What are the warning signs of cancer?
In the blink of an eye, everything can change. One morning I woke up with a sore throat. Believing I was getting a cold, I felt for my lymph nodes in my neck and sure enough, the right one was swollen. I shrugged it off and went about my life. I was, and am, 36 years old. Almost a week later I hadnt gotten sick, but my lymph node was still swollen. Just the one on the right side. I showed my wife and she suggested I get it checked out, just because it seemed abnormal. I was already alarmed by this point because Id been googling. The node was rubbery and stationary, not how a regular swollen lymph node should be. I visited my doctor having no symptoms but that swollen node. A PA put me on antibiotics and a steroid to see if the swelling would go down. It didnt. A week later I went back to the doctor and he suggested I go in for an ultrasound. Just to be safe. Common things happen commonly, he said, trying to reassure me. After the ultrasound identified what everyone already knewthat my right anterior cervical lymph node was enlargedI was sent for CT scan, then a biopsy. This was about four weeks after I first noticed the swelling. Two days later, my biopsy surgeon called me to say that theyd found squamous cell carcinoma in my lymph node. Three more weeks have passed and Im scheduled for my PET scan soon. This will tell me where my cancer is originating. So in two weeks or so, Ill have a better idea of what the rest of my life will look like. I try not to take things so much for granted anymore. *** Edit (3/17): I was scheduled for my PET today but received a call that the scanner went down. Doh! I am rescheduled for this Thursday. I hope to be able to provide an update as soon as I can! My hope is that this post will do some good. Thank you to all who have taken the time to read, comment or upvote. May the leprechauns leave tiny gold bars in all your shoes. Update (3/23): My doctor called me today with the results of my PET scan. The scan indicates activity in one of my tonsils, at the base of my tongue, and in additional lymph nodes in my neck. Theres also confirmed activity related to my thyroid. The good news for today, however, is that no activity was revealed below my neckline (usually theres no activity above my neckline!). In other words, I have somewhat early-stage head and neck cancer as well as suspected thyroid cancer, which will be investigated through more testing. Due partly to COVID and partly to the multiple-node nature of my diagnosis, radiation is the suspected best option rather than neck dissection to remove the nodes. Ill know more about my treatment plan moving forward. I feel that this full post has done its job, so I wont be providing more updates unless I think the information could be useful to someone else. Thanks once again to all who shared their kind words and best wishes with me. I hope you all stay healthy and happy throughout the crisis that were all going through together. You stay classy, San Diego. Im Ron Burgundy? Update (4/8): I thought I would share a little more info. On Friday I had a neck dissection (they removed lymph nodes throughout my neck, including the original swollen node that was now a tumor, plus the surrounding chain of nodes and some nodes on the other side of my neck near my thyroid. They also removed my thyroid. Plus my wisdom teeth (in advance of later throat radiation, which can mess up your teeth because it destroys your salivary glands). While doing all this and scoping my throat, they discovered what they think was my original tumor, on my right sublingual tonsil, which they removed. Hopefully my next steps will involve radiation only. Waiting to discuss next steps. Post-surgery was really hard but after a day or two it gets easier. I was discharged from the hospital after three nights. The first day was the worst because it hurt so badly to swallow and you really want to swallow, plus the drains they leave in feel really weird. What got me through was rounds of Xanax and Tramadol; the Xanax was a life-saver because it helped me sleep, and the Tramadol helped with the pain. I had to ask for the Xanax myself, so dont be shy about pushing for what you think you need! Update (4/30): Radiation begins next week. Im lucky enough to be avoiding chemotherapy; my cancer was found to be strongly related to the human papilloma virus, and these cancers tend to respond very well to radiation alone. My head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, which should be a Stage 3 or 4 illness based on its spread, is considered Stage 1 because of its p16 origins. I will undergo 33 sessions of radiation, ending on June 23. Then my thyroid carcinoma will be treated with radioactive iodine. No details there yet, were focusing on the more pressing HNSCC first. I feel nervous about not receiving chemo, as it was ultimately my own final decision based on advice from my doctors; but I also very fortunate to be avoiding possible side-effects. The neck radiation will be tough, but is usually tolerated well. Update (5/22): Still working full-time! 12th radiation session today. Food tastes like metallic ass, but I am surprised at how tolerable things have been! More to come. Update (6/11): Only nine radiation sessions left, then the glorious start to the gradual return of my taste buds (and to things not tasting like metal). I feel very fortunate that I have maintained my full swallowing function with very little mouth pain and minimal dry mouth. But I am sick of being relegated to protein shakes and melted ice cream (which still tastes