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 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. Dad would have to go for a P.E.T. scan to see if the cancer had metastasized9. If it had, there is not much, if anything, modern medicine could do, except make him comfortable. If the cancer hadn't spread, then they could operate. Surgeons would remove everything they reconstructed the first time around, and take more as well. Dad would lose the top part of his oesophagus10, which would then be reconstructed with a pieces of skin, arteries and veins from his arm. He would probably never be able to talk or work again. Eating would be much harder, and due to the oesophageal reconstruction, would have to be fed through a tube directly into his stomach for a few months.
After more tests and biopsies, the ENT doctors decided they would be able to operate. Dad went in for his op on Tuesday the 26th of October. The doctors were very positive about the operation and even said that it would be highly unlikely that they wouldn't be able to carry out the entire procedure. They said that there would be a small chance that the cancer would have spread, but they wouldn't really know until they opened him up. They told us that the later we heard from them, the better, and after about 2.00pm AWST we'd at least know if they could do the operation, or if the cancer had spread and it would be inoperable.
At quarter past two I mentioned to Mum that as we hadn't heard anything, things must be looking up and the operation must be going well. No more than 15 minutes later, the phone started ringing. The surgeons had opened Dad up, looked around, and found that the tumour had started associating with the main blood vessel to Dad's brain (the Carotid artery), and had pretty much wrapped itself around it. A partial dissection (where they cut away part of the tumour) wasn't possible since it would have exacerbated the already fast growth of the tumour, and would have spread it even more. They didn't bother touching Dad's thyroid, either. They closed him up after doing nothing.
This effectively means that there are no other possible curative treatment options for Dad. His illness is terminal. We are coping well with the support of our family and friends.
Like I said before, this blog is not just about cancer, or feelings, or medicine or food. It's my family's story.
Hopefully "And So Our Fight Began" will make you think about how you treat your body. I hope it makes you realise how precious life is and how fast it can be taken away. I hope it makes you cherish your family and friends. And most importantly, I hope it stops you taking your health and body for granted.
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.
10. Tube that food passes through, from mouth to stomach.