One of the hardest aspects of having my particular type of cancer is the fact that it has spread to a cervical lymph node on my neck that is both visible and palpable. I am reminded of the disease every time I look in the mirror or place my hand on the area. As a result, I am quite anxious to get started with treatment despite the associated side effects. I just want it gone – now! Christmas day will be exactly one month since I first discovered the growth and I cannot help but feel that the cancer is being given too much time to grow and spread.
I mistakenly envisioned that following a “formal” cancer diagnoses (which itself takes some time waiting for biopsy and imaging results…), a SWAT team of physicians rushed in to promptly start therapy. In reality, however, it can take weeks to schedule appointments with some doctors. For some procedures, such as radiation therapy with IMRT, the process also involves complex treatment planning to deliver dose to the tumor and spare normal tissue and getting fitted for a special reinforced thermoplastic mask to hold the patient within a few millimeters for consistency each day of therapy.
Upon starting daily radiation and chemotherapy, I plan on doing a series of self-portraits to document the associated changes in physical appearance over the 7-week treatment cycle. In preparation, I took a self-portrait today so that you can see the difference in size between the right side of my neck (blue lighting; site of the cancerous lymph node) and the left side (red lighting; normal side).
To help put this in perspective, I also included a comparable image from my recent PET scan that shows the relevant lymph node as a highlighted/glowing mass in the same general area. In case you were wondering or alarmed – no, I don’t have brain cancer. The brain also lights up on a PET scan in extremely intelligent individuals. Just kidding – the brain always lights up as glucose is the predominant substrate for brain metabolism and PET imaging utilizes radiolabeled glucose.