Monday, December 10, 2012

I Wasn't Expecting That

They say laughter is the best medicine, and I must admit to being somewhat of a believer.  A good laugh can alleviate stress quicker than virtually anything else.

Sure, two years ago laughter didn't feature that often in my plans, but things have moved on, and with the new normal has come the return to enjoying a good laugh.

I'm an unashamed fan of Mrs Brown's Boys, because it is good old fashioned humour.  You can just lose yourself in it and forget about all the stresses of life for half an hour or so.

Last Saturday night we had our first Christmas function for the year and the entertainment turned out to be a hypnotist.  I've always been somewhat of a sceptic, but what was to follow was a good hour and a half of almost non-stop laughter from the entire audience.  All credit to the 3 guys who ended up being the entertainment and what a great time.

This is where I'd have to resort to the good old idiom - too much of a good thing can be bad for you.  It seems that prolonged laughter dries my throat out rather badly, so much so that it took all day Sunday for it to really settle down again.

Throughout the show I was continually sipping on my water, so I was totally caught out by the way my throat reacted.  It is the first time in absolute ages that my throat has felt that dry and I honestly don't know what else I could have done to keep it lubricated.  Maybe next time I'll have a glass of soft drink to add some sweetness to the mix to see if that helps.

Drinking anything other than water has been somewhat of a hit and miss affair over the last couple of years, but I've always been able to rely on good old water to keep things "balanced" throat wise, until now anyway.

Just when I thought I pretty much had everything under control and there was nothing left to surprise me, laughter of all things somewhat derails it all.  Let's call it a reality check - seems I can still expect the unexpected to remind me things have changed.  Certainly ensures I don't let complacency set in.

Oh, and one more thing.  While I can now enjoy chocolate a little more than before, I still have the problem of not being able to "process" it properly without the help of fully functioning saliva, but it seems that white chocolate is a bit more tolerable/manageable. Could be something to do with the lower cocoa content, who knows, but it certainly makes for a more enjoyable eating experience.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Listen to the Sound of...

The human body is a truly marvellous machine.  I know, I've said that more than once before, but over recent weeks this wonderful machine has caused me a little angst.

It's now almost a year since I got my hearing aids and over the months there have been numerous adjustments to get the best out of them.  We have however struggled to get any real benefit in loud environments, which is one of the main areas that my hearing is noticeably deficient.

The batteries in the aids tend to last about a week, so imagine my surprise when, one day after they went flat, I couldn't notice any difference in what I could hear.  I decided to test this find over the next few days and it certainly appeared that after an initial brief boost when I turned them on each morning, there was no noticeable benefit in my hearing.

This is where the doubts crept in.  Have I just adjusted to what they're doing, so I don't notice them doing their job?  Has my hearing got worse, so they can't compensate any more?

So, off to the audiologist I go and it seems it wasn't all in my mind with Nicholas sending  them off to be checked.  The period they were away confirmed they weren't adding any value.

About a week later they were back.  They had replaced the receivers.  The day I got them back the difference was truly noticeable - I could hear more detail than I'd heard for months.  The following day however there was a wonderful increase in what I could hear, but it seemed to stop there.  Hmmm.  I left them off for the weekend and come Monday morning that all too familiar silence returned.  Dammit.

Back to the audiologist and they send them off again with full description of what the symptoms were - another week au naturale.

This time when they came back, there were a couple of recommendations of things to check, which involved some setting tweaks.  Before I go on, one of the suggestions was to fit the enclosed domes, which would effectively remove my natural hearing from the equation and replace it totally with the aids.  We agreed this wasn't a good idea as my hearing issues are only in the high frequency ranges, and we should take advantage of that as much as possible.

Nicholas duly made a series of tweaks and re-ran some system tests to reset the feedback levels.  Then it was the moment of truth.  Yippee, success.  It's now been a week and they are performing just wonderfully, although I haven't been in any loud environments yet to really test them out.

So, now I am indeed listening to the sounds of life that I was used to in the good old days.

I was beginning to have my doubts about the ongoing merits of the hearing aids, but if they continue to work as well as they are now, there is no doubt they are indeed making my life easier.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Innocent or Sinister

Yesterday was clinic day.  It was supposed to be somewhat of a milestone with, assuming a clean bill of health resulted, me moving to six monthly check-ups going forward.

Over the last few clinics I have become more relaxed about it all.  not complacent by any means, but certainly not getting stressed about it like I used to.  The "shrinkage" down to a Gang of One helped as well.

An early good sign was things were running slightly ahead of schedule for a change - I got called in 5 minutes early.  It was however with an Oncology Registrar I'd never met before.  No probs, does it really matter who asks the questions and has the obligatory feel around my neck?  Of course note.  The danger signs however came when she was still poking and prodding after 5 minutes.  That doesn't normally happen.  Then she decided to consult her PC and dragged up images of the human neck that she looked at intently for a while, before coming back and feeling my neck some more.  Then a quick read through my file and she decides she needs to consult with Mr Hamilton.  I've now been in there for some 20 minutes, which easily surpasses the normal 5-10 I've become accustomed to, and I've not had any "scares" for a damn long time.

What seemed like an eternity, but was in fact 3-4 minutes passed before they came back in the room.  It's amazing how your mind can develop the worst possible scenarios in a short space of time, and believe me, I was already thinking about chemo again.

Mr Hamilton proceeds to have his little poke and prod and declares there is nothing abnormal.  It seems my hyoid bone on the left side of my neck has scar tissue around it from the treatment, so it appears abnormal when compared to the other side.  Mr Hamilton walked the registrar through how to feel the difference (and it actually involves being gentle - as opposed to her quite firm previous efforts), and my hear rate is now back to normal and all is right with the world.

I was then asked if I was still being seen by Mr Morrissey - yes I am on a 4 monthly cycle.  Then the bolt from the blue.  Mr Hamilton decides that as I'm being seen by Mr Morrisey, he doesn't see the need for me to attend 2 clinics, so he is going to discharge me, effectively into Mr Morrissey's care.  If Mr Morrissey has any issues, he'll just enlist Mr Hamilton as required.

Blow me down with a feather.  I went hoping for a 6 monthly oncology clinic cycle, and instead came away with an oncology discharge.  I think you could safely say that I was mildly pleased with that outcome.

Yesterday ended up being not only a lovely day weather-wise, but also a damn good day on the path to that final confirmation I've beaten the bugger.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Happy 2nd Rebirthday

August 16th was the 2nd anniversary of the completion of my treatment, and arguably the start of my new life.

Over the last two years, lost of things have changed and others have almost returned to pre-treatment states, and as I've said before, I have to think quite hard to remember the details of the effects the treatment had on me, so it has been invaluable to have this blog to look back on.

I don't think I'm being morbid, but I think part of keeping myself grounded and maintaining the commitments I made myself, it is important not to forget what I've been through.

The reason I raise this now is I've been pondering whether it is time to stop actually writing the blog (the posts have indeed become quite well spaced out now time-wise), but for every argument to do so, I keep coming back to the internal need to ensure my full story is recorded.

So, sorry, you'll have to put up with these for a bit longer yet.

The 16th was marked by my work colleagues giving me a "Happy Rebirthday Russell" cake, and apart from that it was just another day.  In 2010, I honestly wondered if I'd ever have a "normal" day again and it would indeed appear that time is a good healer.

At times I still get a tad frustrated with having to always carry a water bottle and drinking copious amounts of water at meal times to compensate for the missing saliva  There are other times when I would really like to have a serious drinking session without the saliva / dry throat curtailing it after only a couple of drinks.  But, these are the hands I've been dealt, and they are considerably better than others have had to endure, so overall I'm just going to roll with it and continue taking each day as it comes.

Life's too short to sweat the small stuff, so bring on summer as I'm really looking forward to doing some landscaping, etc on the new section.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Comings & Goings

Over the course of my journey I've been lucky that, by in large, my medical "umbrella" has been consistent.  Looking back, it was really only the district nurses that have been "swapped out".  That has now changed.

Over the last 15 months or so I've been having regular treatment at the osteopath to try and restore some movement in my neck (to overcome the  scarring done by the radiotherapy).  My therapist has been Melissa, but from next week it will be Sanjay I see. Melissa has moved to Auckland with her partner, so now I'll need to establish a "relationship" with Sanjay and I'm seriously thinking it might not be worth the effort. No disrespect to Sanjay (I haven't even met him yet), but I'm not sure I can be bothered starting all over again,and I'm wondering just what can be achieved by continuing to go for this treatment.

I've got considerable movement back in my neck, but there hasn't been any noticeable  new improvement for a little while now.  So, is it time to cut the tie?  I'll give Sanjay a go, but think the decision is already made.

You'll all be aware of my Gang of Seven (the group of specialists & support team that I see at each clinic appointment).  As previously discussed, my last clinic was actually a gang of one - only Mr Hamilton was there.  Again, he represents continuity from day 1, but there is another specialist who I've seen periodically, and that is Mr Morrissey - the ENT man who performed the biopsy & confirmed the initial diagnosis.

I've seen Mr Morrissey maybe once every six months or so, and that has normally been somewhere in-between the normal clinics.  Given I only saw Mr Hamilton in June, it was with some concern that a couple of weeks ago I got a letter advising an appointment with Mr Morrissey for today.  I now admit that I didn't really acknowledge in my mind the previous appointments I've had with him, had I done so, I wouldn't have given today's visit a second thought.

Anyhow, today amounted to another hearing test (basically unchanged from the last one) and then a quick (I mean quick) appointment with Mr Morrissey himself.  All good as far as he is concerned, so that is always good to hear, and as the last 2 hearing tests have been the same, won't need to do them again for a while.  Seems I'll now be on a regular cycle of appointments with him as well (next one will be 4 months).

It was his comments about the future that were quite interesting.  Seems that 5 years remains the timeframe where it is deemed I have beaten this thing.  At 2 years (August 16th is my re-birthday), the fact there are no signs of the rotten sod trying to make a comeback is good.  Seems if there is going to be a repeat attack, they normally occur earlier rather than later, so the more time that passes with a clean bill from the experts, the less likely it is that any of us will have to endure the agony of fighting the bugger again.

So, Melissa has gone and Mr Morrissey has come into the fold of regular visits.  Just when things appeared all settled, somebody throws the dice, and you know what, I don't think there is really anything wrong with that. It stops complacency setting in.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Over the six weeks since my last post, a lot of things have happened, and you could almost argue things have returned to normal.

Work is very busy with the end of financial year, budgets and the seemingly never ending array of "special projects" that keep surfacing to challenge an already hectic schedule.

Home life has also been busy with my rekindled relationship leading to a blending of households over the last couple of weeks.

Couple all of that with the health side of things being pretty much on an even keel, and it appears real normality has finally returned, so time for me to do some housekeeping and bring the blog up to date.

On the 20th of June, I had a medical day - dentist, doctor and clinic all on the same day. The dentist was for my annual check-up, and disappointingly, the x-rays revealed I need a couple of fillings.  Given before the cancer I rarely had fillings, this now recurring pattern of every visit = fillings is starting to get a tad tedious.  Yes, I accept it is a small price to pay in the overall scheme of still being alive, but it is just plain annoying. (It seems there is a 3rd cavity to be sorted out now - lucky me!)

