Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How Laryngitis Became Something Worse

Excuse me as I hijack my blog, normally about media, to write something personal, about how my laryngitis became something much much worse.

The story goes like this.  I was grading one Sunday afternoon.  My wife or daughter asked me a question and when I answered with a cracked voice I joked that I'd lost it.  It came back, then went away again a few minutes later.

Well hell.

As I was teaching a three-hour graduate seminar, I figured it for a case of laryngitis.  That was March 3.  After a few days I call my doctor.  You know the routine -- it'll pass on its own, they say, just give it some time, so I give it some time.  A week later I call again, suspecting my occasional acid reflux may be the cause.  They shrug, tell me it'll pass, give me some meds for reflux just in case. 

Yup, I call again a week later.  Still no voice.  They prescribe some prednisone, thinking quite reasonably some kind of inflammation is the cause.

Still no voice.

Where's Dr. House when you need him?

Finally, I convince my GP to refer me to an ear-nose-throat guy.  He deadens my nose and throat, snakes an itty bitty camera down to peek at my vocal cords, and says my left vocal cord is paralyzed.  It happens, he says, and often we don't know the cause and it just takes care of itself with time.  Still, let's do a CT scan (now known as Scan #1) just to be sure. Smart move.  Turns out, Scan #1 reveals a nodule on my thyroid pressing the nerve that controls the left vocal cord.  Not all that unusual, and only about 5-10 percent of the time is such a nodule anything more than an abnormal growth to be dealt with in various ways.

Five to 10 percent chance.  You see where this is going, right?

So we do a sonogram (forever known as Scan #2) to confirm my throat is not pregnant and there is indeed something there, something suspicious.

Let's do a different test, my doc says. A PET scan (Scan #3). Serious stuff, #3, and yes the nodule lights up like a Christmas tree.  It is, indeed, cancer.  And oh, by the way, a couple of very small spots lit up in your lung, but they're likely unrelated to cancer, probably no bid deal.

Yeah, with my luck?

Last week was a biopsy where they stab a very fine needle into your throat.  Actually it's not as bad as it sounds, the doc and nurse were real pros, and the test confirms that while it is cancer, it's papillary and not one of the others.  Good news, if you can call it good news in a cancer-glass-half-full kinda way.  The plan is simple: a doc slits my throat, removes the thyroid, patches me up, puts me on meds for the rest of my life, and theoretically all should be fine.  Lotsa people in my building have been through this.

Bring it on, I say.

And yet, and yet.

Doc says, let's do Scan #4.  That's next week.  Because of those damn other spots.  Because we want to be sure.  Because there's some radioactive material that's yet to be inserted into your body.  Then we'll do surgery.  Really.  Promise.

I expect to be on the table in late May, sliced and diced.

And so, kids, that's the story of how laryngitis became cancer.  I still find it hard to think of myself as having cancer.  That's what other people have.  Not me.  Not ever.  Probably everyone thinks that way when they find out.  I dunno.  Anyway, it was damn difficult teaching with no voice. I used a computer to speak, my iPad to speak, I used microphones, I whispered really loud and sounded like Batman or that guy who calls late at night and asks what your wearing.  My throat hurt like hell while I muddled through my classes.  The rest of me feels fine --   except that I have (did I mention this?) cancer.

I suppose we can be thankful I lost my voice otherwise it might have taken a while before any symptoms showed up. Also, theoretically, once all this is done and assuming the nerve goes undamaged in surgery, my voice should return to its full nasal glory.  I was lucky enough to snag a research sabbatical for the Fall (I prefer to believe it was based on the quality of my proposal, but then again ...).  Regardless, I'll be around Grady working on a pretty cool research idea (I'll write about it another time) and then I'll be back in Spring teaching, assuming nothing goes wrong in the surgery.

I can't be that unlucky, right?


Kelly Simmons said...

Thanks for sharing Barry. That's the right kind of look-at-me journalism. :) Sending warm wishes and good luck your way.

Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru said...

You will be fine, Barry. Nothing like entering this journey (no better word for it) with your attitude. I'll be back in Athens 5/13. Let me know if I can help with something more than my prayers and good wishes.