When I first went to Mayo and met with the oncologist in charge of my case, I was offered the chance to participate in a “Protocol”…a new study on the effectiveness of various types of cancer treatment. My cancer was, I gathered, very unusual in that it did not present as tongue cancers normally do. It was located deep inside the base of the tongue, and I was given the option of radical (to me, anyway) surgery in which a large portion of the tongue would be removed to excise the tumor, or a combination of radiation (35 treatments) and chemotherapy (2 or 3—I can’t remember now—industrial-strength doses). I opted for the latter, not wanting to lose part of my tongue.
(which I am proud to say I took totally in stride and only on reflection realized how horrendous the ordeal had been) I was released from treatment and told to come back to have the major lymph nodes of my neck removed, to be inspected to make sure the cancer had not spread to them. It hadn’t, but once removed they could not be replaced, and the effects of having my throat and all the muscles involved therein slit from ear to ear combined with the effects of the radiation’s destruction of my salivary glands to create the “me” I now must live with for the rest of my life. (But “live” is the operative word and, bitch and moan as I do, I will gladly take it all when considering the possible alternative.)
In the course of my follow-up exams, I twice was given a P.E.T.—I have no idea what the acronym stands for—scan, but it involves a marvelous $1.5 million machine which produces a 3-D image of the entire body and can locate cancer cells anywhere they may exist.
Not being the quickest on the uptake, it took me until this, my 11th or so check up to think to ask the doctor: If the P.E.T. scan can spot cancer cells, why was it not used instead of going through the process of removing my lymph glands? It would have saved a very great amount of time, effort, and mental and physical inconvenience (a singularly inappropriate word), and may have saved me and others who have to go through it incalculable distress and physical disfigurement.
He replied that that is one of the purposes of the Protocol I signed on to. The P.E.T. scan, he said, while more than 95 percent accurate, still has some room for error. I observed, and he agreed, that everything, including examination of the removed glands, has a degree of error involved. They are trying to determine whether the removal of lymph glands is really necessary, given the advent of detection devices such as the P.E.T. scan and in light of the error factors of both.
He said, in summing it up, that it is very likely that removal of lymph glands will gradually be phased out as better detection measures are developed. While this will do very little for me or everyone else in my current state, I do take some comfort in thinking that something they may have learned from my participation in the Protocol may someday spare others from similar disfigurement.
Hope springs eternal.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com: