About 3 years ago, I started feeling a pain on my tongue. It seemed to be a canker sore, but it never went away. I eventually go it checked out by my doctor, but no one really knew what it was. It got biopsied under local anesthetic, which basically meant they gave my lidocaine and cut away a percentage of my tongue to run tests. The results came back as dysplasia cells, which is a medical term for “abnormal looking cells/growth”.
Shortly after I received the results, I went and saw a surgeon to explore my options. The doctor wanted to treat it as a cancerous growth, so we went in a cut out about 25% of my tongue.
The recovery from this surgery was worse than any pain I could ever describe to anyone…Ever. I couldn’t talk. I couldn't eat. I couldn't even open my mouth for about 7 days. It hurt so much to swallow; I was scared to take my pain medication. In two and a half weeks, I lost about 30lbs due to the pain of swallowing and when I did eat, everything was liquefied in a blender. (Burrito milk shakes anyone?)
Throughout the entire surgery and recovery, I was trying to get ready for the 2012 Crossfit Games Northeast Regionals, as I had qualified as an individual competitor that year. I think that keeping my eyes set on my goals and training helped me through the recovery process. I was able to maintain most of my strength and 3 weeks after surgery I competed in the regionals, finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack. At this point in time, the outlook seemed positive.
I continued regular checkups with my doctor and had a clean bill of health with only minor complications……Up until about 7 months ago.
One morning, I woke up feeling like I had pulled a muscle in my neck. I had an appointment with the doctor that week so I told him about it. He examined me and he told me that I had nothing to worry and it was most likely a pulled muscle.
The pain never went away. The pain continued to progress, fluctuating day to day, sometimes minute to minute. On bad days the pain was as high as 8 out of 10, on a good day it was a 4 out of 10. Everything hurt. It hurt to talk. It hurt to yawn. It hurt to chew. It hurt to swallow - swallow anything food, water, saliva. Sneezing struck fear into my heart as it would hurt so bad I would take a knee or pull my car over so I didn't crash.
The pain is in my neck, my mouth and tongue area, it radiates to the back of my head, in my ear like an ear infection, and behind my right eye. Even through all of the discomfort, I have tried to live my life as normally as possible. Still working full time and trying to maintain my fitness as I was on Crossfit Southie’s team for the 2014 Crossfit Games Northeast Regionals in May.
I had another surgery about 7 weeks ago in an attempt to fix this issues I have been having. The doctor removed my sublingual gland, some tissue and re-routed a salivary duct. It was a big time surgery, requiring general anesthetic, with about 3 weeks of recovery. Once again, it was hard to talk, eat and swallow. The doctors thought that something had happened during my surgery 2 years ago that was causing me all of this pain.
With all that surgery accomplished, it made the entire right side of my tongue numb to hot, cold, feeling, and taste. Nothing was fixed. Two weeks later my pain was worse than ever, so I went in and had a hematoma drained at the surgery site. That sucked. I felt relief for about two days then quickly realized all my pain from before the surgery had become worse than ever before.
Two weeks later, trying to give my best effort, I competed on Southie’s team and we placed 6th overall. It was a very welcomed distraction from everything that was going on with me at the time.
However nothing was solved. After going to the doctor and hospital twice a week for exams, second opinions, CT scans, PET scans, MRIs, and everything else under the sun, it was agreed that we had to go in and remove the mass below the floor of my mouth. The plan was to perform a level 1 neck dissection to remove pieces of the mass and run pathology tests while I was under the knife. If the tests came back clean, I would be patched up and be on my way…
Well they didn't come back clean. It was found to be cancerous. This requires a much bigger procedure as well as a hundred days of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
The doctor brought me out of surgery to deliver the news and start the healing process to get ready for the future treatment. This was almost the worst case scenario. Throughout the last 7 months there hasn't been one day when I haven’t been in pain. Not one morning that I wake up and it isn't the first thing I think about or the last thing on my mind as I fall asleep. It has affected every aspect of my life. Occasionally, even waking me up from sleep, which I thought was my only relief.
I'm facing a long and tough road ahead. The next surgery will cause me to lose about 70% of my tongue along with lymph nodes and glands. I will recover in the ICU for 3 days unable to speak with a temporary tracheotomy. I'll need therapy to learn how to talk again as well as swallow. I'll be on a feeding tube for an unknown amount of time. When I am strong enough, I will begin chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
So far I have not been broken by the situation and with each day I find something positive to focus on. I have a long fight ahead of me. I gather some strength from within and the rest from my friends and family. Your strength makes me strong. Please help me in this fight.
210 Push-ups for Pat, split up between the class
over head squat
ohs: heavy 3
fitness: front squat heavy 3
15 ohs (95/65)
20 front squats (95/65)