My Cancer Story


I was diagnosed with cancer in May of 2006. I had surgery to biopsy the tumor to find out what kind of cancer it was (or the unlikely possibility that it was not malignant) and to reduce its bulk. The doctor called it “squamous cell carcinoma of the base of the tongue.” The next day I had surgery to install a Port-a-Cat (so they wouldn’t have find a vein for blood tests and chemo treatments) and a G-Tube that goes directly into my stomach (so that I would be able to receive nurishment without having to further irritate the tissue in my throat affected by the radiation and chemo treatments.

Joseph, our first grandson was born at Eastern Maine Medical Center on May 25 at the same time that I was at EMMC having my radiation planning session where they figure out how they will aim the radiation during my treatment. Because Joseph was more than a month early, he was in the hospital for several weeks. I began “bookend” (twice a day, seperated by at least six hours) radiation treatments June 1. I began a week of chemo treatment the following week. I had a total of five weeks of bookend radiation treatments during June and July with one planned week off in the middle for a bit of rest. Chemo was a five day week each month in each of the four months from June through September.

Cookie Hoerner arranged for Susan and I to stay in a house right across the State Street from EMMC owned by her dentist friend, Wayne Wibby. This was a godsend. Susan turned the third floor apartment into a home away from home. Most days we were able to walk down the hill and through the hospital to Cancer Care of Maine for the treatments. As the treatments progessed, my mouth and throat became increasingly sore. After a while I was not able to chew or swallow food. For several months I received all my nutrition through my feeding tube.

I was loath to use narcotics to deal with the pain in my throat associated with my treatments. Instead, I hoped to get by with fairly high doses of Ibuprofen and acetaminophen. One of my nurses strongly encouraged me to use oxycodone. She assured me that when used for pain it is not addictive and kept saying, “Just take the pill.” I almost made it through the radiation treatments, but toward the end I was unable to sleep. One morning at 4am I couldn’t imagine how I would make it through the rest of the night. I woke Susan and she helped me take the liquid oxycodone through the feeding tube. It made an enormous difference. Essentially I did become addicted. Especially in the morning, most days would begin with a strong case of the “blahs”. But a while after taking the Oxycontin, I’d feel a lot better. Once the chemo treatments were over I was able to start “tapering” – slowing reducing the dosage. I’m happy so say that a few weeks ago I finally stopped using the pain killer altogether.

There are large swatches of the summer that I don’t remember at all, and most of the things I do remember have a dreamlike, disconnected quality. There are a few fond memories.

One morning Susan and I were driving over Eagle Lake Road to Bar Harbor to get a blood test at the oncology department of MDI Hospital. (I’m happy to report that all the hospitals – Bangor, Ellsworth and Bar Harbor – and the legions of health care workers we encountered worked wonderfully together and always tryed to make things as easy as possible, under the circumstances). The fan belt (which of course doesn’t have a fan on it) broke and Susan wrestled the car to the shoulder. My long dormant hitch hiking instincts kicked in. I started walking and stuck out my thumb. Only a couple of cars passed before one pulled over and stopped. The hitch hiking instincts said run to to the car. My body however said not so fast and I fell head over heals. Fortunately, I only scratched one hand, and the wonderful couple in car helped Susan gather the things that had fallen out of my backpack, and then drove us into Bar Harbor to the hospital.

I was hospitalized once during my treatment for three days when I became dehydrated.

Through all of this we have received tremendous support from the community.

I could fall asleep on my feet.

Visiting EMMC is like coming home.

One day at a time. I just did what I needed to do to get through the day.

Chocolate means nothing to me. However, maple syrup has become incredibly important.

I’m learning to eat again, with much sputtering and coughing and occasionally spitting up, just as Joseph is learning to eat for the first time.

My primary medical task is to regain the weight I lost during treatment.

I’m working with a speech pathologist. She has given me exercises to do the improve my swallowing. The exercises take 90 minutes every day.

Everything seems to take forever to do.

The prognosis is good. 80% cure rate. Guarded optimism.

3 Responses to “My Cancer Story”

  1. Susan Says:

    Michael, I love you. Thank God I could be there with you. Your courage makes me feel bigger. Susan

  2. Stephen Rees Says:

    I came to your site becuase you linked to mine. Please update this page and let the world know how you are doing. I wish you a speedy and complete recovery

  3. Michael Says:

    I’m doing much better. Eating still takes a long time, but I have returned to my pre-treatment weight. I’m currently on a four week road trip with my Dad visiting friends and relatives.

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