Things I learned today.
Head and Neck Cancer patients must always do swallowing exercises and eat small meals often. To miss the exercises or not eat a patient will run the risk of losing their ability to swallow.
This is forever. Not just during the treatment and a while after the treatment.
Radiation damages the muscles of the head and neck. In order to keep them working, the patient needs to work at it. For the rest of their lives.
In the back of my mind I knew this because I'd done research at PubMed and also had been in contact with other HNC patients through a website called CancerCompass.
Rich had been doing very well until he hit a road block with his blood pressure and some stomach issues. We had gone to the VA clinic in Baraboo and the doctor a few weeks ago had felt that the stomach/bowel issues were from a change in medication and diet. The first line of treatment is to take away the offending medications which could cause the problem.
However, Rich was still having some pretty intense pain in his lower left quadrant [bowels] and intermittent diarrhea.
We spoke with Dr. Rahim and Rich explained what had been going on.
Dr. Rahim thought for a moment and then explained that Rich might have had a shock to his intestinal system when Miss Peggy was removed.
This could have caused paralytic ileus, or a slow down of the squeezing motion [known as paristalsis] of the intestines to move digested food.
This in turn could have caused a partial blockage of the intestines.
To confirm this, we went to X-ray and indeed a partial blockage was found.
So I/we learned that the digestive system can have a shock and get fouled up.
Cancer and Depression.
Well these two things can go together. One of the issues is that when you finish treatment, you figure it is over and you are going to feel much better right?
Rich had a few weeks where he did feel much better. It was amazing, he felt alive and energetic.
Then things went a bit south. The energy level dropped drastically.
Let me add here that at this time our weather turned very hot and very humid. Very hot conditions are hard on anyone, let alone a cancer patient.
Recovery from HNC treatment can take a long time. Life in many ways does not return to pre-cancer normal.
In fact you should have a mindset that life after treatment may just be your 'new' normal.
So combine feeling terrible, with low energy, pain that you don't understand, and the inability to get things done that you want to do and...
depression sets in.
The journey through treatment is only the beginning as the road to healing is not an easy one either.
As one of the nurses told us today.
"One Day at a Time."