My Cancer Battle and Survival

What an experience that was. For anyone who has cancer, has fought cancer, or been with someone who has, you know how horrible of a disease it is and how hard it is to deal with. It runs in my family; my Grandfather died of it, my Uncle died of it, and my mother died of it. It was really just a matter of time before I was diagnosed with it also. No matter what lifestyle I lived, or what I ate, did or didn’t do…it was inevitable.

Now before you read on…some of the pictures below are graphic and may not be easy to look at.

My time came in 2020. As if the world entering a global pandemic wasn’t bad enough, I was diagnosed with Cancer in April. Specifically squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue and the tumor was growing fast. I first noticed it at the end of February and I thought I bit my tongue. A couple weeks later when I realized it needed to be looked at by a doctor, the world went into a lockdown and my family doctor wasn’t seeing any patients, nor were any walk-in clinics. Everyone was closed. I had to sit and wait even though the pain was getting worse day by day. Eventually, I had to resort to talking to a doctor via an online portal and I was referred to a Ear, Nose, Throat (ENT) specialist. They never called me so after another online consult, I was referred to yet another ENT. After a short video call with him and emailing him some pictures of my tongue, he called me back “Get in here now. ASAP”. I met him at his clinic and it was just him there. His clinic was officially closed due to the pandemic but he needed to see me in person and he knew right away what he was looking at.

While I was sitting in his chair, he excused himself (while the numbing agent he injected was taking affect so a biopsy could be done), so that he could call a friend of his at Princesses Margaret Hospital (PMH) in Toronto. PMH is one of the best cancer hospitals in North America (certainly the best in Canada) and the ball was set in motion for me to go there. That night I cried myself to sleep. This was it…my turn to deal with cancer and it was heartbreaking.

A couple weeks later, there I was at PMH with an ENT Oncologist, going over the positive results of the biopsy and discussing surgery. They would have to remove a small part of my tongue to get the tumor out and replace that material with some muscle from my thigh to support the remaining tongue. I would sound a tad different but no worries overall.

They would schedule the surgery ASAP but due to the growing pandemic, all surgeries had been put on hold. Did I mention that the cancer was spreading fast? While I was waiting for a surgery date, I had several appointments for MRI’s and meetings with my oncologists and the surgeons and it became clear that if the surgery wasn’t done soon, there wouldn’t be one at all, but instead a funeral. It was about two months from diagnosis to surgery. I knew it was growing fast but I was still expecting a decent recovery. I was wrong.

My surgery date was set for June 24th, 2020. By the time it came, I had lost nearly 30pds because I couldn’t really eat anymore and it hurt like hell. I was starving. Two months from diagnosis to surgery. It was a very long wait.

A couple days post-op

The surgery itself was 10hrs long and the surgical team was surprised at how much material they had to cut out. It was far more than they expected. They removed a few teeth to access my jaw, they removed all the Lymph Nodes in my neck, and they removed 80% of my tongue. I was only left with a bit at the very back. They also had to transplant at lot more muscle from my thigh to fill the void in my mouth. This ‘flap’ as they called it, would be essentially useless. I can’t use it or manipulate it, it doesn’t move, and it has zero sensation.

I was in the hospital for 12 days while I recovered from the surgery and while I was there I had a G-Tube installed in my stomach so that I could be fed. As it would turn out, I will never eat anything every again and this G-Tube is something I will have to live with forever so that I can use it to sustain myself. It would also have to be replaced every five months or so.

Now ordinarily when someone has a cancer related surgery, they are sent home for 2-3 months to recover before beginning any other treatments like chemo-therapy or radiation therapy. They gave me two weeks. Because the cancer so aggressive and had grown so much and spread into my lymph system, they didn’t want to risk waiting. So started the next chapter.

Still raw from surgery, radiation was five days a week for three months. It was nasty and before long the radiation poisoning and burns started. I was also to undergo three rounds of high dose chemo-therapy. I would have to be admitted to the hospital (after having my morning radiation done), spend the night while being pumped full of this chemical poison, and then go for my morning radiation treatment again the next day before going home.

The chemo treatment required a lot of blood tests before and after because it wrecks havoc on the body. By the time it came for my third round of chemo, and after weeks and weeks of radiation, by blood work wasn’t looking good. The doctors concluded that I wouldn’t survive the third and final round so obviously we skipped that one. The radiation would continue though. Nausea, some vomiting, constant fatigue, and lots of pain. I was left with some nasty radiation burns of my neck with open sores and some permanent hair loss in that area. Less to shave right?