The Doctor's visit was to address 3 things - ongoing heartburn, clarify the "virus activates cancer" statement from the after-hours visit and my "deformed" RH little finger.  Firstly, Tatiana was gobsmacked with the notion a virus would have any impact on re-activating the cancer.  Seems it is a load of bollocks, in fact some tests have shown that introducing a virus can actually attack the cancer.  That said, apparently there were some other nasty side effects, so we'll just stop there. The heartburn has been addressed by adding Omeprazole (losec) to my daily routine.  I was taking it during treatment for the same sort of reason, so taking it with my thyroxine each morning is no hardship.  After a week, it is indeed having the desired effect.  The deformity on my little finger (the top knuckle  is bent in at quite an angle) is apparently arthritis - great, something else to look forward to.  Apparently we can enlist some drugs to manage it if it becomes a real issue, in the meantime, I just need to wear gloves in coldish weather to minimise the discomfort.

The Clinic was the highlight of the day.  I confess that I was still a little apprehensive leading up to it, although probably less so than on previous occasions.  This visit was to be different for a whole lot of other reasons. Firstly, it was earlier in the day, so was the first time I've gone to clinic on my own.  Secondly, it was in general outpatients, whereas all the others have been in the plastics outpatients.  I went to my normal "venue" only to be sent off elsewhere - might pay me to actually read the appointment letter next time.  Thirdly, the Gang of Seven became a Gang of One - Mr Hamilton was on his own. That meant less prodding than usual, and he was actually really pleased with the look he got down my throat, even saying it was the best he's ever had (given the gag reflex kicked in, that surprised me, but I'll take it).  The clincher though was that my next appointment will be in four months time (normally every 3 months) and if everything continues to look as it is, they'll be pushed out to six monthly.

That is the breakthrough I've been waiting for.  A definitive statement that the cancer is no longer a threat.  It is now almost 2 years since treatment finished (August 16th), but with quarterly clinics still on the agenda, it's been hard to accept deep down that things are OK.

And to round it all out, I can now actually eat a pie, albeit occasionally - although experience has shown that finding a "good" pie is pretty damn hard to do as most of them are full of the fillers that make them somewhat of a gluggy mess.  On more than one occasion, I've thrown a pie away after one bite because it was just too stodgy.  Despite obviously relaxing my eating habits a bit (we all know pies aren't exactly healthy), and the exercise routines being in a bit of a winter hiatus, my weight is remaining static, which is a pleasant surprise.

There we are, all caught up again.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Winter is always a strange time of year.  We expect the colder weather to make us feel grumpy, yearn for summer (all 2 sunny days of it) and dream of lying on a stunning beach on some sun-drenched pacific island.  And let' not forget the inevitable winter ills.

I've never had a flu-injection, partially because I keep hearing stories about people actually getting the flu from them (apparently an urban myth, but the jury is still out for me), and partially because I don't see much sense in vaccinating yourself against last year's strain.  In all fairness, I have been pretty lucky, enjoying sufficiently good health not to fall victim to full blown flu, but instead enduring a few days of heavy head and/or chest colds form time to time.

When I started my cancer treatments back in July 2010, it was made clear to me that my immune system would take a hit, and fever/infection was my enemy.  It was as blunt as if my temperature hit 38 degrees, it was straight to the hospital for me.  Moving forward to winter 2011, I only suffered a mild head cold that responded to a couple of days away from work (as much as a prevention strategy to ensure I didn't get exposed to anything else going around the office at the time).

So, you can imaging my surprise this year, as early in the flu season as it is, that I've been off work since last Friday afternoon and won't be making my way back until Thursday.  That's effectively a week of being laid low. Damn, blast it.

I didn't think it was anything major, but come Sunday when my whole body felt like it was in shutdown and I was forever chasing my runny nose, I decided some intervention was required.  First instinct was a trip to the pharmacy for an over the counter solution, but by the time my symptoms (and treatment history) were disclosed, they recommended a trip to the Doctor instead.  Bugger.  Never mind, got an appointment for 2pm, so just suffered in semi-silence until then.

As it turned out, the 2pm appointment was the first after their lunch-break, so there was no waiting - somebody was looking out for me.  After the obligatory checks, and again relaying my history, the after-hours doctor decided I didn't have a chest infection, but the colour of the mucus in my throat indicted something wasn't right, so I ended up with some antibiotics to deal to that (and effectively hold a potential chest infection at bay).

Two interesting things came out of all this.  Firstly, my temperature was 37.9 degrees.  22 months ago, that would have been sufficient to have us getting ready for an ambulance trip to the hospital to avoid hitting the "magic" 38 degree threshold.  Just as was the case all that time ago, I'd never given any thought to actually taking my temperature, but my excuse now is I didn't think it was as big an issue as it was then.

The second factlet was both more interesting and scary.  According to the Doc, I've still got to be very mindful of infections, because apparently cancers "respond" unfavourably to infections.  There seems to be some school of thought that cancers can be activated by infections.

Couple of thoughts here.  If this is true, how come nobody had mentioned it before at any of the clinics.  And, if it is indeed the case, I certainly wouldn't have waited as long to go to the Doctor.  Gees, with everything I've been through, the last thing I want to happen is to give TC a foot in the door again.

So, I've got something to raise with the gang of seven in June.

I am however happy to report that the drugs seems to be working.  My body isn't aching anywhere near as much today, the runny nose has almost dried up, and the coughing is nowhere as violent.  Now to just get some energy back.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Give & Take

As with most things throughout this ongoing process, the good parts always seem to come at a price.  Sure, most of them aren't particularly high prices to be paid, but nevertheless there are always adjustments going on.

Today is 2 years since my initial diagnosis and I'm writing this almost to the hour I was told.  Some would say that wasn't a particularly nice birthday present (I'm one of them to be perfectly honest), but looking at the bigger picture, I'm still here and healthy and a better person in so many ways because of it.

I've talked about many of the "new normal" adjustments over the last year or so and I think I'd have to say that, at last, even the minor tweaks are becoming few and far between.  Has my body reached what it deems to be the end of the change & recovery process?   I'm thinking maybe it has and the changes I'm still experiencing are now just me adjusting to what my body wants.

Many years ago, I woke up one morning allergic to sun tan lotions.  My GP at the time told me that there was no real reason for it, just my body deciding it wanted a change of sorts. It took me probably 12 months of trial and error (and a lot of antihistamines to control the resulting rash & itching) to find a sun block I could use that didn't cause a reaction - and this year they changed the formula and packaging to test me some more.  The jury is still out on that, but the allergy still exists some 10 odd years later.

Why then am I surprised this significantly more invasive attack on my body has taken so long to settle down?  Truth be told, I'm not.  The specialists set an expectation it would be a couple of months for my body to settle down post-treatment and 12 months for the immune system to recover.  Got to love optimism, but that triggered all sorts of emotional targets that were in reality totally unrealistic.  I wanted / needed the negative stuff associated with my cancer to be gone as quick as possible - the cancer has gone, now make the pain go too.  If only there had been a magic pill for that (although the morphine did help quell the concerns through the really bad times).

Where am I going with all of this?  Give & Take.  At its most simple level, the treatments gave my body the opportunity to rid itself of the cancer, I had to take the pain and ongoing consequences of it doing that.  At a higher level, there have been the numerous changes in diet, etc to contend with, but for every "take" there was and continues to a greater "give" - the overall end game - life.

Sitting here, enjoying another birthday, it seems appropriate to be somewhat philosophical, but today is a joyous one, so enough of that.

The latest little twist?  I really do think there has been an improvement on the saliva front.  It's not by any means a major recovery, but I'm happy to take every little thing I can get.  That's the give, the take is I've become less tolerant to garlic.

You might say so what, but you see I developed a taste for garlic quite late in life (Moira and others keep waiting for me to acquire a similar desire for mushrooms, but that is just not going to happen if I have nay say in it) and have embraced garlic bread, garlic butter on steaks, etc now for many years.

