxiety mediation. This startled me a bit because I wasn’t exactly sure what I was walking into. My response was, “Tell me what’s involved and I’ll tell you if I need to medicate myself.”
The nurse then explained that I would be tied down onto a flat surface to the point where any movement would be nearly impossible. Once secured, a large wet material would be placed over my head and then molded to the contours of my face. Once the mold hardened, I would then be sent through a large CAT scan machine for the mapping. “We suggest taking the medication if you have any problems with claustrophobia,” she explained.
Knowing that I had a seven-hour drive home, I opted out of the medication and decided to tough it out. In the end, my approach worked splendidly because as the nurse lifted the mask off at the completion of the procedure, my only comment was, “Five minutes more and you would have had to wake me up!”
So all in all, things have gone very well as I prepare for my treatments, with only minor discomfort to complain about. And as I keep learning throughout this process, it’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.
On the morning of Jan. 15, 2009, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger reacted well when he attempted a water landing while piloting 155 passengers on a routine flight out of LaGuardia Airport in New York. His decision ultimately saved the lives of every passenger.
Most of us remember the “Miracle on the Hudson” as the epitome of bravery in the face of adversity, but, as this film explains, things are not always what they seem.
Check this one out if you want to see an intriguing look at a harrowing event. Director Clint Eastwood knows how to tell an interesting story and lead actor Tom Hanks knows how to carry a film. Together, these two icons deliver a solid film well worth seeing.
A buoyant “B” for “Sully.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]
By Dom Cioffi