Given the situation, it was an OK way to start the day. There was enough time to wake up, snuggle a bit, drink our coffee and get dressed before we were on our way to our appointment with Dr. Futran. No time to spend worrying or brooding – just straight into acting on the next step in the process.
As I said when he walked into the exam room, I was both happy and sad to see Dr. Futran. I like him a lot. He is both an extraordinarily talented, skilled surgeon and a warm-hearted, caring doctor.
On the other hand, well, we were there to talk about him cutting my head open to get the cancer out.
To get a sense of what that means for us emotionally, you really need to understand what our year was like in 2004. For those who didn’t know us then, or have forgotten the details, the long story is detailed on our first blog. On February 27 that year, Dr. Futran performed major surgery to remove a tumor at the base of my tongue, as described in this post. I was in the hospital for 10 days, recovering at home for weeks, and it was 9 months before I could swallow well enough to have my PEG tube removed.
So while part of me was able to feel warm and cared for as Dr. Futran examined me, and did a quick biopsy, another part of me was overwhelmed by what we were there to talk about. In that post I wrote about the previous surgery, I referred to my animal brain jumping up and down on the “flight” button of the fight-or-flight controller. I think today that part of my brain is still in shock, not able to fully process what’s going on. Sitting stunned, staring blankly at the fight-or-flight controller seems a better description.
Dr. Futran showed us the PET scan, and carefully explained what we were seeing and what it meant. There’s a clear bright spot. The good news is that it is clear of any vital structures, like the carotid artery, and it is localized. It’s pretty much right where my tonsil would be if it were still there, not up into the palate, not down into the tongue. It is operable.
We are looking at a procedure very similar to the one in 2004. I think of it as the little brother of that surgery. 7-10 days in the hospital. Splitting the jaw open. Trach. “Free flap” of skin and muscle tissue used to reconstruct what gets cut out, though this time from my thigh, not my forearm, and no skin graft required (phew). Swelling. Unable to talk. Oozing. Healing. Tube feedings. Probably not as long as last time, since this area isn’t directly involved in swallowing, but there’s no certainty.
We’ve scheduled it for December 3.
We have some advantages this time. We have a good idea what we are getting into, which helps. I already have a PEG tube in. We know enough to get a PICC line back in early, before I’m lying impaired in a hospital bed, so there will be no repeat of the “droid with needles” story. We have a better handle on how to coordinate and use our strong support network of family and friends. And we know lots more about mundane but important things like tube feeding formulas and managing intestinal processes. We are more prepared to get through this.
But still, we are talking about literally cutting my head open in four weeks. And it may be the ‘little brother’, but it ain’t that little. It’s serious surgery, and serious healing time. My Christmas plans just got changed, and that’s the least of it.