‘My Cancer Demands a Rematch’

by on December 4, 2020 · 5 comments

in Health, Ocean Beach

By Doug Porter / WordsandDeeds / December 3, 2020

As of December 10th, I’ll be taking a break from my daily musings [writing at Words&Deeds].

To make a long story short, I’m going to have surgery at UCSD La Jolla on December 11th. All the preoperative appointments are crowding my schedule making it difficult to write a daily column, so I’ve missed a day or two recently.

This has been on the horizon for a while. A biopsy found cancerous cells. A CT scan didn’t find any tumors. A PET scan says, yes, there is localized cancer in my throat at the same location leading to the surgery that cost me my vocal chords in 2012. A sonogram says my tissues can take another round of surgery.

Up and down and up and down my spirits go. And I know the best medicine is to take one day at a time, putting one foot in front of the other.

One surgeon will remove the cancer, another will put me back together in the hope that I’ll be able to eat real food and make noises that sound like speech.  They tell me they won’t know exactly what will happen until they see the cancer during the operation.

Here’s what is listed on my appointment schedule: “Total pharyngectomy, possible tracheal resection, possible surgical esophageal resection, possible closure of tracheoesophageal fistula.” Sounds, fun, huh?

My reconstructive surgeon says I’ll be in the hospital from 10 days to 10 weeks; the cancer cutter thinks it will be more like a week.

Getting me on the operating table requires a consult with radiology (In case radiation after surgery is deemed necessary), a small operation to install a feeding tube, assorted COVID-19 tests, a screening by the anesthesia folks, along innumerable texts, insurance authorizations, and various individuals who think speaking with me on the phone is a good idea.

The speaking on the phone part sometimes gets to me. I’ve been losing my voice for weeks, I’m able to get a few words out at whisper level. Anything more than a minute or so of vocalizing leaves me exhausted. And there are certain consonants I can’t say easily any more, like the “P” as in Porter.

I have to give a shout out to the medical staff at UCSD. They have been helpful and positive throughout this whole experience. Becoming ill during a period of social isolation could have been totally depressing; I feel like they really care.

The best part of healing after my laryngectomy eight years ago was the return of my sense of taste. Many folks who go through the surgery never get it back, since it involves creating a breathing hole at the base of your neck. And your sense of smell is a big part of tasting.

The part I’m most afraid of going forward is the possibility not being able to ever eat solid food again. Part of my current illness involves progressively losing the ability to swallow easily. It’s made mealtime into a challenge; I’m not quite at the Ensure on draft level yet, but that’s where I’m headed.

Two things have kept me sane(r) through getting sick (on top the stress caused by Trump’s daily tantrums and pandemic isolation): my family’s support and the creative process involved in writing five days a week.

I know I can count on my partner/wife/soulmate Lisa going forward. I have an amazing mom who’s 90-odd years old and keeps me engaged with the world, a daughter in Austin, a brother in Virginia, and a sister in England. I am so lucky to have their support.

When I had surgery in 2012, I started writing (for the OB Rag back in those days) a couple of days after getting out of the hospital, so I look forward to getting back in the saddle with this project as soon as I can sit upright.

So, stay tuned. I’m figuring this is a “holiday break.” Jim Miller, who shares this space with me on Mondays, will be back after New Year’s following his December 7th column.

FINAL NOTE: I know people tend to respond to his kind of bad news by saying “I’m so sorry.” Do me a favor, don’t. What I’d like you to do is to double down on fighting the good fight for a progressive world.

Tell Donny Two Scoops to not let the door him where the sun don’t shine on the way out; keep Biden/Harris and the lot of them honest. Let’s make sure our newly-electeds on the City Council and Board of Supervisors know we’re watching. Write postcards to Georgia.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Judi Curry December 4, 2020 at 4:03 pm

As a cancer survivor I have found that the best way to handle it is by having a positive attitude. Ever since your surgery, your positive thoughts have come through in many different ways. You continued your writings; you were active and involved in community affairs. I have no doubt that you will beat this one too. Positive thoughts going your way.


Colleen Dietzel December 4, 2020 at 5:09 pm

Doug, Thinking of you and wishing you a positive outcome. Wonderful to hear you have such a great support system. Thank you for all you do for the cause. I really valued your input for the election. Looking forward to your future words of wisdom. Keep us posted.


Nanci Kelly December 4, 2020 at 11:02 pm

Thank you for educating us (in the true sense of the word), providing many valuable resources, and giving us such a rich conceptual feast. Thank you.


retired botanist December 5, 2020 at 4:17 pm

Doug, I also follow you writing and will miss it (a lot!) until you are back on track. :-)
I feel close to your circumstances as my Dad had head and neck cancer (originating in the salivary glands) and, indeed, he had a trach and couldn’t talk, lost most of his tongue, and eventually had a feeding tube. It was all part of the story. But it made me deeply aware of how important the ability to share food, a meal, is to our fabric of life, so I fully understand how important this is. It changes a lot.
But I am happy that it sounds like you have a good medical team, a supportive family (bless them all), and a positive path forward. Treatment has fortunately improved in the past 25 yrs since my Dad made his journey, and I wish the very best outcome for you. Thanks for sharing your story, I’m sure it resonates with many of us. Best wishes, and look forward to reading from you in the days to come. Soldier on! :)


Frank Gormlie December 11, 2020 at 11:12 am

Our thoughts are with Doug Porter today – the first day of surgery against his cancer resurgence.


Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: