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cancer education

Portland Art Museum Sculpture Garden, showing what I felt like after a reaction to liquid oxy. Or what it looks like inside my neck. Art inspires.

I am a sore throat expert.

It’s a benefit of neck cancer education after I graduated from treatment.

Of all sore throats in the history of sore throats mine was the worst, said everyone with a sore throat rated above an 8.5.

So what about a sore throat the comes from HPV16 throat cancer treatment?

I’d call it breath taking, as in there were times I wish it would take my breath away it hurt so bad.

The problem wasn’t the breathing part, it was the air.

If my sore throat got dry I wouldn’t notice until I swallowed. It turned into a sore throat on fire.

Something happens in there that felt like tissue being pulled apart, like duct tape stuck to itself.

The first swallow after a night of nose breathing sleep was: A. a wake me moment, B. a cold glass of water in the face, or C. a hard slap?

After enough chemo and radiation I started thinking of my neck as a beautiful table where Joe Camel butted out a pack of straights all in the same blackened spot.

My visualization skills were weak, but the reaction after my first involuntary swallow of the day was staggering. Red-faced, bug-eyed, break into a sweat staggering.

Staggering enough to help me remember to put a glass of water next to my side of the bed.

One morning Elaine woke up after I accidentally swallowed and I gagged out an answer to, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I said panting. “Does something look wrong?”

The glass she put on my bedside table after that was more than half full.

Cancer education pain management


When we’re sick, we want that pill that’s going to make us better as soon as possible. We want the vile microbes in our bodies to be vanquished with one swallow or one shot.

We don’t want to lie in bed for three days sweating out a fever.

It’s uncomfortable and tedious and disorienting to break our day-to-day routines to just lie there headache-y and sniffling, waiting for our good guy antibodies to wipe out the invading microbial hoards.

No matter. We can bitch and moan all we want, but our insides have to do the hidden work before we can stand up again and face the external world with purpose and vigor.

The inner war must be fought first before we can effectively face the reality of the external world. Sure we can mask the symptoms with Sudafed and Nyquil, but none of us is worth a damn on that stuff.

There is no magic pill. Just the inner war.

The inner war in cancer education before cancer treatment is knowing you’ll never know enough to make a difference.

If the doctors and nurses who train for decades haven’t figured it out, you won’t either. So don’t let it bother you. I started with that idea.

My fight was killing cancer, not outsmarting it.

One of my shields was not knowing the extent of the pain to expect.

Nothing tops the painful breathing and excruciating swallowing combo that comes with some neck cancer treatment.

Like hurricanes and floods, the neck pain from cancer treatment came with extras like a food aversion.

I wanted to fight my inner battle before I read the piece on Steven Pressfield’s blog, but I wanted to fight fair. Which meant no extra painkillers. I didn’t want to risk getting hooked on pain pills. Or an asterisk by my name.

The news about addicts moving from oxy to black tar heroin was a story I wanted no part of.

It felt like I was expected to get on a pain medication schedule or something that meant more pills.

A prescription of oxy and a big bottle of red liquid oxy stood ready.

One day I found out why cancer education is important

My neck was killing me. And it was getting worse.

I faced The First Choice: prescription strength or over the counter?

Second Choice: Oxy pill or liquid oxy? Both were made for moments like this.

Third Choice: How much liquid oxy?

One time I drank a dose of liquid oxy, this time, and I had a bad reaction. More nausea, dizziness, and the sort of panic you feel when normalcy slips away.

In other words, I passed out. When I came to on the couch I felt new sense of dread, a junkie dread from what I’ve read.

This would never work.

My next choice? Do whatever it takes to make it through cancer treatment.

If you’ve had a sore throat from hell that no one ever understood, what did you do? I’m listening.

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About David Gillaspie
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