Very shortly after my last radiation treatment, I received a phone call from my doctor's office, scheduling a six-week follow up appointment at the BC Cancer Agency in Kelowna. It's just part of the process...a process that is very regimented and really, quite methodical. So, Dec. 18 was to be the day.
However, with Gay asked to attend a training course on the Lower Mainland that week, we arranged to move the appointment to Dec. 13 so she could attend. It all went down a couple of days ago.
Dr. Francois Bachand...
As I have said before, meeting with this young guy is tremendously uplifting. I would guess he's probably in his late 30's, a "GQ" looking kid with a very positive demeanour. He is originally from Quebec, so he speaks that kind of broken English, but he speaks in very clear, understandable terms.
(Ladies...if you bump into my wife, you might be able to confirm that Francois is probably the doctor you all wish your daughter's had married!)
The Third Degree...
Upon entering the office, a nurse always comes in and goes over my file. The questions are pretty basic, like "how are you feeling", "any pain", "do you notice any new problems", "how are you eating", "let's look at your skin". It's a meaningful discussion, as I am confident the diarized information is carefully used to maintain and develop statistical data for future use with patients dealing with similar cancers.
One of my primary concerns has been the constant pain in my throat since my last treatment. It relates to the effects of the radiation...35 treatments between Sept. 18 and Nov. 6.
I am tipping the scales at 177 pounds, down from about 189 when treatment began in September. There are no issues associated with the weight loss, nor is there any panic about not putting on a bunch of weight just yet. (Geez...the last time I checked in at 177 lbs would be the summer of 2007. And yes, all of the clothes that fit me at that time are long gone!!)
I am also concerned about my blood work, especially my white blood cell count. I really do hope to travel in the New Year, for myself because I am selfish, but after this entire treatment adventure, I really want Gay to have a break, too.
When Francois arrived, there were the usual greetings and small talk before he got down to business.
Overwhelmingly, the nursing staff and Francois are pleased with my progress. My skin has pretty much survived, unscathed by the radiation. This is due primarily to Gay and I being diligent with a couple of galaxall-based creams and some saline dressings recommended by the agency. However, at this point, I cannot grow any facial hair on my cheeks, upper lip, chin and neck. Initially, we thought this was likely to be permanent, but Bachand suggested this might start to come back about 12 weeks into recovery.
As far as the pain in my throat, it still hurts to swallow, yawn, cough and sneeze. But, this is probably the point where Gay and I received the "reality check" we both needed.
You see, we continue to look at Nov. 6 as the end of treatment, which made our Dec. 13 follow-up meeting just a touch beyond the five-week mark.
But Bachand confirmed to us that the two weeks after the final treatment are often the most difficult for patients. This was bang-on, as I continue to point at the final week of treatment and the two weeks afterward as absolutely the most difficult period of this entire adventure.
So, in the care team's opinion, I am actually only a couple of days beyond three weeks into recovery!
Rather than bemoaning how long the pain in my throat is persisting, the team is suggesting I should be pleased with the progress. In fact, they suspect it will be another three weeks before I approach pain-free status in my throat. That works out to six-weeks post treatment in their view.
I also advised Bachand that I have begun to experience faint taste sensations. I've probably chowed down half-a-dozen steaks over the past three weeks, salmon a few times, a hamburger, plenty of rice and pasta, along with the smoothies and milk shakes I concoct every day. I eat small amounts, but I am eating regularly.
Both the nurse and Bachand appeared to be quite surprised by this...actually, judging by their reactions, they were kind of "over the moon" about all of this. Bachand suggested the majority of his patients are not having this kind of success until they reach the six-week post treatment range.
As far as blood work, I am experiencing an iron deficiency now, but it relates to the chemotherapy. My white blood cell count is fine, around the 3.2 range. According to Bachand. anything below 1.0 is not good, in terms of my body fighting potential infections. Above 2.0 is okay in his opinion, so we are okay in terms of hitting the airports in the New Year!
I guess we are ahead of the game here in many ways. Ultimately, I can live with that!
I knew this was coming. It's a camera Bachand runs up my nose, over the roof of my mouth, then down into my throat. Good times!
This was the third time I've been "scoped", and admittedly, the most uncomfortable of the three. It just relates to the discomfort in my throat.
Bachand looked around and saw evidence of radiation burns, confirming I have some healing to experience. He repeated I'm a good three weeks away.
Oh yeh, according to Bachand, ummm...it's GONE!!!
The Options Moving Forward...
Basically, Bachand has given me what amounts to a clean bill of health. There are a couple of "next steps", but I am told I have options.
1. CT Scan in late January...At least this scan is done in Kelowna. It provides an image for Bachand to review and assess. He is recommending this, so we're in. We'll wait to hear from the scheduling office on this one.
2. PET CT Scan in late January...This scan is done in Vancouver. It is the scan I had in August that confirmed the primary site of the cancer, which was the base of my tongue. It is the best means for Bachand to fully assess the area at the base of my tongue. He is confident it is not 100% necessary, given the success of the treatment and my subsequent progress. But, it's an option Gay and I want to exercise, so it looks like a run to the coast is in the books for us early in the New Year. The scheduling office will contact us for this as well.
On Dec. 14, we received a call from Bachand's office, scheduling our next follow up with him for Feb. 5. This is significant because it confirms that already the scheduling office has received notice that I need a CT and PET CT Scan appointment at least one week before this date.
So, the wheels are definitely in motion.