It has been 6 days since my neck dissection-originally my surgeon thought he would be removing just the cancerous node and one muscle from my neck. During surgery he discovered the cancerous node was wedged between two muscles (don’t ask me their names). He removed both muscles, the node, and a large nerve (again-don’t ask me the name). In addition, one of the muscles removed had a lot of scar tissue between it and the jugular vein, so my surgeon removed it.
I had no idea a person could live without a jugular vein-my surgeon said it’s absolutely no big deal, our bodies adjust.
Only part of the pathology report is finished, but it looks good. The cancerous node shows no signs of the cancer spreading. Clear margins, as they say. It should be another week before the full and final report is finished.
Fortunately, I have not been in a lot of pain. I’m very sore and stiff, but not much pain. I came home with some antibiotics but no new pain medication. I still have a full bottle of pain meds from radiation so I declined a new one. Recovery has been fairly easy, at least compared to the last surgery. The last one involved removing a small part of my tongue, so it was swollen larger than my mouth for a few days making eating and drinking extremely difficult. This time around my mouth was untouched. I was able to drink and eat right after I was out of the anesthesia fog. It’s amazing the difference food and water make during a recovery.
Because a large nerve was removed, my left arm has some limited range of motion and strength. My arm is functional but it’s very difficult to lift my arm at all. I can start physical therapy in another week or two to re-train my muscles.
I also have a bit more swelling in my neck this time around. Because the jugular vein was removed, the other veins in my neck are being used more than usual, causing some swelling. It’s nothing major and has been slowly going down. I’m mostly noticing the swelling in my left eye-I suddenly have a very heavy upper eyelid. I can see normally, but it feels like my eye is always half closed.
This will sound pretty obvious-but it really feels like I’m missing part of my neck. Unless I’m really focusing on it, I’m leaning more to the left than before. I really notice it when I need to cough, swallow, or talk. I literally can’t cough. I can only make a really awful old-man-like throat clearing sound. I can’t speak above a loud whisper, and I need to really focus on swallowing to avoid everything going down the wrong way. My surgeon said it should improve, especially as the swelling goes down. I’m giving it another week to improve. If it doesn’t I think I’ll make an appointment with my speech/swallow therapist. Yes, those exist.
Another major difference for this surgery is the fact that I have my medical marijuana card. I hadn’t even started the paperwork for my last surgery. And sadly, the process where I live takes so long I didn’t even have the card until the day after I finished radiation.
I know there is a lot of controversy surrounding medical marijuana, but I have had a very positive experience with it. It’s not for everyone, I understand.
I relied heavily on an opioid pain medication after my last surgery and during radiation. I took it for roughly 2.5 months. It was horrible on my stomach and I definitely felt my body needing higher doses to feel the effect. This time I made sure to visit my dispensary before the surgery. My oncologist wants me to stay away from smoking, as smoking anything can increase risk of oral and throat cancers. Thankfully there are tons of options for me.
I have fallen in love with an infused lotion. It was the first thing I bought when I got my card and I felt it working within minutes. I have been rubbing it on my neck every night and it really helps loosen the muscles. This week I have been re-applying every few hours on my neck and my left shoulder and I definitely notice if I forget.
The other [product I’ve been using is a highly concentrated oil. It is mostly CBD oil-the non-psychoactive oil that reduces pain and inflammation and a small amount of THC oil-the form that simply makes you a bit drowsy. I just add it to a small cup of coffee and drink it, it tastes awful so the coffee hides the taste! My favorite part of this oil is that a full dose is only the size of a grain of rice and it lasts up to 12 hours. It is the only reason I have slept through the night the past few days. It noticeably removes the soreness from my neck and relaxes me enough to make me not think about it.
Aside from reducing my pain and swelling, the oil has made me hungry! The opioid pain medication I was using caused so much nausea and stomach pain that I never wanted to eat. I lost a lot of weight and let’s face it-food makes everything easier. This time I have been eating every few hours. I had every intention of taking pictures and writing about what I was eating post-surgery, but I have been in such a fog. Just the fact that I could get my own food felt like an accomplishment.
Thankfully I can remember everything I’ve been eating. My husband made a big batch of mixed lentils and cooked bulgur. He’s been adding lots of sautéed veggies-peppers, tomatoes, spinach, kale, etc.. and adding a quick tahini-olive oil dressing. He also made me a big batch of oatmeal-quinoa porridge and I’ve been adding bananas, strawberries, and peanut butter every morning. I’ve also been chowing down on pasta with marinara, garlic bread, bean quesadillas, fruit and kale smoothies, and applesauce. Some family brought over some delicious and sugar-free banana bread and strawberry shortcake. I’ve pretty much eaten them all by myself. I think it’ll take me a few more weeks to get back into cooking mode. But now that I’m more out of the surgery fog, I’ll be able to take photos of what I am eating.
Tonight I have an appointment with my oncologist, I’m guessing to talk about the next steps. I’ll keep you updated as I get new information. Thank you all for your support and kind thoughts 🙂