When the eating process resumed late 2010 / early 2011, bread was still off the menu, but over recent months I've been able to partake of a piece or two of garlic bread.  Garlic butter was never a problem and has been a welcome aid to keep my meat moist these days.  To complete the picture, I've had to adjust my diet to minimise spices as they tend to aggravate my throat.  It has gotten as bad as needing to find tomato sauce that has minimal spices in it and that hasn't been easy.

So, with the scene now painted, imagine my concern when after a meal out last week, I got a quite severe bout of irritated throat that could only be attributed to the garlic bread.  Seems that if the garlic isn't effectively granulated, the "pieces" are sufficient to irritate my throat.  Garlic butter is still fine (phew), but I'm now having to assess garlic toppings for suitability.

The second twist is (no pun intended) KFC Twisters.  These have become part of my lunch options because the chicken tends to be moist and they come wrapped in a tortilla type bread (easy to digest) along with some salad.  Sure, I have to request normal mayo over the normal spicy menu sauce optional, but they have been enjoyable.  It seems KFC has decided to try and be a bit healthier with it's menu offerings and ruined the twister for me.  They now include sliced red onion (never a favourite) and goddamn peppers in the salad.  That's the take, on the give side, I've now given my lunchtime business to subway - via the chicken teriyaki wrap.  To be honest, it is actually more enjoyable than the KFC one, and probably healthier.

See what I mean, sometimes the take yields a greater good.  Ain't life wonderful.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Three More Months

The gang of seven was down to the gang of four at my clinic appointment on the 28th.
I saw Mr Hamilton walking around, but he didn't come to my appointment, so I'm wondering if he concentrates on those undergoing treatment and those immediately post-treatment.

Whatever the reason, it didn't make much difference to the outcome.  I've got another clean bill for another 3 months, and that is all that matters.

I told them about the potential saliva recovery, and while initially somewhat surprised, but also were of the opinion that this is about the time they'd expect to see something happen if it was going to.

Shirley the speech therapist was there and she did another jaw opening test - this time I'm good for 36mm jaw opening.  Also an improvement.

Nothing was said about my slight weight increase, so I'll take it from that they aren't at all concerned.

Did I get stressed out beforehand like usual?  Only a little bit - and it only really kicked in as I left work to go to the appointment.

Three weeks to go for the 2nd anniversary of the confirmed diagnosis.  Wow.  So much has happened in that time and I continue to be somewhat overwhelmed when I look back over that journey.  Despite the passage of time dulling some of the memories, I'll never forget, nor do I want to, what I've been through, or the opportunities I now have.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Is It Time To Celebrate?

I've talked in previous posts about some of the nuances I'm experiencing with regards the residual side effects of my treatment.  So, as I've been rather tardy of late with regards updating the blog (sorry), it's time I gave you an update, and to be honest, some of it is quite exciting (at least to me). In no particular order.

I've been on holiday for the last week and I have to confess it has been somewhat of a revelation.  In the past, I've found it really hard to wind down and actually relax, but this past week I've just rolled with it and feel genuinely refreshed as a result. Sure, I had a list of things I wanted to do, but I haven't done them all and I'm fine with that.  If the mood has taken me, I've gone and done something, equally I've just blobbed around the house doing effectively nothing.

Holidays to me always used to involve a day or so of winding down, a couple of days of supposed relaxation (there were always activities that we're supposed to be relaxing, but as they were structured, they were never going to be that), then the rest of the time I'd be thinking about getting back to work.

This last week was effectively my first proper holiday since returning to work last year, so I certainly needed and if this one was an example I'm looking forward to the next one.

Why the change in "approach" to this week off?  Not really sure, but have no doubt the shift in focus re what is really important in life has had an impact.

I've been having fortnightly appointments with Nicholas to tweak the hearing aids.  It looks like we've got them pretty much sorted now and I find them a natural accessory to wear so to speak.  But, as with most things there are some downsides to this newly enhanced ability to hear.

