In Honor of My Husband, Ron

Friday, August 29, 2008

In the beginning...

Welcome! This will be a new experience for me. My name is Lori and my husband is Ron. He was diagnosed in 2005 with Oral cancer. Specifically, Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the tongue, stage IV. T1N2M0. I believe this means 1 primary tumor, 2 lymph nodes involved, with no metastases. We are gearing up to fight the oral cancer fight again, so I thought I would start a blog about it. I wish I had known 3 years ago to keep a record of all of Ron's good and bad days. There is so much I have forgotten (or blocked out!) about that time in our lives.

Ron's story began in the spring of 2005. We had been married for 20+ years at that point, and he had always had a limp. His right hip really began hurting and I finally talked him into going to an orthopedist to find out what was wrong. It turns out that when he was a teenager, he got something called Legg–CalvĂ©–Perthes disease, which causes bone death in the hip. The doctor was surprised that Ron could walk at all, as the ball joint of the hip was pretty much gone. He was scheduled for a hip replacement on June 20, 2005. In preparation for the surgery, he was sent to get a complete physical. Now remember, we had been married for over 20 years at this point and I think I had forced him to go to a doctor maybe twice in all that time for illnesses. He is a stubborn farmer whose favorite line was (said in the appropriate accent) "I don't need no stinking doctors." This doctor, who I would love to name as he saved Ron's life, saw an area on the right side of his tongue that looked suspicious. He told Ron that he was sending him to see a Head and Neck surgeon soon after his hip surgery. He had his hip replacement, which went very well, and he came home to recover.

On July 20, 2005, Ron saw the Head and neck surgeon who took a biopsy of the spot. Ron got a phone call the next afternoon and was told that he had malignant squamous cell carcinoma. I will never forget that afternoon. Here he was, still hobbling around with crutches, and now facing an actual life or death situation. July 27 he had an MRI of the head and neck. We met with the surgeon on July 29 and were told that the MRI showed the lesion on the tongue along with some enlarged lymph nodes on the right side of the neck. The treatment plan would start with surgery. Wednesday, August 3, 2005 Ron had a partial glossectomy (about a third of the tongue removed), along with a partial neck dissection. Pathology showed clear margins on the tongue and 2 of 15 lymph nodes positive for SCC. Ron did amazingly well after surgery, and came home the next afternoon. On August 10, we had a follow-up appointment with his Orthopedic Surgeon who took a new X-ray of his right leg and said that his recovery may be somewhat delayed because he now had a stress fracture from the insertion of the rod into his femur!! He then made a joke that I did not appreciate at the time, but it made Ron laugh. Upon hearing that Ron now had cancer, the doctor said "Hey, I told you the replacement would last for the rest of your life--now it will for sure!" Okay, a little too soon for me to be laughing about this cancer!

Anyway, Ron continued to do very well recovering from both surgeries. On August 16 we went to meet his Radiation Oncologist. This is where my world fell apart. I think things just came to a head that day. As I sat there listening to what they would have to do to my husband, I started crying. I didn't want to, I wanted to stay strong for Ron, but everything just sounded so horrible to me. The doctor said first we will have to send you to the dentist to check your teeth, because the radiation will weaken the jaw bone and dry out your mouth, which may cause a lot of problems keeping your teeth. Then you will go have a Port inserted in your chest to receive the chemo and where they can draw blood without having to poke you multiple times. Then you will have a PEG tube inserted into your stomach, because you will not be able to eat or drink normally because of the radiation effects on the mouth. (This is where I lost it. That PEG just sounded so horrible to me. Now, I thank God he had it because even with it, he lost over 50 pounds over the course of treatment). He would have IMRT (Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy) radiation Monday through Friday for 7 weeks. During this time, he would also get chemotherapy. We would have to discuss which chemo he wanted with the Chemotherapy Oncologist. We left the RO's office with an appointment for a PET/CT fusion. Ron was told to be ready to begin treatments in early September.

On August 17 Ron went to the dentist, where he found out that he had gum disease and several cavities. The dentist sent him to an oral surgeon, and because he was facing radiation, it was suggested that all of his teeth be removed. If they tried to save the teeth, he would have had to have many, many treatments in a Hyperbaric Oxygen chamber. It just seemed like more trouble down the road, so Ron agreed to have all of his remaining 28 teeth pulled the following day, on August 18. (OK, side rant here: before extracting the teeth, Ron was sent back to the regular "dentist" to have molds made for dentures. The dentist took what seemed to be 100 pictures of his smile from every angle possible, and said that the dentures would look like his normal teeth. HA! When we got them fitted about 6 months later they were the big, boxy, impossibly white teeth that are never seen in nature! End of rant.) On August 19, we had the appointment with the Chemotherapy Oncologist. The choice given was 3 treatments of Cisplatin (every three weeks), or Carboplatin with Taxol given every week for the 7 weeks. It was explained that the Cisplatin effects would be just as bad, but since it was given every 3 weeks, there would be more time to recover in between treatments. Ron decided that he would rather puke every three weeks as opposed to weekly, so he went with the Cisplatin. Ron would also be given Amifostine before his radiation to minimize the damage to his salivary glands.

We had a whole ten days off with no appointments except for removal of stitches from his mouth and continued physical therapy for his hip. On August 31, we went up to St. Luke's in Milwaukee for the PET/CT. September 1 he had the Port placement as an out-patient at the local hospital. The following day the PEG tube was placed, also out-patient. On September 6 he was fitted for his mask for radiation. What an instrument of torture this thing was! I am claustrophobic, so it gave me the heebies just imagining having that thing strapped on my face and being screwed down to the table! Thank God it didn't seem to bother Ron! On the 7th, we went to PEG tube teaching to learn how to care for his new appendage. Ron got a phone call later that day saying that something happened and he would have to go back to St. Luke's to repeat the PET the following day, the 8th. September 9 was another appointment with the Chemotherapy Oncologist to set up his chemo. The 13th, he had his radiation dry run to set correct position, etc. More to come...