HEAD NECK CANCER - A learning journey
My favourite full-of-tricks and energetic Monkey King in the Ramayana performance at Uluwatu temple, Bali.
Two days later, on 1 June, I was on my way back to Melbourne, Australia, for further investigation of possible Head and Neck Cancer (HNC).
So now I am a participant-observer researcher in this unexpected learning journey.
My aim is to create awareness of what it means to have a diagnosis of HNC.
I also have a chance to observe collaborative and compassionate leadership in action at the Box Hill Hospital and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne.
My cancer has been diagnosed as squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the base (very back) of my tongue.
It was not visible via an ordinary oral examination and was asymptomatic until it metastasised (invaded) the cervical lymph nodes on the side of my neck. I put it down to a low grade infection and stress-related. I was totally ignorant of what this enlargement could be.
Cancer in this location is linked with tobacco or the HP (human papilloma virus). I have never smoked - not one cigarette. Ever! Or anything else...
The HP virus is also linked with cervical cancer. There is now a vaccine to protect against HP virus. See www.hpvvaccine.org.au
Michael Douglas, the Hollywood actor, and Julie McCrossin, ABC Presenter, also had HNCs linked with the HP virus. See Julie's story at www.targetingcancer.com.au
The good news is that the chances of recovery from HPV linked HNC are higher than from tobacco-related HNC.
After one month of diagnostic tests, including biopsies, CT, PET and MRI scans, I am preparing for a seven week, five days-a-week combined chemo/radiotherapy treatment at the world-class Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. See www.petermac.org
Preparing to make the mask in the radiotherapy treatment centre at Peter Mac.
This part of the process is comfortable, involving a CT scan, creating a special head and neck cushion moulded to your specific shape, dipping a flat plastic mesh into a warm bath to make it pliable and then ensuring an exact fit. It is easy to breathe, and I was visualising a special memory of a walk in rural Tuscany early Spring. It is critical for treatment to have perfectionists working with you so the treatment targets the exact same spot each time (35 times, 5 times a week, for 7 weeks).
As a gentle provocateur of positive change,