There have been a couple of occasions where the the background noise level has been abnormally loud in bursts and the amplification provided by the aids makes it quite unpleasant - oh to be able to anticipate such events so one could take the things out first.

I also still get the occasional squelching through the aids - in one instance at work, it was so loud my colleague sitting next to me could actually hear it as well.

On the plus side, it is definitely easier to hear conversations in noisy environments, which was the main problem.

So, overall, good progress, but I think maybe one more session is needed to iron out the last few niggles.

This has become a somewhat conflicting issue.  Over the last couple of weeks, I've been a bit slack with regards exercise and eating (yes I do have a list of "valid" excuses, just like everyone else does).  As a result my weight has crept up a little.  So one of my goals this week was to get out and exercise.  I succeeded well for the 1st 3 days, before a bad shoe choice delivered blisters on both heels.  Despite all the effort, the weight has stayed reasonably neutral - bugger.

Can I fall back on the old myth "muscle weighs more than fat"?  - of course not, we all know that a kilo is a kilo no matter what it is of.  Maybe I can blame the thyroxine?  Not sure, will just have to keep an eye on it and re-establish the previous exercise and eating habits.

On the positive side, if there is any extra weight, it isn't showing where it "counts" - my clothes are still fitting just fine.

The effects of the treatment on my saliva is still an ongoing mystery tour.  While things have largely settled down, there are still occasions where I'm surprised by it all.

When sitting down for a meal now, I find I can pretty much keep pace with a "normal" eater.   Sure, it does depend to some extent on the nature of the meal, but the days of me still chewing away 5-10 minutes after everyone else has finished seem to be over.

I've also been noticing that the need to continually drink to keep the throat lubricated isn't as onerous as it has been.  Providing I'm limiting the amount of talking I'm doing, I can almost get away with what I'd consider a normal water intake - and the heat of the day doesn't really seem to impact either.  I'm also needing less liquid during the night.  These all represent a quite significant change.

Coupled with this, I've been finding that my ability to eat previous "troublesome" foods has improved as well, for instance bread isn't quite the same obstacle it has been.  But wait, there's more.  Traditionally, I've tended to favour eating on my right side (because the left suffered most with the treatment), but I'm now starting to venture into the right side without too much difficulty.  It is still quite a new thing and I'm still "learning" to use that side of my mouth more.

The gang of 7 always told me that the saliva glands wouldn't recover (nuked forever), but they also told me the hair follicles on my jaw wouldn't either and they're back.  So, we might just have a breakthrough?  Hopefully.  The clinic appointment at the end of the month could be quite interesting.

I'd actually be quite happy with just the extra "freedom" I'm currently getting, but the possibility of further recovery of my saliva glands is indeed a juicy prospect.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Healer or Suppressant

As I sat in the dentist chair last week, enduring some slow drilling as he removed an old filling in a broken tooth, I was experiencing double pain - the economic one (another god-damn crown) and the physical one.  

With little else to do, I started to think about the last time I'd experienced that sort of physical pain/discomfort and it seemed that the logical time was during my treatments in mid 2010.  That in itself seems so long ago now, but while pondering the pain history, it occurred to me that I couldn't actually remember any real pain any more.  So, is time really a great healer, or does time merely end up superceding or suppressing the painful memory, in some kind of defence mechanism?

Sure, a week down the track, and with some effort, I can now remember some moments of pain, but given the total period of my treatments, they are relatively few and far between, so why is that?  Logic says that the experts got the medication regime spot on pretty quickly and morphine will without doubt continue to be my favourite pain relief for many years to come (although, I'd rather not have to undergo any sort of situation that required it thank you very much), but is it that simple.  Sure, the drugs are there to manage the pain, but isn't that just the point - without any pain, how do you know it's working?

From conversations I've had with people who visited me at hospital, it would appear I'd quite happily phase in and out, talking to them one minute and waking up some time later to resume conversation. I was obviously in a very happy drug-induced space, so it's no wonder I struggle to remember the pain.  The first week of treatment is memorable for the issues with "accepting" Jake, but the only real pain was the needles & cannulas that started to become part of an ongoing cycle, so after a while you just accepted them (as much as it is possible to do so) and as they became routine, so did the acceptance of the discomfort they brought with them.

