Finally, the day arrived to meet with the surgeon. The plan was to remove John’s throat cancer were it started. We scheduled to remove John’s tonsil and any surrounding tissue that looked damaged from cancer.
Following this, John would go through 3 courses of chemo two weeks apart and six weeks of radiation, five times a week.
After John’s surgery, he was extremely sore of course. The surgeon ended up taking part of the back of his tongue and some tissue around the back of his throat. It would be nearly impossible for him to eat for months to come. Even taking a sip of water was difficult and caused a lot of pain.
I think by this time we were starting to kick into survival mode. We were blessed to have family and friends who offered to drive John to his radiation appointments and chemo. During chemo, he would spend the night at the hospital. They started him with a bag of anti-nausea medicine and then the chemo.
The Routine of Pain Medication
It didn’t take long til he was on strong meds for pain relief. Fentynol, Oxycodone, and an antibiotic along with others. I think it was a total of 8 or 9 and I quickly noticed he was quick to take the next dose as soon as the other started to wear off instead of keeping track of time. He was completely drugged up; it was like an animalistic reaction to return to the source of relief and grab it.
I was at work all day, so I made a chart for him to try to simplify the times for all the meds and doses. The chart ended up looking more like a puzzle, but there were a lot of meds, and he would need to take them at different intervals! His sister was over and gave him a container to separate the meds by day, and that helped, but it was still confusing to remember the different time intervals between each med. Our kids scolded him in a joking way when he looked like he was feeling too good, but I was worried about overdose while I was working when I wasn’t there to monitor the medicine.
We would soon get his disability, but it wouldn’t be enough for me to take off work without pay, so we just did our best.
The New Normal at Our Home
Before he began radiation, he was given a stomach tube to manage his diet because drinking water was a challenge. John found that eating food was impossible. The radiation was making his throat worse by the day. It wasn’t long before his mouth was filling with mucus, and the Kleenexes would pile up by the hour. Finally, the doctor gave him a machine that he had to keep with him to suction the mucus. It made the same sound as the suction tool makes at the dentist, and he had to use it every couple minutes, poor guy.
The sound became the norm around our house, but we did cover the container when possible. Emptying it was hard to do without gagging, but I just tried not to look at it. He even had a carrying pouch for it because he couldn’t go without it. Anyone who drove him to the hospital would have to hear him use it the whole way there. The situation was one that would have devastated me to do in public, but John always was the type who didn’t give a rip what others thought. A good personality trait to have!
It was becoming harder for John to sip water and he had help from the strongest meds. One evening he woke me up and asked me to take him to the emergency room. He said he felt like he was going to die! Not what I wanted to hear! It was an hour drive, so we were gone in 2 minutes and in my mind, the whole drive there, I thought to myself that the chemo and radiation were killing him. It was too much!
Have you ever experience a time in your life when you thought someone close to you was going to die? What did you do to help you cope?