Radiation burn

Eventually the damage would mostly heal. Mostly. And the recovery process would carry on. I was referred to a couple speech therapists to help me learn to communicate because I was unable to speak. I had to use a note pad or an app on my phone to help me communicate with people. Due to the extensive material loss, the therapists were of no help and basically said I would need to write things down for people because I wouldn’t be able to talk ever again.

Cancer has become an indiscriminate disease but fortunately cancer medication and treatments have come a long way and survival rates have improved greatly over recent years. I was lucky also to have support at home. I can’t imagine going through this alone.

A little over a year later, I have learned to talk again…sort of. I’m still a bit difficult to understand (especially over the phone) but it doesn’t take long for people to figure out what I’m saying. Sometimes though I have to rephrase things to make myself understood. Basically, I sound like I have a mouth full of marbles or a couple tablespoons of water. Due to my swallowing difficulties, I often do have a fair amount of saliva in my mouth at all times which I sometimes have no choice but to spit out.

I was also told that I would never eat again after undergoing a live x-ray swallow test to see how well I can swallow. It starts off with swallowing water mixed with a radioactive dye (so they can see it on the x-ray) and they would make it thicker each time and see how far I would get. Well by the third solution, I was choking on it. It wasn’t even half as thick as a smoothie yet. Maybe as thick as the cream that you find in a coffee creamer.

At least I can still enjoy a beer but that’s one of the few drinks that I still enjoy. Everything else tastes horrible. I used to love coffee…now I can’t stand it. Juice? Nope. Soft drinks? Nah.

It’s been one hell of a journey and experience and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I knew one day I would have to face this but honestly I thought it would kill me. So far, I’m the only person in my family to be diagnosed with cancer and survive it. At least for now.

One year later

Now it’s on to the next adventure!

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Black Diamond Mercury Cold Weather Mittens

When the Mercury drops, you’ll want your hands in a pair of these!

After my last pair of winter gloves started wearing out, it was time for something new and since I was spending so much time standing around outside is some seriously cold temps, I needed some serious protection for my hands. I’ve had mild frost bite a couple times before and the doctors tell me that because of the damaged that caused, that I would be more susceptible to getting frost bite again in the future if I wasn’t careful.

I tried some heated gloves but as luck would have it, the first pair that I received was defective and stopped working after an hour. The seller was quick to replace them to avoid any negative reviews online but they too were defective and stopped working after 2hrs. Time to forego the fancy battery powered stuff and just stick to some good ole fashioned mittens made with modern material.

It didn’t take me long to decide upon the Mercury Mitts made by Black Diamond. Black Diamond is known for making quality outdoor equipment so the odds were good that the quality would be good and my hands wouldn’t freeze.

They have an inner split finger mitten made of fleece which is extremely warm on their own and with the outer shell, don’t be surprised if your hands start sweating a bit. If it’s only freezing outside, then it’s still too warm to put these on.

They aren’t cheap but they really are worth the money. If you find yourself in temps below -30c (-22F) you may consider dropping in one of those chemical hot pockets to help out but if you’re active, like hiking, skiing, or snowboarding, the “hot packs” probably won’t be needed.

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Scale RC Trail Crawls Gets You Outdoors & Solving Problems

Traversing a creek bed

Walking is good for you regardless of your age. Trail walking is even better as it works more of the body’s muscles just a little (sometimes a lot) harder thanks to the uneven terrain. For those who like to get even more adventurous, take a hike not just along the creek or river, but IN it. Now add snow and ice and to top it all off…add controlling an RC car at the same time. Now we’re talking!

This is one of the things that make having an RC vehicle so much fun and challenging. In general RC Crawling is an exercise in problem solving. How do I get my RC over an obstacle or through a series of obstacles. Picking the right path through the terrain. It’s good for the brain because it really is a three dimensional puzzle that needs to be solved. Now…how do you get yourself through also? It’s probably a very different route. Your RC may be able to go under a fallen log, but you have to find some way to climb over it without dropping, or damaging your remote transmitter and without injuring yourself. With that in mind, it’s best to not go alone unless it’s a very easy trail with lots of other foot traffic.

Which RC to get is really up to you, your budget and preferences regarding body style. Redcat, Axial and Traxxas are some manufactures that make suitable 10th scale RC’s with a wide range of body styles with Ford, Chevy, Land Rover and Jeep all represented.

Video by Chronicles of Adventure

Another part of the fun is customizing and personalizing your RC to make it truly yours and unique somehow. Add some stickers, decals, lights, roof racks, etc.

Video by RC Wreck-creation

It’s important to keep up on the maintenance. It is after all a scale sized motor vehicle. Parts will wear out and need to be replaced. Some parts will break due to over driving the vehicle or crashing it too hard. Although they can take a beating far more than a 1:1 vehicle could against a similar 1:1 boulder. Just like full sized vehicles, you can take it to a mechanic (your local hobby shop has onsite technicians) or you can do it yourself, which you should really learn to do to save costs.

