I got my last dose of radiation on 11/3, after having a swallowing evaluation in the morning. I think the evaluation would have been better done BEFORE the chemoradiotherapy, BEFORE I had lost 30 lbs. due to malnutrition, because much of my trouble began with the original tonsillectomy, on July 29th. Still, it means I will now get physical therapy, and that I have the blessing of the speech pathologist to continue my current method of getting nutrition. That is a special technique, which allows me to drink 16 ounces of stuff that really does make me want to puke, quickly and without puking. The doctor said that the main thing to avoid is aspirating things (getting them into my wind pipe, bronchi, and possibly even lungs) and that my cough reflex is strong enough to prevent that. The usual technique is to take small nibbles, and small swallows, less than a tablespoon each, all day long, basically doing little more all day than eating. NO WAY am I going to do that. I take three very deep breaths, exhaling until it hurts, and hold the last one. Then I chug-a-lug the whole 16oz glass in about 15 seconds, not breathing at all, because smelling the stuff as it goes down is a major nauseator. I figured out that one thing causing me to gag is the disparity between the smell my hyper-sensitized nose gets, and the almost total lack of taste my crippled tongue sends to my brain. The incongruity sets my gag reflex to max, and even just a gel cap can fire it off, causing a very distressing, and often very messy, reaction.
With the very stressful Barium-drinking/eating in front of the fluoroscope over, I went in to my final radiotherapy session exultant, and enjoyed Queen’s “Another [tumor] Bites the Dust” and “We Are the Champions” as the machinery whirred, click-clacked and buzzed. I got to keep my mask as a souvenir (featured image above) and you can be assured of seeing it again: my trophy from the Zombie Wars.
Since Charlotte had driven me down there (because of the swallow study) I did not ride the van, but I saw my two fellow pilgrims in the waiting room, and we all congratulated one another on surviving to the end of our radiation. It was a good day, but we all knew it was not nearly the end of our coping with cancer and the ravages of the necessary treatments.
Since 11/3 (about 3 weeks as I write) my life has been tightly focused on recovery, mainly from the treatments the cancer required. In the last week, I have finally been able to taste something other than salt. I can barely detect some sweetness in the weight builder shake. I am told that the derangement of my sense of taste is either totally or mostly due to the Platinum in my tissues from the Cisplatin chemotherapy. Though the drug itself is eliminated quickly, the Platinum will be around for up to 180 days (6 months) after the last dose I received on October 7th. That means in early April I should know how much taste I will recover, and be finally free of the poison. Much sooner than that, I hope that most of my taste, and beard, and ability to eat normal food, will have returned, but I know these things are not guaranteed nor amenable to strict timing.
It has been a daily struggle to keep nourished, and to learn to cope with the changes in my mouth and throat. I sleep in one- or two-hour chunks, getting up to clear and moisten my throat, and sometimes my nose so I can breathe. My weekday afternoons are free from the pilgrimage to the Linac again, but most of my waking hours are still overshadowed by mixing and drinking the weight builder shake (Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass) that is my current diet, with fiber and vitamins and omega-3/6/9 oils added. I swallow whatever gel caps I need with water, but crush all crushable pills and mix them into the shake, and I take a tablespoon full of the oil just before drinking the shake. That needs to happen four times a day, and is terrifically time consuming, once cleanup is done. For now, though, I can live with it. My skin is healing nicely from the radiation wounds, and my throat is getting less stiff and painful when I swallow, so things are looking up!