When the effects of the chemo started kicking in, and as the proper medication regime fired up, there was undoubtedly real pain to deal with (check this posting out to see how things were going early on in the process), but I struggle to remember now how it really felt then - thankfully the blog postings help there.

As I came out the other end of the treatments, and they started to wean me off the morphine, they were looking to ensure that with each reduction I wasn't requiring top-ups in the form of the morphine elixir to keep the pain away, so even at this late stage, there was expectation of some pain.  By the time I was totally morphine-free, things had obviously run their course and I had no need for any drugs whatsoever (ignoring the temporary distraction of the subsequent gastric bug and it's treatment).

Back to the original question then - is the passage of time really a healer, or just a mechanism to help us forget?  A part of me doesn't really care - I'm just thankful to still be hear to ponder this issue.  Another part of me thinks the latter is probably closer to the mark.

I suppose the reality is we need to accept the body (in its entirety including the mind) is a truly marvellous machine.  It has the ability to self-heal (in a large number of circumstances), accept all sorts of abuse and make adjustments to keep on working, manages to let us remember things - both good and bad - at will, gives us the ability to learn & feel new things, yet it doesn't let us forget the past.  It's almost like there is an inbuilt mechanism that periodically forces us to revisit past events, just to remind us not to take things for granted.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Same Old, Same Old?

With the slightly slower pace of life over the holiday period, I've had time to think about the day to day practicalities of my "new-normal".  Yes, I know it's been over a year since the new-normal surfaced and it could probably be considered plain old normal now, but I refuse to accept anything as normal now.  The reality is I'm still treating each day as somewhat of an added bonus and trying to make the most of them.  So I can't accept that a "normal" normal exists.

It's with these rose coloured glasses that I look at what my days consist of and that's why I've named this post what I did.

It would be very easy to say that the major changes are all now over, so I'm just getting on with it (thus the "same old, same old") but there are still enough little "quirks" that convince me otherwise.

The experts always said it would take a year or so for my body to normalise after treatment finished, and they were right.  This is however, the first real summer since that period sort of lapsed and some of the nuances over the last month or so have been quite interesting - to me at least.

My old nemesis - the AWOL saliva - has actually become slightly less of an issue.  Yes, it is still ever-present, but I was expecting it to be more pronounced in the summer heat.  Instead, I've found I'm actually "needing" less water.  This could of course be partially due to the fact I've been doing less talking with people away, but even so, my need to lubricate my throat is reasonably lower than it was even a month ago.  Just as the hair on my jaw has grown back when it wasn't meant to (radiated = no more hair), this slight "softening" of the saliva issue may seem minor to most, but to me it is a very interesting development.

Another interesting tidbit is that despite the holiday excesses of food and reduced exercise regime, my weight has remained pretty static.  Given my weight pre-treatment, I was sort of expecting to see some of it creeping back by now.  Sure, I've been pretty committed to exercise of late (my bike is my friend again and it's rather therapeutic out either cruising the streets or pounding the pavement), but I still expected to put on a few kg during the "downtime".  It would appear my body is quite happy now processing what I'm eating and no longer stores excesses "just in case".  Great.  I can also confirm that once I resumed my exercise, the extra weight such as it was faded away within a week or so.  My weight has now been stable for a year - that to me is a real positive.

I've also had some good news from both my osteopath & acupuncturist  They're both happy with the way my neck is finally starting to loosen up, and the appointments for both have now been extended out to monthly from fortnightly.  There is still some way to go, but the degree of movement I have now is a vast improvement.

Add in an ever improving level of energy/stamina/fitness (whichever label spins your wheels), and there are enough changes still occurring that I have no doubt my life is still far from being days filled with just the same old same old.