The Long Road Ahead

R. B. Wood

Former technologist, world traveler, & storyteller.
F Cancer

The emotional whiplash I’ve been experiencing since my cancer diagnosis culminated in my kick-off meeting at Dana-Faber with a trifecta of top specialists in chemotherapy, cancer surgery, and radiation treatments.

This meeting—not to be overly dramatic—would determine the course of my life.

So, let’s get the great news out of the way first.

The experts agreed that laryngeal cancer was self-contained and in a very early stage. I’m scheduled for a CAT scan next week to confirm that opinion and to 3-D map the tumor on my left vocal cord.

Based on what they know so far, I’ve been given a 90+ percent chance of survival. “Relief” doesn’t come close to covering my feelings on that statement.

The Chemotherapist said because my tumor is small and not impacting other organs or systems, as far as he can tell, Chemo is not the way to go for me. He will monitor the additional tests to ensure my cancer’s staging stays at a “one.” As he explained, Chemo is for the later stages with multiple organ involvement.

Next, I spoke with the surgeon. While he was confident that he could excise the tumor completely, it would mean the removal of one vocal cord and potential issues with aspirating food and drink. Not to mention a significant impact on my voice and my ability to teach, perform readings, and continue to record my podcast.

The Radiologist was next. He said my team agreed that targeted radiation would give me the best chance at an acceptable quality of life. While my voice would be permanently raspy, eventually, my throat would heal enough the avoid choking on my breakfast every morning.

However, he said. The next few months would be rough, and he needed to prepare me for what was coming.

They need to give me six and a half weeks of targeted radiation treatments—33 sessions in total- to eradicate the tumor. First, they would map my head in order to 3-D print a mask that would bolt to the treatment table to hold my head in position for the targeted proton radiation bursts. 

My head will be bolted to a table. In a mask. Dumas would be proud. As would Sir Anthony Hopkins.

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This radiation procedure would be done every workday for a month and a half—maybe longer based on examination of the tumor. Side effects were expected to be exhaustion, burning of the skin and throat (“you will have the worst sore throat of your life”), and difficulty eating and drinking. Oh, and I will not be able to speak above a whisper at the end of treatment for a month or two.

Yeah, it’s going to be a tough few months. But the team at Dana-Farber is confident of curing me of this cancer. That’s the endgame I wanted.

The long-term news is fantastic. But I’m going to have to go through hell first. But I’ve done that a few times, so I know the path.

I have the fitting for my mask on Monday, 7/17/23, at 7:30 AM. I’m ready.

I wonder if they will serve fava beans and a nice chianti that early.