White to Black (Update 4)

Well, I had another PET scan a couple of weeks back and learned the results late last week. This particular scan had me feeling a bit on tenterhooks in the days leading up, as this scan would show whether the reduced-dose Erbitux regime I have been on was working to keep the cancer in check – or not. If the scan showed the cancer coming back, then I would be in a predicament, as past treatment has shown that I cannot tolerate either higher doses of Erbitux or more chemotherapy, and there don’t seem to be too many more treatment options that look at all promising.

The scan came back looking extremely good. Whew! That’s two positive scan results in a row – now, how weird is that? As my (English) grandfather used to say, in an incredulous tone, “would you credit it?” I’ve come to expect bad news when the topic of scan results comes up, so to get the good news is even a bit hard to process for me.

Does this mean I am starting to have raised expectations about having good scan results for next time, a few months hence? Not really. I can’t count on that. But I’m greatly relieved this round not to have to deal with the situation were the scan result to have been poor. I’m good to go it seems, but really only until the next scan.

Does this mean I am free from cancer, clean bill of health? No. It means the cancer has shrunk back to a level that is very small, or no longer visible to the PET scan. The statistics for people like me, who have an oral cancer spread and eventually reach Stage 4 designation, that is, incurable, according to the oncologists, say that 95% will be deceased within the first 5 years after the Stage 4 is reached. So, that is not the most promising sort of news, but whatever, maybe I’ll have better luck than the 95%? You never know. Statistics can be entertaining to a point, but if you happen to be a statistical anomaly, for better or worse, then all those numbers trotted out become less relevant.

The oncologist tells me that he has another patient who had much the same cancer development as I, a fellow who is now in his 11th year after diagnosis. That patient receives Erbitux once every three months. So, there’s a possibility, one looking a hair brighter now I dare say, that maybe I can be around for a few good years yet.

It looks like the Erbitux is working for me at the current dosage, which has some side effects I don’t like but can tolerate, and I can see receiving infusions of it into the future. A question remains open as to whether an even smaller dose might be workable for me, but in the near future will be staying the course as far as the treatment regime is concerned.

That was the good news.

The other side of the coin is that my neuropathy, manifesting primarily as intense tingling in my thumbs and first fingers, has not receded in the slightest and in fact has gotten a bit worse. So, when working, I am finding certain new challenges in front of me, some of which are rather mundane tasks like threading a nut onto a bolt, putting a screw onto the tip of a bit. Any kind of task requiring fine touch or nimble finger movements with the main fingers on both hands are now more difficult or even close to impossible in some cases. It’s changing the way I look at doing woodwork going forward and I find this situation extremely frustrating, as otherwise I am a fairly coordinated, ‘in my body’ sort of person.

I was at my sister in-law’s place the other day and leaned against a wall edge with my weight largely on my outer shoulder and noticed that my shoulder, my deltoid to be more specific, felt numb. The area felt akin to how your mouth feels after dental work. I had previously perceived my shoulders to feel weak, but hadn’t noticed any numbness, so I have no real idea how long it has even been like this. And when I leaned over on the opposite shoulder I found that it was subject to the same condition. Nice to have a matched set I guess. It is likely that this condition is an aspect of the neuropathy. The neuropathy is thought to have been caused by the chemo treatments I have received. However I’m wondering also what role might be played by scar tissue forming on my neck as a result of the surgery I had a couple of years back tp remove lymph nodes.

I’m thinking about this because one of the first things both the surgeon and the surgical assistant asked me after I woke up from the anesthesia was, “can you move your arms okay?” I could, most fortunately. One of the other patients receiving radiation treatment at the same time as I was not so lucky, and had lost some use of her arms as the result of a similar surgery to what I had. I thought at the time that it would suck if that had happened to me – and now it seems to be happening to me, albeit at a very slow rate. It’s frustrating and annoying and 24/7.

And I don’t know, and the doctors don’t really know, if this nerve condition will resolve itself, or get worse, or how long any of it might take, how far back it will come if things do improve, etc.. The oncologist tells me that he thinks it will get worse over the winter, and then start to improve next spring. I’m like a tree dropping my leaves for winter or something.

I am still able to do a bunch of tasks. In the past two weeks I have installed a bunch of wiring in my basement and completed the insulation work. Soon I will panel the walls. I’ve moved all my rolling cabinets over from the old shop.

Another physical thing going on is a mysterious pain on the side of my right knee, almost like some kind of severe arthritis. I’m having the knee MRI’d, appropriately perhaps on Halloween, and hopefully that will help figure things out. It’s been a little better the past couple of days.

So, I’m limping a bit and my mouth is numb and weird, I’ve got zits on my upper face and nose, my arms feel like lead weights, my finger tips tingle like they’ve been sat on or slept on for a week – all in all, not too bad. I’ve certainly had it worse these past couple of years of my journey through the proverbial Valley of Death.

So, I continue on in my work getting our house basement ready to be my new shop. I’ve mostly moved out of the old shop. I’m looking at buying a couple of machines with a portion of the proceeds from the machines I have sold. My client in California hints at a next project, so things are looking vaguely exciting. Two good scan results in a row do that for me. I can imagine a little bit more of a future and I’m grateful for that. To think I will see my son’s 4th birthday, in all likelihood, is incredible.

I have 4 other posts currently in draft stage, so more to come. I want to post up on the Dark Chocolate build thread, and have written that post, but it seems better to wait until the client has received the piece so as to not spoil any surprises. All in good time.

Thanks for visiting the Carpentry Way.