Thursday, September 2, 2010

An Introduction

This blog is not just about cancer, or feelings, or medicine or food.
It is about family. My family.
My family is my Father, Barry, my Mother, Jenni, and myself.
This blog is about my family's fight with cancer.

In December 2002, my father, Barry, was diagnosed with advanced throat cancer. A few days later, he was on the operating table at Royal Perth Hospital (RPH). He was given a laryngectomy (pron. larin-ject-oh-me), which very basically means that surgeons totally removed his voice box, and they also created1 what is known as a tracheostoma2, which sits between his clavicles3. My father chooses to cover his with a "collar", while others will cover theirs with gauze; some will just leave it uncovered.

In short, he was cut from behind his left ear, all the way down to where the stoma2 sits, and then all the way up to behind his right ear. The surgeons then took tissue from his chest to rebuild his neck (other wise he would have looked pretty lopsided).

Before the operation (which combined both curative4 surgery and reconstructive5 surgery) we were given an approximate time-frame for a number of things, like how long he would be in hospital, how long it would take for him to be able to eat, etc. He did it all, and ahead of schedule, too.

Dad is a fighter. He amazed doctors with his sheer determination and mental strength. After being home for a month, he started radiotherapy. While it made him tired and sore, he powered on. Dad was supposed to do heaps of rehabilitation excersises to help with gaining strength back after the surgery on his chest. He took one look at them, thought, "Bugger this for a joke", and set about painting the gutters on our house instead. Yeah, it took him weeks and weeks to finish it, but doing something that was constructive as well as beneficial to his rehabilitation made more sense to him than normal rehab exercises. It also gave him a sense of "normalcy".
My father is a very special man.

After that ride, it took a while for us all to recover. Mum was working two jobs to cover medical bills (since Dad couldn't work for 6 months after the operation), and I wasn't able to help much since I was only 11 at the time. But we got through it, especially with the help of our extended family and friends.

In the middle of 2003, when I was 12, Dad went back to work. It was quite an achievement, as the doctors had expected it to be at least a year before he would have the strength to do it. But he did it.

By late 2003, Mum had started working in a Primary School as an education assistant to children with disabilities- a job she loves and is still doing today.

The years that followed weren't always easy- we all struggled a bit to deal with what had happened. The lifestyle change was huge, especially for Dad, but he pushed on and kept going. We all did.

More years passed and in 2008, I graduated high school. I started University in 2009 and then at the end of that year, I decided to take some time off to work and see what the "real world" was like.

At the start of 2010, Dad started complaining of a sore throat again, and started having trouble swallowing. We initially didn't think much of it, as Dad had been operated on once before to remove scar tissue that was the result of the radical operation he had in 2002. His symptoms were the same as the "scar tissue" episode. By June this year, it had gotten worse, so he went to see his GP again. She referred him straight to his ENT7 specialist, who sent him for CAT scans, biopsies and the like.

On this Monday, the 30th of August 2010, after 8 years in remission, Dad was diagnosed again with throat cancer. It was a primary tumour, which pretty much means it isn't related to his last one; it is a brand new cancer, unlike a secondary tumour, which is an "off shoot" of an older tumour. We were informed that because of Dad's previous radiotherapy treatment, radiotherapy couldn't be used again. Chemotherapy is not an option either, as it only stops metastatic cells from travelling through the circulatory system. Dad would have to go for a P.E.T. scan to see if the cancer had metastasized9. If it has, there is not much, if anything, modern medicine can do, except make him comfortable. If the cancer hasn't spread, then they can operate. Surgeons will remove everything they reconstructed the first time around, and take more as well. Dad will lose the top part of his oesophagus10, which will then be reconstructed with a pieces of skin, arteries and veins from his arm. He will probably never be able to talk or work again. Eating will be much harder, and due to the oesophageal reconstruction, will have to be fed through a tube directly into his stomach for a few months.

Yesterday, the 1st of Sepetember 2010, Dad went for a PET scan8 at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. We find out the results soon.

So that's where we're at.
Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments.

I'll keep you all updated.

Explainations and Details
1. The procedure is called a tracheotomy.
2. A tracheostoma is an opening in to the tachea (wind pipe), which leads straight into the lungs. We call it a "Trache" or "Stoma" for short.
3. Collar bones.
4. Removal of tumour (when confined to one area).
5. Restoration of looks and/or function.
6. Voice is achieved though esophageal speech.
7. Ear, Nose and Throat.
8. Positron Emission Tomography scan.
9. Spread.
10. Tube that food passes through, from mouth to stomach.


  1. Wow Jess. That was really amazing to read! Thanks for doing this blog. It was good to read what happened last time and what the forecast is for the future. Love u!

  2. Thank you so much Jess for doing this, it will take the onus off your parents for the bulk of the questions we all have. You, Jen and Bo are going to need every ounce of strength for this fight. We can only offer our love, our ears, and our prayers. We are only a phone call away hon, if you need to vent at the whole thing just feel free. Just remember we are there for you. love you hon. from Aunty Barb

  3. Jess you have a great talent with the written word, especially explaining difficult to understand concepts. This is such a wonderful idea for a blog, and as Mum said, will help keep the family informed of what is happening over there in Perth. Love you so much and will be here whenever you need, your favourite cousin, Lisa xxoo

  4. Jess, you are an amazingly talented writer. Your Mum and Dad are so lucky to have a daughter like you! Your strength, courage and maturity are inspirational. Please remember you have a large family and we are behind you all 100%. Please pass on my love to Uncle Baz and Aunty Jen. I love you lots Jess - i'm here for you if ever you need me. Love chelle. xoxoxoxo