Today, February 4th, marks World Cancer Day. The reason I’m bringing this up here is because I think it’s about time that I share a bit of personal history with you. I’m doing so in hopes that my story can help to positively impact those reading it, or help them make proper decisions in terms of their health. Here goes –
I’ve been sick off/on since about 2012-ish. I moved to the state of FL in 2009, so I always just thought it was allergies or something along those lines. Let’s set aside this tidbit for a smidge. In 2018, the greatest thing that ever happened to me occurred – My Son was born. What’s fun is his birthday is just 5 days after mine! I know I may be all over the place here, but stick with me ,there’s a reason for it.
So we’ve established that I was getting sick all of the time and that my son was born. Well, after paternity leave, I headed back to work where I immediately got sick again. Yikes. This time around was a bit different through. This time, I had a swollen lymph node on the right side of my neck that extended from my ear just about half way down my jaw line.
At first, I thought nothing of it. I went to Walgreens (lol) and had them give me antibiotics. Easy peasy. Well, that didn’t work so I went to my primary who gave me antibiotics and steroids. Eesh, those didn’t work either so I reached out to Dr. Google (we’ll talk about him later). My primary sent me for a CT scan that came back as “fluid in lymph node”. My primary said we’d drain it and keep on keepin’ on. Folks, I don’t know why, but that didn’t sit well with me, so I asked to be seen by an ENT.
The ENT offered the same regimen – meds. When I told him that I had just completed this same cycle twice, he became concerned and sent me for a biopsy. The biopsy returned findings that noted it wasn’t liquid in my lymph node, but necrotic tissue.
On March 11, 2019, my Wife completed Maternity leave. Tough day for us – Wife going back to work meant that my baby bear would be starting day care. I also had a follow up with my ENT to discuss the necrotic tissue in further detail. I loved on my Baby Bear, wished my Wife good luck on her first day back and headed in for my appointment.
That’s when I was told that I had been diagnosed with Cancer. Reading these words as I write them as caused me to tear uncontrollably, so please forgive me if I start to ramble, it’s because my anxiety is kicking in.
Whew, ok. So as I was saying, that’s when I received word. My ENT wanted me to know that there was good news. Huh? How the fuck can you say I have cancer and tell me that there’s good news in the same breath?
He looked me right in my eyes and said “You are going to live. I need to you remember that.” I’ll never forget that and I’ll go to my grave thankful for those words. He said that next up was a PT scan to get an idea of what we’re dealing with. So, fast forward now – Scan is done and results are in – What I would be told is that I had Stage 3 HPV-16+ Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Orophyryngeal variety, aka throat cancer. See, this wasn’t related to tobacco or drug use…this was sexually transmitted. If you’ve been sexually active and you’re under 40? Chances are in the 80-90% range that you’ve had HPV. The human body tends to shed it within 2 years time. Apparently I’m an overachiever, as the disease laid dormant in my body.
Receiving this news sent me off the deep end – Did I give it to my Wife? Did she give it to me? Did I give it to my boy? How can I live with myself if I risked my child? Why was this all happening? Dr. Google and I became the best of friends, as I searched my condition for hours upon hours at end. Mind you, I was still working through all of this, so I had to keep a straight face while I was losing my mind. Giving up has never been a choice. I have a baby boy that needs me.
I survived the Bronx. I survived 9-11. I survived the riots in Philly. I survived tornadoes in Michigan. i survived a bridge collapse in Minnesota. I’ll be fucking DAMNED if I get taken down by cancer. Fuck that. No.
The fight began shortly thereafter. I had an emergency tonsillectomy and 9 biopsies around my throat and mouth, as my cancer was of unknown origin. That’s a real kick in the balls – “Hey, you have cancer, but we’re not really sure where.” I was allowed some time to heal from the surgery before moving on to the next – a Port would be installed in my chest for my upcoming chemo regimen. I would also have a mask custom fitted to my face and shoulders, as radiation therapy would accompany chemo. Good times.
A bit before my treatment started, my ENT called with some amazing news – The found my cancer! Remember those biopsies? Well, that fucking Cancer was in my right tonsil. HA! FUCK YOU, GET OUT!
