Throat Cancer - Four Things To Help In Your Fight
Throat cancer is striking a lot of us. I was diagnosed and treated in 2013 - if you are so inclined you can read all of my posts on this subject by clicking THIS LINK HERE. I had three 5-6 hour sessions of IV chemo and 7 weeks of daily radiation (35 treatments).
Rather than give you a blow by blow of my treatment, (which you can read by clicking the link) I wanted to boil things down to what I think are four things that will give help you lessen the effects of radiation and chemotherapy and help you in your fight.
Not trying to sell anything here - just trying to give anyone fighting throat cancer some useful tools in that battle (to hell with the term "cancer journey" - this is an effin street brawl - you want to use anything and everything in reach to help your cause).
These are tools that your treatment team might be overlooking or presenting poorly.
1. FEEDING TUBE - get your feeding tube installed as early as your team will allow it. In my mind I saw a feeding tube as something for a person on the way out. I wanted no part of it - another part of the problem was that the staff used the feeding tube as a stick they threatened me with - "Cliff, if you don't eat or drink enough calories, we will put in a tube." That is a STUPID way to present a life saver.
Thanks goodness for the chemo nurse who told me, "You have it backwards, Cliff. The feeding tube will keep you ALIVE - it is not a sign you are on your way out." She went on to say if a member of her family was scheduled for the treatment regimen I faced, then she would advise a tube BEFORE they started treatment. I made inquiries into getting a tube right after she presented her case.
Because I waited and because of some other problems early on in my fight, I had to have the slow drip kind of feeding tube which meant I was hooked up for 10-12 hours a day in order to get enough calories. If you are smart and get one early on, your feeding can be completed in a fraction of that time. Not only will it go much faster, if you get one installed early and start loading up, you will have the resources to FIGHT instead of allowing yourself to be steadily weakened and battered down because you cannot eat or even drink water.
NOTE: depending on where your cancer is located, not everyone loses their ability to swallow and chew - but way more DO than do not. So, get hooked up with a feeding tube EARLY and use it.
2. Delve into "mindfulness" - especially look into breathing techniques that will fully saturate your body with oxygen and help calm you. Simply put, pretty much every thing about Cancer - the disease, the treatment and even the bloody word, equals anxiety. Yoga and breath control can make a HUGE difference in staying on top during treatment.
I had a lot of anxiety about being bolted down to the table in the damnable mask they use to secure your head in the same exact place every time in order to best pinpoint the radiation. I ended up taking Xanax an hour before each treatment which meant I could not drive myself to my appointments. You will probably need rides at some point anyway, depending on your reaction and general physical health and strength, but for me a delay in having to bug others for a ride would have been helpful on several levels.
My introduction into breath control came AFTER treatment from Dr. White - a Psychologist who works with patients at the Metro Cancer Center. It would have helped me greatly if I had employed the methods she taught me BEFORE and especially during my treatment. You can read about one of the breathing techniques that helped with my daily anxiety in this post.
3. Make use of medical marijuana if possible. There are 28 states that have legal medical marijuana programs. If you live in one - look into it. None of my doctors were advocates of this, and I get it in a way - but the use of marijuana as a pain killer, sleep aid and appetite booster is SO WELL DOCUMENTED that for medical professionals to not mention it to ALL cancer patients is really very short sighted and is a major failing if you ask me. The effects of medical pot were the top three on my needs list. I was in pain, could not sleep, and had no real desire to eat.
I ended up getting my State issued card - it took about 10 days and cost a total of $250. I wish I would have had access to pot tea and candy for the entire time I was being treated. I used it on an almost daily basis for two years after treatment. It worked as promised to help me fall asleep and to stay sleeping - it also gave my appetite a huge boost. Even after the treatment was done, my appetite was not up to par because of the damage to my taste buds. It is hard to get excited about eating anything when all of it tastes like wet paper! I happily used it in place of pills that carry a long list of side effects. Small doses were very helpful in warding off the anxiety that would hit me, especially in the early days of trying to go back to work in the little jewelry store my wife and I own.
4. Oil Pulling. This is the practice of putting a tablespoon or so of coconut oil in your mouth and swishing it around your teeth for 15 to 20 minutes a day. NOTE: I am not claiming this practice to be a detox treatment or a cure all - HOWEVER, I can tell you that it helped me a great deal with dry mouth and the overall shitty feeling in my mouth post treatment. Frankly I was not interested in soaking my teeth and mouth with Fluoride every day. I don't want to get into that battle here - I know Fluoride has done a boatload of good, but after 7 weeks of abusing my body with hard drugs, chemo, and radiation, coconut oil seemed a much gentler and VERY much less expensive way to go.
I am also convinced that the oil pulling has lessened the Dry Mouth experience as a whole. A recent visit to my Ear Nose n Throat doc helped me to realize that I am having a pretty easy go of it in that department.
Conventional wisdom had me spend $250 for custom fitted mouth teeth trays and special "dry mouth" toothpaste and mouth wash. I am not knocking those things - BUT, I am suggesting that you spend $7-$10 on some coconut oil and give it a try. This also might help some during treatment.
Two more things that came in handy (sorry, I know it says FOUR). One of the side effects of my treatment has been neuropathy - especially in my feet. This will drive you bat shit crazy - your feet hurt and/or go numb, making standing up and walking somewhat of a challenge. I have experienced a lessening of the symptoms of neuropathy by taking the amino acid DLPA - I wrote about it on this page RIGHT HERE.
Lastly - a dog or some other pet can be a tremendous help during treatment. I have always been a dog lover, but Otter - our beagle-mix - was a big help in the middle of the night when the pain and fear drove me out of bed. I did not want to bother Julie (she had enough on her plate dealing with me and trying to keep our mom-n-pop store open). Otter stood by me - even if she was shaking in fear when I would hack and wretch with dry heaves and pound the counter in frustration and pain. Dogs rock - and their love for you can be a rock!