Marc has been off the scene for a few months. In this blog he explains how Cancer came into his life, and what he has done to over come it.
Well, those that still follow my log have probably been wondering what the hell happened. I haven't said it out loud yet because I felt like it was a job that I had to get done. But here it is:
In April 2016, I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma related to HPV in my neck . It was a tumor that orginated in my right tonsil and grew out and latched onto the lymph nodes there. I found out after a biopsy of the site by an Eare Nose and Throat Specialist. The doctor scared the shit out me and made me feel like this might possibly be the end.
Like most people, as she said the words out loud, I thought who the hell is she talking to? It is a surreal moment you don't believe. You still look around as if there is someone else in the room they are talking to but, hell no she is still talking to me and my face. She was nice enough but not informed so when I asked what the worst case scenario was, she told me to "take a vacation where money is no object and have a good time". Fuck, really? I have dealt with a lot of shit over the years but this one stings you numb and pretty much all time stops for you while you sit stunned and shocked. The next step was to go to the oncologist.
My oncologist is a tall slim and very pale guy. He does not talk a lot but he told us that this type of HPV related neck cancer is very common. I had a PET scan a week later to see how far the cancer had spread. The expected course of treatment was 30 radiation treatments and 3 chemos. Meanwhile, during the wait time, they do all the prep work for radiation including the head and shoulder mask I would have to wear. The mask keeps you pinned down during radiation. Esssentially, they heat up a pliable plastic shield in hot water and then mold it over your body and head. I guess if you took a picture of Hannibal Lecter in his face mask and mixed it with the body suit of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, you got my mask. Super creepy and which takes you back to the whole numb moments when the Doc told me I had cancer. You are not in belief it is happening to you! But there you are, pinned down looking up at the reflection in the glass. I am thinking I just want to get out and run. I felt like I wanted to be Ricky Bobby telling Cal Norton, "Sling Shot Engaged" and rip myself out of there. Had I known the hell I was going through in the next 10 weeks plus I WOULD have run out of there more then likely. The anxiety on me at the time was raging on the inside while the outside was icy and numb.
The last good meal that I could actually taste was the weekend of my birthday and the wife's APF Masters Nationals. This was about 9 radiation treatments in and one chemo day down. Each chemo takes about a week to recover from. Basically, the chemo is like a Tsunami wave crashing all thorough out your body. It's goal is to kill any straggling cancer that may have moved throughout the body, but in the process it wrecks everything in its path. Everyone handles it different, some vomit, some just have constant nausea. For the first round of chemo I stayed on top of my nausea meds every 4 hours which made a big difference so I just had a small amount of nausea. The nausea meds made me sleepy and I HATE that sleepy feeling. I developed hiccups for pretty much two straight days for the first two chemos. I hate hiccups even worse than I hate being doped up!
Getting back to the last meal I can remember. You really take for granted being able to chew and swallow and just enjoy food. Neck radiation kills your taste buds. Currentyl, I am at 4 weeks out of radiation and I am almost to the point where I can swallow without water to push it down. I could sort of taste food for the first two weeks, but then nothing. The radiation killed my taste buds. This is suppose to all come back with time and so far it has in tiny incremental process where I gain a little ground each passing day. Super frustrating to say the least. When I go through my facebook feed, there are always people making great food. I constantly send these my wife saying I want this when I can eat!
After week two, going into the the third week I had not lost any weight, maybe a couple pounds. During the whole thing, both Doctors said you will lose weight. I figured I would, but I thought it would only be 20 lbs., maybe 25 lbs. tops. I was okay with this because I was a little heavy at close to 260 lbs. I was not prepared for what would happen after the first few weeks. About that time, every meal began to require a bite of food and a swallow of water to push it down. I also had to chop any meats down to tiny pieces or puree them in a blender so the meals got smaller and smaller and smaller. I went from 3000 ish to 2000 ish calories to 500/750ish calories a day. A good day was two whipped yogurts (the 80 calorie ones) and a serving of ramon noodles with some mushed up canned meat. That is when the muscle fell off along with my bodyfat. It seems I was losing both muscle and fat at the same rate. This went on for almost 4 weeks post radiation treatments. I am just now back up to 1000 to 1200 calories a day at week 4. My weight dropped all the way to 205 which was a 50 to 55 lb. loss in 6 to 8 weeks! I really thought we might get to 190ish which I had not been since the bodybuilding show in 2008! But I had a ton more muscle then!
But this is also a testament to all the years of training I had done, including cardio. Had I not been 255 lbs. with a lot of muscle, I would have probably dropped to the 16 0ish, maybe less range. Early on, before treatment began, I spoke with Clint Darden many times. He was extremely helpful in preparing me for some of what was to come. He lost about 80 lbs. during his intial treatment but because I had not been through it I was still not in full comprehension of what was to come. You never are till you actually go through it, honestly. I guess that goes for anything struggle in life. I do need to thank him profusely for his help. He kept lifting all the way through his treatment, taking time off only when necessary. I tried to do the same except for the 3 weeks post radiation.
