Several months ago, I had another tooth extracted by an oral surgeon. The thirty-seven days of radiation therapy destroyed much of my salivary glands, which produces saliva. And saliva is the way that the body fights bacteria in the mouth, which leads to tooth decay. Because of this, I’ve lost 12 teeth since my cancer treatments ended in November 2009.
My dentist said that because the tooth is in the area of my jaw where I had a lot of radiation exposure during my cancer treatments and that also left my jaw bone deficient in the type of blood cells in the bone that aid in the healing process.
The danger of having the tooth removed is that infection can spread to the jaw bone itself and the only thing that they could do is to remove the part of the jaw that is affected. And that would leave me with a funnier face than the one I have now. My dentist also said that she was referring me to an oral surgeon to do the extraction.
After having the tooth pulled, I had to return to the surgeon’s office every couple of weeks, to see if the area of the extracted tooth was healing okay. After four months of visits, the surgeon said everything looked fine, but he wanted me to return to see him in six months (April 2019). I breathed a sigh of relief as I left his office that day. Cancer leaves you with an ongoing sense of anxiety; every pain or illness makes you wonder if cancer has returned!
A couple of weeks after seeing the surgeon, I went to my regular dentist to have my teeth checked and cleaned. During the checkup, my dentist advised me that she wanted me to see the surgeon again – but she didn’t explain why. She said she was going to get him to squeeze me into his busy schedule – so I assumed that there was something wrong. But silly me, I didn’t ask.
Two days later, I arrived at the oral surgeon’s office. But when he entered the examing room, he appeared to be surprised to see me and asked me why I had returned?
I shrugged my shoulders and replied that I’m assuming it has something to do with the tooth extraction.
My surgeon stood motionless for a few moments, and we locked eyes. In his eyes, I saw a momentary spark of puzzlement; in my eyes, he probably saw the fear. We ended the deadlock by shrugging and smiling at each other.
The good doctor then proceeded to probe the inside of my mouth.
I felt guilty at the notion that my visit didn’t appear to be warranted but kept the concern to myself. I knew that my regular dentist wouldn’t have referred me to a surgeon unless she was worried, so I sat silently while the surgeon did his probe.
After a few minutes, the surgeon indicated that nothing had changed and everything looked okay to him.
I became embarrassed and apologized for taking up his time but said that I was only there because of my dentist.
He replied that it wasn’t a problem and that he would send my dentist a letter to confirm his diagnosis.
“Whew! Another bullet dodged!” I mumbled to myself as I left his office. And within minutes, I was back home to a happy Holly Golightly.
Last Friday, I got a call from the oral surgeon’s office. The receptionist said that the surgeon wanted to have another look at the extraction area. She made the appointment for Monday.
“It sounds serious!” I thought. And then I spent the weekend worrying and wondering.
Yesterday, I went to the oral surgeon’s office. But this time when the surgeon entered the examination room, he was the one who was apologizing to me. He also had a look of concern in his eyes which made me shiver.
The surgeon told me that my dentist had contacted him to explain what she had discovered during the checkup – which was the presence of ‘pus’ – which she had removed from the infected area. He said that when I visited him two days later, he didn’t detect anything because none of the pus was present.
He then checked my mouth and said that he could now see the pus – which meant that the extraction area was not healing itself – even though the extraction was five months ago!
The surgeon also explained why he and my dentist were concerned. If the infection spreads to the jaw bone – there isn’t enough healthy blood cells in the area to heal the bone. And we don’t want to risk that.
However, he said that there is a procedure known as hyperbaric oxygen therapy that will put oxygen back into my body but it requires one hour of treatment in a hyperbaric chamber each day for twenty days. Then I return to him for a procedure to clean and empty the affected area, followed by another ten days of hyperbaric therapy.
“Okay, where do I have the therapy done?” I asked.
“I’m going to refer you to a private clinic because they’ll be able to take you right away. Otherwise, the wait is several months if I chose to have it done at the hospital.”
However, there is a risk. The hyperbaric oxygen therapy will significantly increase the number of healthy cells in my body to fight the infection. But it will increase the number of cancer cells – if there are any present.
I’m not worried about my throat – my oncologists said I was cancer-free when I visited him last February. However, the three nodes in my lung were still present at the time, although they hadn’t grown in size in the year and a half that I’d had returning for ct scans and checkups.
So, do I have the thirty days of hyperbaric therapy and hope that there aren’t any cancer cells hidden in my body OR do I take a chance and not do anything? The surgeon said the decision was mine, but he was strongly recommending I do the therapy.
I received a call from the hyperbaric oxygen therapy clinic, and they gave me an appointment to start the treatments tonight, at 5:30 PM.
I didn’t sleep much last night. I’m scared and tired of fighting.
But I’m not a quitter.
I called my friend Norm to discuss my options with him. He has been battling cancer longer than me, and he is braver than most. He reminded me that I too am a warrior.
I started to cry when he said he would pray for me.
I guess there’s still that ‘little Danny’ inside of me because everyone knows big boys don’t cry!
Update: Today, was my fourth daily treatment of an hour in the chamber. There is a glass door so it’s not so claustrophobic. You need to wear cotton, no jewelry, electric devices – to prevent sparks. I watch Netflix on a tv monitor that they place in front of the door once the treatment begins and there’s a speaker on the wall inside the chamber.
Dedicated to Mouna, my awesome dentist
Today’s tune (from Danny’s library of purchased music):