The Invader – #5

Since last I told my cancer story, the news has been cautiously good. Sorry for making everyone wait so long for this most recent update – I’ve been caught up with a bunch of things and frankly, since working on my book (7 years now – gotta get serious and fininsh this thing!) I’ve fallen out of the habit of carving out writing time to do a post here and there.

I hope you know, and I’m telling you now, the comments I receive about the blog are deeply encouraging and I am so grateful. It really helps me to find the time to write. I usually have the posts all in my head – I’m just lazy about the typing. If I ever get speech-to-text for my ‘puter, well just WATCH OUT! But back to the Invader.

Since last I wrote, my chemotherapy regime has changed to a more intense therapy and so the side effects have been a good deal more serious. 80% of my hair has fallen out – let me tell you the hair coming out in locks in the shower is a really tough moment. I bought a wig over the Internet – it was a bargain – and oh my was that a mistake – wrong color big time and the style well let’s just say it inspired laughter.

Did you know you can get stones in your salivary glands? I had no idea….until I got one. So I’m already kind of a zombie because it was chemo week and Friday afternoon, while having yet another expensive scan (with radioactive dye which makes me sick every time – did I mention that they are hella expensive?) I got that twinge one gets when one’s salivary glands are gonna swell – like with a cold. I didn’t think much of it til later. By 8:30 that evening, I was in serious pain, even after taking painkillers, so we went to the ER. After hours & hours of waiting (whilst whatever pain killers I had taken wore off) I finally got in to see a dr. They gave me a pain shot which eased it for just a couple of hours, and another CT scan with radioactive resist – my second in less thatn 12 hrs (different parts of the body were scanned each time) and I learned that 1) I had a stone or some blockage of the left side parotid salivary gland (I was unfamiliar with this gland – it’s sort of kidney shaped and kind of wraps around your ear) and 2) the treatment consists of warm moist compresses, massage and chewing lemons and sour candy. The idea behind the lemons and sour candy is to get the gland to produce more saliva to flush out the blockage. And they gave me a prescription for some narcotic pain meds and a course of antibiotics.

I knew I’d be seeing my oncologist on that next Monday, so I tried to follow the instructions….but the pain was SO INTENSE. We called the after hours number for the oncologist to let him know what was happening and Studmuffin spoke to the nurse – she said I could take a double dose of the pain med – THANK GOD. Finally the pain was bearable. Meanwhile my face was swelling more and more – I was producing lots of saliva but it was backing up as the duct was still blocked The swelling was interfering with not only chewing but my breathing. I was sleeping sitting up on the couch so I could keep breathing!

My oncologist upon seeing me postponed my chemo treatment for that week and immediately whipped out his phone and called an ENT friend of his – got me in to see him THAT afternoon; a near impossible feat. I *love* my oncologist for doing that. Anyway, got into the ENT dr. and he affirmed the diagnosis and almost immediately put on gloves and got his hands in my mouth (in my experience as a kid, some ENT’s are quite reluctant to be hands on) to massage and see what was happening. That was very helpful to me because it showed me how much pressure I should be applying (hint: it was a lot more than I had been doing). He essentially told me to keep doing what I was doing, gave me another prescription for the pain meds and to come see him in 5 days. I admit that I cried right there in his office because I felt so hopeless at that point. I felt so awful and this was all the treatment they could offer in 2019? And the pain….

Well let’s talk about pain. I’m not a pain weenie. Every surgery I’ve had, except the colon resection last May, I wound up not taking all the pain meds I was prescribed, because I don’t like taking narcotics unless I absolutely have to and I can bear a fair amount of pain – the crusty New Englander part of me feels the need to point this out. 🙂 Anyway, I have saved those leftover medications over the years and they have come in handy on several occasions – earaches, somebody throws their back out, that kind of thing. I am always very, very, very careful with dosages; these medicines are serious business. When I started taking double the pain meds to make the pain bearable, well I was running out and I am very thankful that I still had a few tablets left from my heart surgery 10 years earlier (FYI – tablets are very, very stable over decades if kept in a reasonable environment (not too hot or cold and low humidity). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any kind of “stash” at all, just a very few tablets left over here and there. This helped me get through. Truly, this has been one of the most painful things I have EVER experienced – and I’ve had heart sugery and given birth 3 times!

