January 11, 2011

Some further comments

Larry here again. I probably don't have to tell you this, but Dennis would be writing if he was up to it now, but he isn't. I should clarify this further to say that I do not believe there is anything to be alarmed about. He is just pretty, hmmm, well I think that he is just plain tired right now. He simply says he feels so weak.

As I mentioned, Thursday is a big chemo day and that's going to further slow him down for a few days, but afterwards I hope that he will be back writing to you.

When I spoke to him, I asked about his hair. He said it's mostly gone but a nice layer of peach fuzz remains. His eyebrows and eyelashes are holding well but he has lost his nose hair. And he hasn't had to shave for about three weeks....

Not needing to shave has turned out to be a good thing as his skin has become really sensitive. Dennis explained that the radiation treatments have left the skin of his cheeks and throat looking like they had a "bad day at the beach." In actual fact, he is quite solar sensitive now, so he must dash from shelter to shelter when he has to go out. Dennis occasionally gets knots in his muscles which he believes are due to dehydration so, as I mentioned in the previous post, he works hard to keep properly hydrated.

Talking hurts and leaves his throat feeling raw, particularly around the site of the original cancer, in the base of the tongue area. His saliva glands have been deeply impacted by the treatments, so that explains the mouth washes and rinses he does continuously throughout the day.

I think the saliva provides a really good example of how important something we normally ignore can be. Skipping right past its main function of helping to breakdown food to prepare it for swallowing and digestion, saliva does a lot of other things. The mouth is a warm, dark, moist place that it is a perfect environment for bad things like germs and oral yeasts to grow. Saliva breaks these down and rinses them away. It neutralizes acids that attack the teeth, gums, and esophagus. It keeps the mouth and throat areas moist so they don't dry, crack and get infected. This moistness is also very important to our ability to talk. The radiation, particularly where Dennis receives it, interferes with all these functions. Numerous times a day he has to manually try to make up for this with washes and rinses. Just listening to Dennis talk about his efforts in response, I have become much more appreciative of some of these little miracles that occur within that I hadn't even noticed before. Now, when I become aware of saliva in my mouth, I feel fortunate.

One of the biggest things that bothers him is periods of short term memory loss. He will check his work email and think he should act on something immediately, start to type and then doze off. Later he will awaken and know there was something he wanted to do but not remember what it was. Now that really bugs him. Dennis is definitely a person with an orientation to action.

In summary, Dennis is actually quite busy. Each day has a whole list of mandatory activities to do, and there are always additional demands arising-- another test, a consultation and so forth. With the fatigue associated with these treatments, he is working hard each day just to stay with the program.

The good news is that the doctors are pleased with his progress. And this week he will be half way through his radiation treatments. I believe all the sleep and even the short term memory loss are part of the whole healing process, so we just need to be patient at this time.

On one hand, I suspect there will be a time in the future when people look back at these chemo and radiation treatments with the same horror as we look back at the crude amputations of medieval times. On the other hand, I am deeply grateful that they are available to my brother now because, though brutal, they do actually work. I fully expect that we will see Dennis back to his family and friends, back to work, and back to his ham radio this year.