February 26, 2011

The Recovery Process Begins

Gee, maybe I am actually beginning to come out of the cancer treatment a tiny bit….finally.  My brain has been so dulled by all the pain, medication, etc.; I haven’t been able to remember how to even get into my blog to do a posting for a couple weeks. As I reflect back through the whole treatment period, I can recall such long periods of being a walking brain-dead body just trying to make it from one day on through the night to start the next day of the same routine of overall discomfort and disorientation. 
I am not sure I have the words to describe how slowly the treatment months have moved. Because I was feeding through the stomach tube the majority of the treatment months, I never truly got a good period of sleep – truly never.  I had to be awake every 3 hours to take in a can of the liquid food. Without a nice long 6 or 8 hour sleep inside each 24 hour period, the days seemed so long and slow. And really, the only thing, I had to look forward to was another day exactly like today….and usually today was a day I wish I never had had to live.   I think after weeks and weeks that have turned into months and months of this, I am going to have to learn how to live a traditional day. 
But, today I am far from ready to go back to a traditional day…..heck, I am not really sure I even remember what a traditional day feels like.  As promised by the doctors and nurses, the recovery healing process is going to go just as slow as the treatment period it appears.  But, the good news is that I have completed the treatment days and have officially moved into the recovery days now.
I have been told that for ever day my treatments took me downhill one notch, I will require one day of recovery.  I was not told that upfront when I started the treatment – it doesn’t really matter because there is no way I could have guessed what the treatment period would “feel” like.  Now that the recovery side of all this is here, my patience are truly being tested, though.  I so very much want to be able to start eating and drinking like a normal person, have my voice back, go to work, look forward to doing things, and once again believe my dreams for retirement and endless days of ham radio and other things I love to do.
I have a lot of recovering to do before any of that is going to happen.  Right now, my focus is on getting my mouth and throat back in use.  Even though the last radiation treatment was about 2 weeks ago, there is little improvement in my ability to speak.  But, now I do have a few brief periods where my mouth and throat are clear of the constant flow of thick “yuck” and I can have a short verbal exchange – usually not longer than 4 or 5 minutes.  It is hard to describe this endless flow of thick saliva-like material that my body dumps in my mouth and throat.  Apparently this stuff is all part of the healing of the damage done by the radiation to my mouth, neck and throat.  I often feel like I am going to drown in it.  I need to constantly work with the stuff, though or it gets thick or even dried out in my mouth.  So, I am constantly in the bathroom rinsing with a saline solution to clear it out.  Dealing with this plus the need to take in some liquid food via the stomach tube every 3 hours continues the lack of good sleep issue.
All of this is perfectly normal I am told.  Again, in other words, suck it up.  There are no short cuts in the recovery anymore than there were during the treatment.
At this point, the doctors say that I should no longer have any cancer.  However, the effects of the chemo and radiation therapy treatments will continue to work inside my body for some weeks more even without new treatment being given.  Therefore, the doctors will not do the actual PET full body scan to verify that all the cancer has been killed for 6-8 weeks.  After the full body scan, they will watch me closely with monthly check ups to ensure that the cancer does not come back.
The cancer treatment has to be brutal on the body, unfortunately, so I have some work to do to heal my body back to full health.   I must now work on these things:
Clear Thinking    I believe that I should have normal clear thinking back in about 2 weeks as the drugs leave my body.
Mental Health   I am now willing to admit that this whole experience has been far more traumatic for me than I ever expected.  I have some work to do to restore my confidence in me and to move forward with living life now with this cancer that has to be watch out for during my remaining days.
Voice                     My voice is mostly gone and I have a great deal of pain in the throat when I whisper or try to talk.  I believe I will have a voice again in about 2-3 weeks.
Right Arm            I lost a great deal of strength and range of motion of my right arm during the treatment.  I will have physical therapy to restore the arm to normal function
Eat Food              I have not eaten normal food for most of the last four months.  It will be another 2-3 weeks before I can start trying to swallow food again and slowly regain a normal food diet. 
Weight                 My weight loss was acceptable during the treatment.  Since I was a little (?) overweight when I started, I hope to only put about 15 pounds of weight back on.
Hair                        My hair is just now starting to slowly grow back and it is…in ugly little patches of varying lengths.  A quick trip to the barber next week will fix the length differences I hope!
Strength              My leg muscles as well as most other muscles have all become weak from lack of use.  I will be doing exercises to restore normal muscle tone.
There are probably a lot of words owed you to discuss some of the truly dark days in the final weeks of treatment when things were quite bleak for me.  I will search for words to best describe those days in my next post.