Friday, April 12, 2019 I had my first chemo treatment. Cisplatin. What a doozy. Mind you, this was the first of 7 chemo treatments that I would eventually receive. Tuesday, April 16, 2019 is when I started my radiation therapy. Every day, for 15 minutes at at time, I’d be strapped down to a table and they’d zap my neck with 70gy of rads.
This went on for 7 weeks. Radiation every day, chemo on Fridays, rinse, repeat.
Amazingly enough, I worked the whole time. Granted, it was from home, but I worked nonetheless. It helped keep me sane. It also helped all the young folks that I had reporting to me see that anything is possible as long as you don’t give up. Get up. KEEP ON GETTING UP.
The cisplatin did a number to me. So much, in fact, that after my 4th dose, I was switched to Carbo/Taxol, a chemo combo. That kicked my ass, too, so then I was switched to just taxol. In doing my research, as saw that Taxol might not be strong enough, so I pleaded with my Oncologist to put me back on Cisplatin. He did, reluctantly, for my last (7th) treatment. It fucked me up so bad that I had to begin a regimen of white blood cell boosters, which to tell the truth, beat me up worse that the chemo did (ain’t that a bitch?)
Radiation was rough. Around week 4 of treatment, I lost the ability to produce saliva and had no taste. My throat was swollen so swallowing was an issue. My medical team had insisted that I get a feeding tube…but I’m hard headed, so no, I didn’t. Every day, I’d remind myself that I’m fighting for my baby bear and I’d find a way to swallow. I’d find a way to get calories and medicine in. I’d find a way to get to treatment and I’d find a way to put in a pair of latex gloves and help give my boy a bath later that evening.
I completed treatment on June 4th, 2019 and returned to the office on July 5th. My first post-treatment scan was 3 months later.
“We see a lot of inflammation. Good news is, it’s probably not cancer. We’ll check again in 3 months.”
Probably? Are you fucking kidding me? I’m the living representation of a statistic – Latino, divorced parents from the inner city. On paper, I wasn’t supposed to make it this far. I wasn’t supposed to have reached the levels I’ve reached in my career at this age. Shit, I wasn’t supposed to reach a career outside of drug dealing.
So yeah, probably? Fuck you, take that probably with you because that’s not good enough. I beat this shit. If I didn’t then we keep on fighting. Bottom line.
I received a scan 3 months after that, then another 3 months after that, then just another last Monday.
Each has resulted in a status of N.E.D. – No evidence of disease.
I’m so blessed. I’m so lucky. I get to wake up every day and kiss my son. I go to bed every night thanking my maker for another day and for giving me the strength to continue on this path, all while walking along side me every step of the way.
Folks, my cancer was caused by HPV. For us adults, the vaccine really works if you haven’t been exposed to it. That’s why the vaccine is a must for kids. Give them a chance to literally say FUCK YOU, CANCER. (well, HPV related cancer, anyway).
If you need resources, here’s an amazing, science based resource created by a gentleman that not only studies this disease, but battled it as well:
To those of you fighting, keep on keeping on, Warriors. For those that we have lost, you will always be remembered.
Below are some pics of my journey. Folks, treatment for throat cancer is BARBARIC. HPV Cancer can be PREVENTED. Please, consider the vaccine for your children. no one should have to go through this. I didn’t even want to get in to the side effects, the anxiety, the PTSD.
I was blessed with a mentor that guided me along my path. If I can be that for you, please don’t even think of hesitating to ask. I’m at your service.
Wow, I’m a fucking mess. Pretty much ugly crying at my desk right now. As fate would have it, I’m dealing with a bit of an upper respiratory “thing” right now, so yeah, my nerves are shot. I know it’s not cancer, but that gremlin on my shoulder keeps screaming otherwise. So on that note, let’s leave this with a bit of my sarcastic humor –
I was quarantined from March 2019 through July 2019…only to go back in to quarantine from March 2020 – ? – THERE’S ONLY SO MUCH I CAN CLEAN MY HOUSE, PEOPLE! GET ME THE FUCK OUTTA HERE! 🙂
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. This is the first time that I’ve ever shared my story. I’ve been so scared of the other shoe dropping. Shit, I still am so scared.
I am thankful for every day the Lord allows me to spend here with my son. I’m thankful for you taking the time to read this long winded post. If there is anything you want to know, please, I’m at your service so don’t hesitate to ask.
May God bless you all with good luck and health.