During one of my early visits to MD Anderson, I noticed a sign that read, "You became a survivor the day you were diagnosed." That message is how I've approached my squamous cell carcinoma treatments here. Everyone says it’s important to have a positive mindset during treatment, and this message was just so positive that it inspired me to channel that outlook.
After weeks of suffering from hoarseness, I was diagnosed in late July with stage II primary squamous cell carcinoma of the glottis, a form of throat cancer. I opted for radiation and chemo over a surgery that could have left me permanently hoarse.
My experience with chemo and radiation
So far, I've had six rounds of chemotherapy and 29 radiation treatments. I go to radiation five days a week and receive the chemo drug Cisplatin through an IV once a week.
My overall experience has been far better than I could've expected. My amazing radiation therapists, Terrance Thomas, Rasheda Forte and Carlos Fernandez, have all made treatment really comfortable for me.
My radiation therapy goes by quickly — 20 minutes at most — and I haven’t experienced any discomfort from it. The chemo infusions take about two hours.
Side effects from my squamous cell carcinoma treatment
Adam Garden, M.D., and George Blumenschein, M.D., as well as their staff, had prepared me for some of the side effects commonly experienced during treatment — things like nausea, weight loss, mouth sores and fatigue. So far, I've only experienced, some skin irritation, light nausea and a little weight loss.
I wanted to keep things as normal as possible, and thankfully, I've been able to do that. To date, I’ve missed only one day of work due to fatigue. My voice isn’t quite back to normal, but it’s getting better. And my doctors say the tumor on my left vocal cord is also shrinking.
I do my best to focus on the positive. But don’t get me wrong. This hasn’t been a cakewalk, and I don’t want it to seem like one. There are days I get really tired and just feel beat down.
One day I was so exhausted that I had to leave work early. I cried on the way home because I felt like cancer was winning that day. I cried again as I struggled to swallow dinner because my throat was so swollen from radiation treatment, and I felt guilty about putting my family through this whole ordeal.
Then I realized I really just needed to rest. I remembered there would be days when I’d need to recharge my body and mind, and that day was one of them.
Advice for new cancer patients
My advice to anyone who’s preparing to start treatment at MD Anderson is to listen to your care team. There’s a reason they are the best! From the doctors to the awesome nurses and radiation therapists, trust them. They all know what they are doing.
Also, be honest with yourself. Cancer takes your mind and body on a roller coaster ride, and there’s no reason to try to be a hero. If something is wrong, speak up and let your team know. They are there to help you.
Remember, you became a survivor the day you were diagnosed. And even though it's an intense process, we can get through it. Just believe in yourself and your care team.