This entry might be worth reading if you are a person who has been fortunate enough NOT to witness cancer for yourself, a loved one or a close associate. If cancer has always been a distant topic, please read on.
You’ve heard of the many types of cancer and the treatments: radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. The treatments are life-saving! But life after treatment can change dramatically, for the patient and their family, friends and colleagues. I had the smallest of cancers…in my tonsil…a lump the size of half my thumb, lodged tightly against the inside of my molars. I was grateful it was found, contained and treated (radiation and chemo), within only about 4 months. But I then needed to face treatment’s aftereffects. Like other cancer survivors, it’s been a challenge to deal with the long-term, and sometimes, lifelong consequences of treatment. I can’t speak for other cancer survivors, but here’s what I faced:
- Many fewer salivary glands, resulting in a dry mouth which
- makes it hard to eat without a drink to wash food down
- often leads to rampant tooth decay due to a constantly acidic mouth
- brittle teeth (no more dry nuts, caramels, biting into apples/pears. I’ve chipped 3 teeth in 8 months)
- my sense of taste being odd (for example, water tastes salty)
- ever-tightening jaw
- odd sleep patterns
- nerve pain in my arms and legs
- some balance issues and
- heightened sensitivity to emotional topics.
Fortunately, I am getting better. Why? Because of the following people, products and organizations:
- family, friends and colleagues who learned about the changes brought on by my cancer, and supported me in myriad ways, from hospital advocacy, thru flowers and phone calls during treatment, to housing, meals, and TLC when the hardest days of my journey came, post-treatment
- a speech therapist who instructed me in a lifelong daily 15-minute set of oral exercises to keep my jaw and throat from closing
- my Medical Oncologist’s Nurse who told me about Xylimelts, a tablet which sticks to the inside of my gums and slowly releases Xylitol, a sugar alcohol, which keeps my mouth moist, day and night
- My dentist who advised me to floss and brush my teeth after every meal, including snacks, and to use fluoride trays with a prescription fluoride toothpaste for an hour every night before bed
- My Radiation Oncologist who recommended follow-up appointments with him or an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor to check for any return of oral cancer by threading a scope down my nose and through my throat every three months for 2 years, then every 6 months for year 3 and annually through year 5
- a Primary Care Physician who understood my need for stress reduction
- The American Cancer Society’s website which is full of advice and resources for cancer patients, and last but not least
- the Cancer Support Community in Bozeman, Montana which could serve as a MODEL OF EXCELLENCE when it comes to supporting those affected by cancer. Their monthly calendar offers supportive programs for cancer patients, family members and caregivers. Offerings include, but are not limited to: Strength Training, Yoga, Swimming and Walking classes, Stress-Reduction workshops, Nutrition workshops, Cooking Classes, Caregivers’ Meetings, Support Groups for victims of Breast cancer, GYN cancer, Prostate cancer or Multiple Myeloma, as well as Support Groups for their families, and their children. I am a regular visitor there. From my initial meeting with their director bemoaning my wasting body and strong emotions, through months of their professional caregiving, I am coming back physically and mentally stronger than ever.
Cancer doesn’t end with treatment. The lingering after-effects can be life-long, and affect many aspects of the cancer patient’s and loved ones’ lives. But it is through the support of people like you, that so many of us are able to make a meaningful comeback.
Thank you for reading this entry. Thank you for considering a donation to Bozeman’s Cancer Support Community this weekend, during Give Big.