So just as I am taking the antibiotic (a pill so big I have to split it into quarters to swallow it) I develop a yeast infection as well. This is TMI I am certain, but I feel I wanna say it because it only added to the over all misery. I had this as well as “elimination follies”* and I was not at all interested in eating; in fact I ate nothing for 3 days at one point. I did, because of a great sacrifice on my husband’s part, get to go to the Affrolachian On-Time Gathering, which was probably the best medicine I could have had. The gathering deserves its own post but I don’t have the energy to do that right now. Just know that all y’all oughta be going next year!

Eventually I was sent to Birmingham to see another ENT who has a nifty scope for this gland – the Duke of Curl had to drive me down and back, and the doc was running WAY late (2.5 hrs late) so none of that was fun. He told me that I was too swollen to scope and that I should take about 2 weeks more antibiotics to clear this thing out. He did not see evidence of what I have been calling my “face rock” so presumably it has passed. I can breathe normally, sleep in my bed and chew normally again, too. I am off narcotics and am not taking anything other than Ibuprofen for pain and inflammation.

This is the really gross part so you might wanna skip this paragraph. I started having some swelling go down and some relief after my first ENT visit and the much stronger massage. The most painful area, and the most swollen, is just in front of and just behind the ear. So the day after I finish the 7 day course of antibiotics I got from the ER doc, I’m massaging behind my ear and the skin ruptures and all this bloody pus comes draining out. I had actually given a good deal of thought into opening that area up myself with a large, sterile needle, but I’m just as happy not to have to do that and that it occurred naturally. It is still draining (almost 2 weeks now) and the B’ham ENT cultured the pus and has as of yesterday given me a new antibiotic to take (very large pills that cannot be split and are quite challenging for me to swallow).

Last week was chemo and it hit me wicked hard. When I can sleep, I have lots of vivid nightmares (my therapist calls them “poison dreams”) and I am much, much weaker than I have been – so weak that I have been afraid to drive myself places. I’m tryna take a trip to NH to see family in a week – it’s a little iffy that I can even go. Still I am feeling better today than in the last 3 weeks.

It’s been six months since my diagnosis so I guess I’m officially down to 18 months life expectancy – that’s not what I say it is and of course God has the final say in all cases. I thank you from the bottom of my soul for all the prayers and I hope you’ll keep on praying for me; the prayers are keeping me going. Next up will be the big liver ablation in November, if I’m well enough to do it. I’ll try to write more frequently and briefly in the future.

8 comments

  1. WOW. That’s a lot, Helen. I hope you feel better soon. If you feel up to knitting next week call me and I will pick you up and take you home. I will send my phone number. Sending hugs and good thoughts.

  2. I need to do more Reiki for you. More prayers, too. I will talk with my mother and request her spiritual assistance. Her name was Helen. She never met you, but she did meet your mother more than once. Way back when we were roomies (rumors?) at PSC. I will have conversations with Gerry Oleson and Paul Mayberry, too. Your courage is extraordinary. Our love for you and your whole family is, too.

  3. Helen, I had no idea all of this is going on. Even though I am dealing with prostate cancer it doesn’t even compare to anything you have had to put up with. My heart and prayers go out to you every day.

  4. Helen,
    You are such an inspiration to us all with your strength of being able to talk to us about all this. Thanks for keeping us updated. Prayers and thoughts are with you and your family…. including OHF! Love you!!!

  5. Hi Helen, I just hate what you are going through and pray for relief to come your way. And being selfish, I cannot wait to see you. Hope that you can make the trip. Love you, Aunt Cyn

  6. Oh, my. I’m glad you were able to have the medicine of the Affrolachian Gathering in the midst of all of this. I hope you were up for traveling to NH and that you’ve had a good time with family.

    If you would like to get out and about but are not up for driving, I can come to get you. We’ll get together when you’re ready.

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