Cancer Journal: Radiation therapy — DONE

In my last post, I described what radiation therapy for oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma is like. In brief: The purpose of radiation is to destroy my tumour while just-about-but-not-quite killing the healthy tissue surrounding it. As I described, I’ve had severe throat pain, including great difficulty swallowing. As a consequence, I’ve lost 30 pounds.

So, early in September, I had a nasogastric (NG) feeding tube inserted.

My NG tube. I have tucked the end that connects to the feeding bag under my shirt.

This allowed me to put units of concentrated nutritional products — I won’t dignify them with the term ‘food’ — into a bag on an IV pole. I dilute the product with water and, in the morning, with brewed coffee. The bag drips the product into my NG tube, which carries it into my nose, through my sinuses, past my inflamed throat, and empties directly in my stomach. The tube was moderately painful to insert, and you spend much of your day tethered to an IV pole. But it solved my dehydration and halted my weight loss, so it’s a win.

The great news is that I finished the last of my 35 radiation treatments on September 18th. The rigours of therapy aren’t over: my throat’s inflammation grew more acute in the week following the end of treatment, the way a sunburn can feel worse the next day. Nevertheless, I’m sleeping better, and my energy has improved.

A consultation with my home health care aide, Mika the Alaskan Shepherd.

Or so things stood, until this weekend. On Sunday, Mika — my 5 & 1/2-month-old King Shepherd/Malamute mix — careened into my lap while I was working on the couch. She weighs 24 kg — 50 freaking lbs — and she hip-checked my feeding tube, which yanked it out. Home health care is an adventure. Luckily, I am already sufficiently recovered that I can drink my coffee and Ensure™ cocktails, more or less, so we haven’t reinserted it.

Otherwise, I’m sleeping late, and after I get up, I mostly nap. Oropharyngeal cancer survivors tell me that this will continue for weeks. I won’t be scanned again for a few months, so I don’t know whether the treatment worked. I’m just grateful that it’s over.

I deeply appreciate all the messages of support, particularly from fellow cancer patients. Please keep reading for just a couple more posts. I want to reflect on how cancer changed me, psychologically and spiritually. And I will do one final post about how the COVID epidemic has affected the health care system, as seen by a cancer patient.

  • To read the Cancer Journal from the start, please begin here.
  • The next post, on cancer and COVID-19, is here.
  • A table of contents for the Cancer Journal is here.
  • To get the Cancer Journal in email, go here.


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