A Mecca Of Hope


We loaded up the car and took off last Monday about 12.30 p.m. for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

It took some research and a whole lot of soul searching to make the decision on where to go for a second opinion and treatment. We knew we weren’t staying local as the treatment would be very disjointed, going one place for surgery and another for radiation plus we weren’t really swept away by the experiences so far. All the doctors locally said they would not recommend surgery due to the fact the tumors were so large he would lose his tongue and would not be able to talk or swallow.

So here we go on a 5 1/2 hour road trip to our nirvana of sorts. As we drove across the Mississippi River in La Crosse, WI, the topography gets quite flat and the Minnesota grass lands begin. It is easy to imagine the Plains Indians wandering the prairie and hunting for their food. Nothing but farmland for as far as the eye can see.

As you get close to the Rochester exit, a city not unlike the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz rises out of the landscape. When you enter the complex a feeling of peace comes over you, even though the clinic employs 29,000 people at this location alone. Sam and I felt as if we were the only patients there. All the patients are the number one priority of this facility.

From the moment we walked into our first appointment with the Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon, we had a sense of hope. There was none of the gloom and doom we got from the local doctor, who told Sam the surgery was not an option as the tumor on his tongue was sized so that he would lose most of his tongue, and the cancer in his lymph nodes was wrapped around his carotid artery. Dr. Moore saw no problem with removing both tumors. The tongue lesion is actually on his right tonsil. He saw no reason not to expect a full cure after surgery and radiation.

We ran into a snag when he had a PET scan and it lit up like a Christmas tree. His thyroid showed nodules so I am sitting in the waiting room waiting for his ultra sound and biopsy on his thyroid. If it is cancerous the doctor will remove it when he takes out the other tumors. (No big whoop.) His colon also had a large spot on it, so guess who’s having a colonoscopy Monday? (And it’s not me.) If he has colon cancer, all bets are off. The surgery would be postponed and radiation and chemo would be done, with “salvage” surgery afterward to clear out the remainders of the tumors. The prognosis is much worse in this case. So for the third Monday in a row we are praying for Sam.

I feel like we are navigating a maze, never knowing what is around the corner. I know in my heart of hearts we made the right decision coming here. Nothing will fall through the cracks here, all the care is coordinated, (the right hand knows what the left hand is doing). We have some of the best minds in medicine treating Sam. Mayo is #1 in treating tonsil and tongue cancer. Dr. Moore looked looked me in the eye, shook my hand firmly and told me, you’re in the right place, and that was that.

This will not be a walk in the park for Sam. After surgery the pain will be bad, he will have a temporary tracheotomy, and a feeding tube through his nose.

So boys and girls, here is a little unsolicited advice. If you smoke, quit today. If you drink in excess, cut way back. If you use smokeless tobacco, stop it! For the most part this is a preventable cancer and it is hideous. Sam’s cancer came about because his immune system was weak and he contracted a virus that most of us would fight off, but it caused cancer for him.

We will celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary on May 21st and it brings to mind our vows of “in sickness and in health, for better or worse, in good times and bad.” Suffice it to say, I now know my God-given purpose in life.

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