Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Quarterly Checkup

Yesterday I got up out of bed after not sleeping well. The heat at night is not making it easy to sleep. Add on to that my general apprehension of today's appointment and it makes for a rough night.

I basically live my live 3 months at a time. After my exams I live happily for about a week and then I spend the next eleven weeks worrying about my next exam. My basic problem is that I never saw this coming in the first place and I therefore don't think I would have any idea if it started to come back. Thus I live in constant fear that it's going to come back sometime between these quarterly visits and I will not know about it until after the visit.

I tried to get some work done in the morning as I knew the rest of the day would be useless and the next day was going to be at a client's. I then took Alexandra out to lunch to her favourite lunchtime restaurant Le Cercle down by the train station. I had a good lunch as I knew I wouldn't eat again.

I dropped Alexanda off at home, took my pre-medication (Xanax) to calm me down and relax my muscles. [I just read the entry in Wikipedia "panic and anxiety" that's definitely me... "borderline personality disorder" is probably the way others describe me] I think it's the heat but the effects of the Xanax seemed to be stronger this time than others as I took the métro to the doctor's and seemingly drunkenly staggered down the road to his office.

My ENT specialist, Dr. Hagège, started with the standard questions about how I was doing. He said my voice sounds much better than it did last time. As usual I only tend to notice that it doesn't sound as good as it did pre-cancer than the fact that it has greatly improved over the last 3 months. I also realised that my cough is gone. It has come back over the past 10 days or so. But not with coughing fits like before and it seems to be purely due to the heat and my throat drying out more often as I stupidly forget to drink while working.

We then went through the exam I had been dreading or more correctly trying not to think about. The camera up each nostril and down the throat, the image of my insides projected about 2 metres by 1 metre on a huge screen while I desperately try and relax and think of other things... strolling through a green forest with the sun just piercing through a high mist and the leaves crumbling under my feet holding my wife's hand and just walking forward... Finally that part was over and it was time for my favourite when he pulls on my tongue with one hand while "palping" the inside of my throat with the rubber-gloved finger of his other hand. I still can't understand why he's always surprised when I gag. That went as well as the last time in that I didn't throw up on him and he was able to get a quick probe at what he wanted to.

Finally it was all over and I wiped the tears from my eyes and the sweat from my brow and we sat at his desk. First he went over my chest x-ray and my liver sonogram which I had gone through, as per his request, just recently. They were both perfectly fine. He didn't understand one of the terms used on the liver sonogram, which I'll check with my beloved general practitioner, but everything looked perfectly fine. He then gave me the good news / bad news routine. I almost had a heart attack. At least he was kind enough to start with the good news: there is no trace of cancer anywhere he's looked. From my nose, down through my throat, my lungs and down to my liver there are no "lesions" or tumours. This was obviously a great relief. But made me more curious. The bad news is that I have a couple of infections which have been caused by the long-term side-effects of the treatment rather than by the cancer itself. These are definitely minor and the good news / bad news approach was actually extremely exaggerated for this sort of thing and probably should have been presented differently.

There's a fungus among us
That's something my mother used to say... I can't remember why. I have a fungus on the back of my tongue. This is mostly a long-term reaction to the chemotherapy and in some ways preferable to the mouth sores I had before. My tongue gets almost completely black and there are hard flaky things built up on it sometimes. I didn't mention the fact that this phenomenon is accentuated when I drink a particularly tannic wine. He prescribed a tablet I'm going to have to take for a couple of weeks and I have to brush my tongue with an anti-fugicide.

I also have a minor infection at the top of my right nostril near the sinus. This too is due to side-effects of my treatment. I now have to sniff some nose medicine twice a day for a week. He thinks I've got these infections because I haven't been resting enough. Although my white cell count may be near normal my anti-bodies are probably still not as strong as they should be. Rest, fruit and veg, relaxation and a bit of exercise should help. We talked about my weight and he was pleased to learn that I had gained a kilo and half (from 73.5 to 75 kg). He said I should now start exercising as I don't have to worry about burning off more weight than I'm putting on. But he said I should be careful as to not break anything as my bones are probably not as strong as they used to be. I told him that I could do a bit of running, stretching and weight lifting. But what I really want to get back to is rollerblading. He was slightly shocked. I told him that I was actually quite a regular rollerblader before and this wasn't something new. He said it would be good exercise as long as I don't have an accident which could be worse for me than it would be normally. I told him that I fall down more on my feet than on wheels and he laughed.

We then discussed my next exam which will be a full PET Scan. He said I should reserve it now for the month of September or October and I will then see him, with the results, for my next quarterly visit. This will be considered my first annual visit after the extraction surgery.

I made my way home, slowly, and slept through the rest of the afternoon until early evening. I didn't have any dinner, which was expected, by I did have my beloved ice cream at the end of the evening. Ice cream is my saviour these days and has been for quite some time now. I can't begin to thank Haagen Dazs enough for the absolutely perfect relief. I don't know what the secret is in the recipe. I don't even care particularly as long as they keep it up. Their ice cream just loving coats the inside of my throat and lingers long enough to provide actual relief from both pain and heat. It should be considered proper medication and be reimbursed by the social security.

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