Regular maintenance is essential
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Where Men in Black go to train

Hidden deep in the hills of West Virginia is 750 acres of awesome. Until recently it was a secret place known only to the clients who go there. The locals of the nearby town have many stories and theories to share about this place. They hear the gun fire, they see the explosions and the mushroom clouds, they see the helicopters come and go with men in black clothing inside. Some think it’s a training facility, some think it’s some kinda government BlackOps site, I even heard a tale that this place was a super secret submarine base and there is a tunnel leading out to the Ocean.

It’s not a submarine base. Nor is it a BlackOps site. It is however a training facility. It’s one of the best in North America. How do I know? Because I’ve been there…and I know who does their training there.

For many years this place has been used as an elite training facility and finally…they opened it up to civilians. This was a test and I was selected to be a part of it. The owners of the facility joined up with a contact of mine and made a plan to bring in civilians to experience this facility. The word went out online and hundreds of people applied. Only 12 were selected.

We came from all over North America. A few from Canada, but most were from the USA (from as far away as Seattle and Miami). Some of us had some military or police background. Some members of our group used to work for various government agencies (I can’t say more about that).

We all had a great time though!

Day one started off with a briefing about explosives and IED’s….then we got a demonstration of them out on one of the shooting ranges. On a 1000 yard range, riddled with destroyed cars, we saw first hand the effects of blasting caps, pipe bombs, DetCord and Slurry sticks (used to take down buildings). Our demolitions expert, and one of our instructors throughout the weekend was a former US SEAL  but I can’t say more about him. Actually he was just one of many instructors that I can’t talk about.

From there we moved on to a day of driving exercises. High speed driving skills, in-class lessons about the physics of driving, weight transfer, etc. We also practiced PIT maneuvers, J-Turns, and racing around their 1.5 mile long race track. As an advanced driving instructor, day one was easy for me but a tad alien for the other participants.

Yes they have their own paved race track, as well as a dirt-road course, and an off road course designed to get you stuck so that you can practice self recovery (you can’t call road side services in the combat field). They also have a large skid pad that can be used for autoslalom and advanced driving drills, as well as a “Kill Town” which replicates a small town to train in urban warfare tactics and hostage training. And they also have the most advanced live-fire Shooting House in North America.

It’s no wonder this place is used by agencies like…oh look…shiny thing!

Day two…I was out of my comfort zone. I haven’t fired a gun in over 20yrs but if you’re a gun nut…it was like Christmas. We started the day on the gun range with Ar-15’s (semi-auto and full auto), MP-5’s, Tommy Guns and a fully automatic AK-47 where on the table to use.

In the afternoon, we moved to the Shoot House. This building is the most advanced training house in North America and can be set up for nearly any scenario. Its a two story building and even has cat-walks overhead for observers and instructors to take note of the action below.

We were all issued modified Glock 19’s that could only shoot non-lethal rounds. Various scenarios were set up and the teams had to take each other out. It may have been non-lethal rounds but that stuff hurts! Non-lethal my ass! Get shot in the head or face at close range, without the protective gear on and it could be your last day! And there is nothing like being shot in the back by your own teammate…yes Scott…I’m talking about you!

This was the first time they allowed civilians into their facility but it won’t be the last. Future weekends are being scheduled at the time of writing this. Lots of driving, smashing cars, shooting guns, tactical shooting, good food and new friends to be made.

I even got a couple gifts from a former ‘agency guy’. I can’t say who or what agency he worked with but I guess I made an impression with him and earned it.

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Bucket List – Item Checked

We all have  things that we would like to do before we kick the bucket but some people actually have a proper list, at least in their mind anyway. Not everyone gets to check off every item though. Actually, most people don’t despite their best efforts. Hey, life happens right?

A friend of mine is one of those people who has a proper list in her head and I had a way to check off one of her items…flying in a glider. 

I’m fortunate to have a very diverse pool of contacts and one is very active in a glider flying club. After a few conversations, I knew how to make this happen; where to go, the costs, etc and I wanted to do it on her birthday as a surprise. 

Now we had previously gone on random country drives before so when I made plans with her to go for a nice drive, she didn’t suspect a thing. After a couple of hours, she brought my attention to a field of gliders “Oh look Shaun! Gliders!” to which I replied “Oh ya, look at that. Very cool”. Then she noticed me slowing the car and signalling to turn onto a small road heading to the air-field. That’s when the penny dropped and a lump built up in her throat. 

After making the arrangements and paying the fees, she got the ride of her life. Check one off the bucket list.

A big shout out to the SOSA Gliding Club

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