bad). Other people have had it a lot worse though. Foods that I am most looking forward to, in order: Kentucky Fried Chicken (I do not know why; I never was much of a KFC guy in the past). I already know that I will order two legs, a breast, a chicken sandwich, mashed potatoes, french fries and two biscuits. Chicken Fried Steak with mashed potatoes and corn (why am I obsessed with fried chicken?) Grilled burgers and brats. Pizza. Long John Silvers with extra malt vinegar. An Italian sub from my favorite shop in town. A haircut. I know you cant eat haircuts. My radioactive iodine to kill remaining thyroid cells is still somewhat of a mystery, but is slated for sometime in August. Update (7/6): Radiation ended on June 24. My skin has healed greatly, with no more nuclear sunburn on my neck. The pain in my tongue and throat is mostly gone (85%). But the best part is that my nausea is gone, and I no longer feel irradiated. Food, however, is a different story. Everything still tastes like metal except for liquid meal replacements. I havent eaten solid food in a month and have dropped around 20 pounds. The internet says this should improve in a few more weeks. To be honest I could be doing better getting caloriesdrinking melted ice cream and eating cream of wheat, yada yadabut the weight loss has been appreciated and Ive kept my energy up. Been bicycling and walking lots. Wife got me new bicycle Ive been wanting forever as a radiation graduation present. Shes amazing. If I keep dropping weight before the taste comes back, Ill do more to get the calories up. Next CT scan is late this month. Radioactive iodine for thyroid carcinoma is TBD for late August. Then my first (terrifying) post-treatment PET will be 9/15. Hopefully Ill get a good birthday present (9/19) in the form of a clean bill of health. Update (7/19): Back on solid foods as of about a week ago. Dont get me wrong, things dont taste the same, but they arent disgusting like they used to be, either. Happened almost overnight. All of a sudden I could eat a piece of bread. Then lunch meat. Then a sandwich. Then eggs. Then pasta. Then chicken. It was miraculous. Things are still off and my sweet taste, especially, hasnt returned. But Ill take it. Looking forward to continued improvement. In the meantime Im on a low iodine diet because I get tested for levels tomorrow, in hopes of doing my radioactive iodine soon and getting this treatment over with. Update (8/29): Radioactive iodine is done. It wasnt so bad. My mouth is a little drier and my taste buds went back a notch. A scan showed that the iodine went where it was supposed to go. My big PET scan to determine the effectiveness of my squamous cell treatment is 9/15. Im very nervous, but very hopeful. All in all, Ive lost 30 pounds but Im in better shape than Ive been in years. If it werent for the constant worry about recurrence, Id probably feel great. But every new sensation, every pain, every skin tag or wheeze or sore throat is a harbinger and a cause for concern. How long will it last? A clean bill of health in two weeks would be a start. Update (9/27): For anyone going through what I havethere is hope, just keep fighting. My three-month post-treatment PET scan showed a complete response, meaning there are no signs of cancer remaining at this time. I will continue to be monitored every three months for up to five years. There will be moments of fear and doubt. But all I can do is do my best to stay healthy. I continue to exercise most days of the week; I am drinking very little (a few beers once or twice a week); I am trying to stay positive and stress free. I know the cancer could come back, but I also know the odds are in my favor. One cant live in fear. We have to take it as it comes. We can only do what we can. This is the end of my journey on Quora, at least as far as this post is concerned. I hope anyone who reads this will gain something positive from it. Life is worth living. Make the changes you need to make until you realize it, too. Remember that happiness and health are inextricably entwined. Treat your body well and well-being will follow. Its never too late to make a change. Take care of the people who love you, and take care of yourself. Update (4/21): I havent updated this in awhile. Thus far my regular checkups show no signs of recurrence. I have another big PET scan in September that I am inevitably worried for, and at the end of this month I have my first thyroid area ultrasound since my surgery. But I am feeling confident. And no matter what happens, I am still appreciating life tenfold from how I was before. My relationship with my wife has improved. Im eating VEGETABLES now. And LIKING IT. I mean, shit. Listen, people, dont let it take a death scare to get you off the couch and into wherever your gym is. Maybe your gym is learning to cook. Maybe its seeing a therapist. Reconnecting with your mom. Maybe your gym is a place where there are weights and treadmills. I dont know. Only you know. Its your gym. But go there. If anything, Ive taken control of my life, and Im making the fixes I was too lazy or scared to before. Well, mostly. My job.I dont like my job and Ive been too lazy and scared to change. But thats on the horizon someday too. And, for all you former mes out there: QUIT the nicotine and (most of the booze); I promise you that after the hard first few months your life will be infinitely better. Take care of yourselves and treat the people who love you with kindness, and good things will follow. Theres my pedantic diatribe. And now, perhaps I will steal some of my wifes Fruity Pebbles.