The first week post radiation was really the most difficult of them all. The chemo didn't help at the end but the buildup from the radiation was terrible. I really didn't sleep for days: an hour here and an hour there. Halfway through the treatment I caught some kind of virus so I had to take some antibiotics which created a really bad case of thrush...TWICE! Basically, thrush is a yeast infection in the mouth and throat where you get white bumps that crack, dry out and impede swallowing and in general hurt like hell. The thrush and radiation build up created quite a double team of face pounding...literally and figuratively! Additionally, my body was trying to realign itself and begin healing. That process involves a lot of dead tissue and what seems like infection working its way out through a thick saliva. So my routine was hack, cough, spit, hack, cough, spit. Remember eating food and drinking enough water was still a huge task. Pretty much when it was time to eat and drink required me to draft up all of my courage. I was not hungry ever and the pain was so intense with the added thrush that I just didn't want anything. Trust me, I tried everything: painkillers, mucinex, pure lidocaine orally, etc.. just to tolerate things. I ended up living on what they call magic mouthwash which is a mixture of lidocaine, benadryl and milk of magnesia and then added more oral lidocaine for the majority of time after week 3 of radiation.
Since I had chosed not to tell many people, everyone was asking me if I was doing a bodybuilding show again. A bodybuilding show would have been a treat compared to this! I ended up naming it the Death Diet, cause what else do you call it? Still the majority of people had no idea what was going on except I lost alot of weight and my voice was gone.
About a week out from radiation, I had an appointment with the radiologist. This was at the point when I felt my worst and if someone called me a zombie, that would have been an upgrade for me. At this time, the after effects of the last chemo where leaving me. I was trying to be an optimist because the suffering was beyond anything I have dealt with physically, and as most of you know I have torn the majority of muscles and tendons/ligaments off my body! I asked the radiologist how much longer before I feel better, he says you will start to feel better in 10 days. I am trying to negoitate with him by saying, "you means 10 more days or two weeks total?" He does not mean what I want him to mean and it is literally to the day 10 days before it begins to incrementally get better.
The radiologist was more proactive then the regular oncologist. He was the first one to tell me the cancer was only between stage one and two (there techincally isn't a stage 1.5 but if there was that was where I would have been) and that being a HPV related cancer, very treatable. At the week after radiation check up, he ordered a CT scan with the dye to see what my tumor looked like. The scan revealed that the tumor had shrunk from the tonsil back to the lymph node but that the remaining part had fluid in the middle meaning it was dying. Not out of the woods but super encouraging so far. The oncologist would not have ordered this but the radiologist wanted to see if he needed to implement any further electron radiation (basically very specific radiation straight on the tumor). Otherwise I would have had to wait till six weeks out to know anything. Thanks goodness the Radiologist wanted know right then!
Once my treatment was over, and we received the news that the cancer was most likely dead, I decided to let the cat out of the bag to the general public (gym and stores). My wife had told her family and a few others but pretty much no one really knew. A couple of people guessed the situation so we let them in on it. It is not that I didn't want anyone to know as I mentioned earlier, I just didn't want to talk about it incessantly with people not knowing where it was going or what to expect plus I didn't want a leper/pity party from everyone. Just hammer the job out and get to the next stage-no frills or drama.
This past weekend I went out for the first time with everyone for a couple beers. My voice is beginning to return and some of my taste buds are working again. But the majority of food for awhile just will not have much taste and the beer burned as I tried to force it down. I thought it would be a couple weeks and back to normal eating and drinking but it ain't so. The cool part was my friends who showed up to hang out and support me.
In the beginning of this, my wife wanted to plan a vacation a couple weeks after but not knowing how it would turn out made me pull back from anything like that. It would have been terrible to go on vacation and not be able to eat. I will say the frustration waiting to heal up can make you depressed-I think I am still depressed to a degree. The three weeks you are down after the radiation, you think about all that you took for granted. Eating anytime you want. Talking anytime you want. Going anywhere you want. Handling your affairs on a day to day basis. Having any fun. Just the normal daily activities are almost impossible. I managed to pull my hours at work until after the sixth week of radiation, but it was not easy.
I also watched alot of TV and read when the chemo brain would let me read for more then 10 minutes. I found the Vice channel and have been glued to that. It is a gritty reality channel with different shows-some fun and some that just give you another person's perspective and the reality they live in. Again it goes back to how you look at things. I have always been a straight forward and get to the point guy. FInd out what the problem is and figure a way to resolve or conquer it. I will always be that guy but I do believe after you get news you have no control over, you sorta have to take a different look at life and maybe not approach things so black and white. I find myself wanting to return to the old ways but I don't think I will ever be able to fully be the old guy I was. Many a time I was in chemo or headed to radiation treatment and realized that what I was going through was mild and that I needed to be thankful. Which I am very thankful and pray they got it all out of me. But there still are people in way worse shape then I am. Those are the people who really need the prayers and hope from people.
I guess what I am saying is cancer or any other disease can happen to anyone and at anytime. Sometimes it is something you could have avoided but mostly you just never know why you got it. You just can't predict it. Take care of yourself and enjoy your life. Some of the things you think are important really aren't that important. If you want something, go out and earn it. It isn't worth having if you don't earn it. Go out and have some fun. Do stuff you are totally scared of or that just make you uncomfortable. That is my plan along with all the other things I got going on!
Finally, I have to mention the wife, Susan, who I could not have made it without her support. She did everything in her power to ease my pain. She racked her brain, the internet and anyone she could think of to find ways to deal with the suffering and aftermath of the radiation and chemo. Without your loved ones helping you, it can be an impossible road but with her and friends I am getting through it Love you dear!
Let you know in a couple weeks the verdict. Pray it is good!