Surviving S4

I had a telehealth appointment with the office of the chemo oncologist today. After a week of cold, wet and windy weather, it was milder today, and so I sat in the back courtyard with my iPad, waiting to discuss my case.

As with my radiotherapist, they’re please with my progress, suggesting once more that I’m ahead of the clock. It’s reassuring but puzzling at the same time. I wish I could recognise more distinct signs of improvement. It was reinforced that it will take ‘months’ to recover, which seemed inconsistent messaging but consistent with what I feel.

Right now, I’m waiting for the flow of dead cells to cease and my nose to clear up. It may have slowed a little. Then there’s the swelling. The big one is being able to eat solids again.

Near the end of the session, I asked a question that had been playing on my mind for months. I was sure I’d seen somewhere or heard that my cancer was designated as stage 4, though that was inconsistent with what I knew of S4 cancer. Generally, stage 4 is bad news, curtains, or so I believed, leading onto terminal cancer. If that was the case, why was my prognosis so positive? But then, maybe I had it wrong.

So, I asked the question: what stage was my cancer categorised as? It was confirmed: stage 4. It was suggested that because the type of cancer was isolated to my head, it was not as fatal as it would be if it was of a primary organ. I didn’t follow it completely – not helped by my tinnitus – but she seemed to emphasise that there were ‘no nodes’, whatever that means.

She tried to reassure me, but I told her I didn’t care what it was, only what it becomes. If I survive it, that’s good enough for me.

It’s pretty scary, though, and I guess I should add the caveat that I’m by no means out of the woods, either now or in years to come. Even if they reckon there’s an 80% chance of cure, that leaves a 20% chance that it isn’t. And, even if nominally ‘cured’, that may not prevent a return. I won’t be safely cured until 5 years of clear results.

In the washup, I feel lucky. Mine was/is a nasty type of cancer, but the nasty aspects of it – being inside my face – may have saved me. I can feel reasonably confident that it didn’t go anywhere else as it was not present in my lymph glands, which they removed as a precaution.

If, in fact, I come out of this with a clean(ish) bill of health, then that’s something else I can reflect on. Few people survive beyond a few years with stage 4 cancer. If I manage a cure, I can only believe that I’ve been blessed, and I mean to make it count.

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