Mike was first diagnosed with Squamous cell carcinoma T1 M0 N0 in March 1997. He had a lesion on his tongue, it was painless and had been noticed by his dentist on a routine check-up. After a biopsy, cancer was confirmed. The oral surgeon compared it to having a cancerous mole, curable, treatable. The treatment plan was to remove the lesion and margins surgically and if no spread is noted, no other cancer treatments would be necessary. The Air force wanted to wait a month to do the surgery so Mike's uncle, a pathologist at the Portsmouth naval hospital in Virginia arranged for Mike and I to be med-evacuated up to VA for the surgery there. He had the surgery within 10 days.
The surgery was very traumatic for Mike. He had never been hospitalized before and this one kept him there for 11 days. They removed 1/3rd of his tongue, performed a neck dissection to remove lymph nodes, an NG feeding tube down his nose, and he had to have a tracheostomy to keep his airway open. He was off work for 2 months. When he came back something was different about Mike. He refused to have anything to do with Cancer causing agents, refused to be in the sun, he had nightmares, insomnia, and even had flashbacks from his awful time in the hospital. After months of severe depression and self-destructive behavior, at my urging, Mike sought help. After the right balance of therapy and anti-depressants, Mike was doing much better. They changed his position at work as he also had facial/cranial nerve damage from the surgery to his neck. He could no longer carry a gun. It turned out he was very valuable to the security office he was assigned to after the next few years. He was their unofficial computer tech support guy and he re-wrote many police procedures and blotters in his position there.
Three and a half years later,in July 2000, just after separating from the Air Force, we had thought his cancer was resolved and as good as cured. Mike didn't think much of it even when he saw his ENT doctor for the last time in the air force. He didn't think to make a big deal out of the dull ache he had been feeling in his jaw. His ENT Dr had even brushed it off as stress.
The pain worsened over the next few months and was excruciating by October. He couldn't even open his mouth. We went to an ENT specialist and he was diagnosed with a second tumor, the size of an orange in his salivary (parotid) gland. It had wrapped itself around his jaw. With limited insurance, we went to the VA. The VA sent Mike all the way to Dallas to the big facility there to see the "best" ENT surgeons there. The treatment plan this time was to remove all the tumor as they could via surgery and remove part of the jawbone. Also since radiation treatment was to follow, they would have to remove all of his teeth to prevent infection. They also speculated that another facial nerve would be destroyed and a gold chip would have to be inserted into his eyelid to force it to close at night as it won't ever close on it's own. Not to mention he again had a tracheostomy and another NG tube.
The surgery went well, he was only in ICU for 2 days this time and in the hospital for 8. The radiation treatments that followed were hard. Mike was forced to stay at the hospital in Dallas for his treatments, only coming home to pregnant me on the weekends. This lasted 7 weeks.
By the time Ariana was born, Mike was feeling pretty good. He had limited movement in his right arm and the VA was good enough to grant him 100% disability payments. When my maternity leave was over, I went back to work and Mike stayed home with the baby.
In Aug 2001, Mike who hadn't been feeling well with a small cough and fatigue called me at work saying he was really having a hard time breathing. We went to the VA hospital ER in Temple,TX that night. We hoped it was just pneumonia but it was the worst. We found out on Mike's 26th birthday that the CT scan confirmed multiple tumors in all lobes of his lungs and a metastatic tumor on his collar bone (clavicle). His oncologist in Temple admitted he had never seen Mike's "type" of cancer spread and grow as fast as it did. He said Mike had 6 months to a year maybe to live. Mike went home with Hospice care, and a plan for weekly chemotherapy treatments to give him more time. He made it through 2 doses and swiftly went downhill after the second. The hospice had time for only one visit before early on the morning of Sep 4, 2001, I found Mike on the floor. He had been gone for a few (4-5) hours they estimated. Since he hadn't been able to swallow for a week due to the chemo and had very little fluids and nourishment, it can only be concluded he went into arrest due to an electrolyte imbalance or possibly had a pulmonary embolus. What ever it was it was fast and without any warning. The direct reason will never be known, there was no autopsy since his Cancer was diagnosed as terminal.


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