I was talking to Brian Hill the other day and our conversation jogged my memory on the month’s learning of having cancer. I mentioned quickly in Part I brief tidbits of learning how I had oral cancer, but forgot the thoughts, emotions and other details that in talking to Brian brought back to mind. I might have buried this stuff on it’s own for what ever protective reason, thanks Brain.
Sometime between the months of September and October I decided my 15+ year dentist hiatus had to end. I had a impaction that never caused much issue until I noticed a sore in that area in the back pocket of my mouth ( I know I’ve said all this before). Obviously going to the dentist gives me a lot of anxiety or I would have been to one sooner than this current 15 or so years. I remember getting my teeth cleaned in 2 visits, one for the uppers and one for the lowers. My lowers had more gum swelling than the uppers. I remember making a point to the dentist about the sore in my mouth. He asked me if I smoked or chewed tobacco. I didn’t think much of that then since I have never smoked nor chewed, so this being something as heavy as cancer didn’t enter into my mind. I figured that was the general questions any dentist would ask on having any kind of mouth sore or lesion.
I must point out that I have learned a bit on dentists and the discovery of oral cancer since my surgery. Most of them don’t even take the time to look for such things because there isn’t much money in that. Making peoples teeth white and shiny is the primary focus with concerns in making money. I guess you could say there is no mandate for the dentist to take this that seriously to preform a simple check. You would think they would be the first ones to explore that territory but it doesn’t seem to be the case. My dentist seems to be the rarity to the tone of roughly of 20%. The dollar drives everything and distorts it as well.
So reflecting on that I realize that my dentist might have saved my life. I’m guessing he would have sent me to the oral surgeon for a biopsy anyways even though I was being scheduled to have my impaction and wisdom teeth removed. He never gave me much reason to be alarmed so it never dawned on me it was something serious, this wasn’t the case once I saw the oral surgeon for first consultation. The only nerves I had at this time was the possibility of being put under while having my teeth extracted. If you haven’t had much experience in being in the hospital or health problems in general the thought of being put unconscious you could say, might be unsettling, at least it was for me.
I had a bit of anxiety walking into the oral surgeon’s room in the anticipation of this consultation. To me this was as serious as it would get. I mean the guy’s title is ” Oral Surgeon” emphasis SURGEON. He looked my teeth over and stopped when he got to my sore. I could see in his eyes the concern. His intensity went up a notch and I could see that. Just like the dentist he asked if I smoked,chewed tobacco or drank a lot of alcohol, to which I replied negative to all. He poked and prodded with the awesome Dr Popsicle stick causing a bit of discomfort. Since the impaction was right behind where this sore was he spent some time examining the area adjacent. He mentioned doing a biopsy there during the time removing the other 3 wisdom teeth. Even though my radar was jogged as to something possibly more than a infection, I still didn’t think cancer. I did when he asked me to wait while he went to talk to a more experienced surgeon. This gentleman a senior surgeon of some type and was brought in to also take a peek. I could hear them murmuring in the hall prior to his entry into the room. Although I couldn’t tell what the actual words were everything just seem to change in those moments. I could tell the potential for something more than teeth being pulled was on the table now. The older surgeon took a look then walked out where the two again conversed just out of ear shot. I was told we would pull 3 teeth and get a biopsy on the sore before dealing with that area more extensively. I thought nothing of it, although in the far closet of my mind there was a bit if curious concern.
A week or two later I was back to have some teeth, cheek and gum cut out of my face. The nurse hooked up the IV to me and then, in what seemed to be a spur of the moment decision, the oral surgeon said let’s just take a biopsy first then on next visit we can get all the teeth at once (thus saving me money or an extra trip). I asked for a small dose of what ever drug was to be administered through the IV since I was already hooked up, even though the plans have slightly changed. It was a nice dreamy state, I felt nothing. I asked the surgeon to take a photo for me after which he obliged. The nerves associated with being hooked to a IV and potentially being knocked out subsided some after this experience. I was looking forward to getting the rest of my teeth out and curious to the biopsy results. The rest of that day I stayed home purging the narcotic from my body and looking at the photo’s the oral surgeon had captured for me.
Here is that image.
( Note: I’m writing this approximately one year later than writing the initial post above this image. I saved it as a draft and just never followed up as I’m attempting to do now. I hope the time between doesn’t distort or leave out key parts of this account although I cant be for sure as I’m sure I remember small pieces constantly out of time.)
Getting the call
Me, my wife and son were at the hospital for a consultation in a small procedure dealing with my son Quentin. As we were leaving the Oral Surgeon called me on my cell asking me if I could come in that day. He might have tried to sound not as alarmed but any doctor who asks you to come in that day when it’s 4:30 in the afternoon must mean something serious. We were heading to a Halloween thing for the kids at my work and I asked if in the morning was fine and he said sure to just come in when they open. Instinctively things started to seem serious. All the normal hoops of time with concern to scheduling seemed to have been pushed to the side in order to debrief me on the biopsy results. I keep thinking I knew then it was some kind of cancer although I left enough holes in my head for something else. The rest of that day was spent watching Q grab candy out of buckets dressed up as a elephant during his first Halloween outing.
Late October 7:30 am ( or at least it was around that time )
I had no trouble getting up that morning I was pretty intensely focused on what was going on. I remember it being cold and rainy the perfect cinematic of what a nasty October day is. I got there and didn’t wait very long as I was in the room with the Oral Doc as he pretty much right off the bat told me it’s cancer, specifically Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Everything from this point on seemed to carry a speed to it that I don’t think I never did catch up to. I then said he made some calls to a good Dr that would be handling this from this point on named Dr Baily and that he was a really good family oriented Dr, at least I think he said something to this effect. Leaving there I was heading to work and that grey rainy day just played in my head. Everything went numb for that ride. I parked my car got out to walk to work then decided to call my wife and let her know. I don’t think she suspected at all that it was something as serious as this. Next thing I know I got really aggravated she wasn’t picking up on the first few rings. I can’t remember why this was but I just remember it really made me angry. Finally she picked up and told her it was cancer. After that I just proceeded to detour from work and just walked in the rain toward the local coffee shop I frequent as I unleashed allot of anger out over the phone at my wife. I don’t remember much of what I said but just felt angry at allot of things. After this explosion I got a coffee beverage and heading into work. I think later that day I decided to take the rest of the week off and head back home to Kentucky to my parents.
Dr Bailey Visit
I think it took maybe 2 weeks to get in there to see Dr Bailey and have my first dose of what this all means. It was a little room and Dr Bailey looked at the Biopsy report and poked and prodded on the site. He was a nice guy who was very upfront about details and what it all meant. He seemed to have assumed that I knew more going in there about this than I did. I remember him realizing this at some point and backing up to break down the situation of possible procedures to deal with this. Everything at this point was just spinning and moving so fast it just felt like falling off a cliff with no way to really stop the momentum. He went over (excuse my technical use of words for these procedures) the options which involved possibly taking out a rather large section of my left mandible and replacing it with a titanium bike chain ( not really just what I call it ) and bone from my leg. So after this dose of reality was laid on me I proceeded to get some more radiation to cause more cancer in the forum of a CT scan and x rays. After tasting the nickle and feeling like I peed my pants I then again took some days off and went back home to Kentucky. Since Dr Bailey gave me some break downs of procedures for this I started to look them up online and came across this guys website.
Seeing this sank my stomach and had me privately reeling a bit. Just what the hell does this mean when one has this done. I emailed him and exchanged a few emails back and forth about what I was seeing. Non of this really helped but he seemed fine now so at least there was that I guess.
I think at this point breaking down anymore would just be a bunch of rambling of the same things over and over. I saw Dr Bailey and Dr Landsford a few times. Had a biopsy on my tongue just as a precaution to something they saw on the scans. Had a Peg tube installed which that first day was painful as shit. I even went to the emergency room not sure if things were ok it was hurting so bad. After that first day though the pain was minimal. My dad was making me laugh with that thing in and that hurt like hell and trying to hold back a laugh was exhausting, but at least I was laughing.
I didn’t like the thought of being put under for so long ( 17 hours ) but the tongue biopsy I had gave me some confidence in the system for this. As I was getting closer to the surgery date Dec 17th I was embracing it more and more and oddly looking forward to it. I think at some point you just have to embrace it since fighting it will just make things potentially worse. There was a final sit down with Dr Bailey before the surgery in which all the details of having this surgery were explained. This wasn’t any more unsettling but at least he was upfront about all possibility even in respect to the issue of death.
I know Ive said many of these later things written here in the next part but I’m putting it here anyways.