Wednesday, January 19, 2005

More serious and personal (ie, boring and self-involved)

On a more serious, personal note, I’d like to ask all of you for some good thoughts for Blaine tomorrow. I know I don’t talk about it a lot (or, maybe I do and I’m so shallow and self-centered I don’t even realize it) but for those of you who are perhaps recent visitors to our site, and who aren’t familiar with our family’s history, let me share a bit of it with you. (those of you who know us, yawn and bear with me, I’ll get to my point in a minute!)

In Feb of 2003, Blaine was diagnosed with cancer. During a routine dental visit to get his wisdom teeth removed, a dentist discovered something abnormal on an x-ray. Further testing revealed what is technically called a “poly-morphous low grade adenocarcinoma”. (whew!) Basically, a malignant tumor that had grown and grown until it completely filled his sinus cavity.

Prognosis was excellent, but to remove the entire tumor (which the doctors estimated had been growing for fifteen to twenty years!) surgeons also had to remove Blaine’s gum, teeth, uvula, soft palate, hard palate and cheekbone. You’ve heard the phrase “I need (blank) like I need a hole in the head”??? Well, there you’ve got it. Blaine, literally, has a big hole in his head.

A few weeks after the surgery he began the long, tedious process of being fitted for a prosthetic device called an “obturator”; AKA, The Retainer From Hell. This device allows Blaine to eat, drink, talk, etc, like a normal person. It’s also awkward, ill-fitting, painful at times, and a complete pain in the ass to upkeep. He hates it, but is so grateful to have it. (Hey, kind of like how cancer-parents feel about leukemia treatment!) Anyway, thank goodness the doctors told him that after remaining cancer-free for one year, he could consider having permanent reconstructive surgery and would be able to ditch the much-hated obturator. He began counting down the months.

At the 8-month mark, Kendrie was diagnosed with leukemia. Obviously, Blaine’s reconstructive work was put on the back burner, although the process required to keep the obturator fitted, and in working condition, is never ending. Blaine has spent more time in the dentist’s chair getting that thing tweaked every time a piece breaks or it rubs his mouth the wrong way or a wire gets bent .. . he went without teeth for about six months while they tried to fix it …. it's rubbed scar tissue that has looked "suspicious" that he's had to have biopsied ... he has to remove it and clean it after every meal or snack (and you thought flossing in a public bathroom was embarrassing; try taking out part of your head and cleaning it in the sink!) … has to drive six hours round trip every week or so to see the dentist …. Well, you get the picture.

ANYWAY!!! Once Kendrie hit the one-year mark in her treatment and we could see that things were going well for her, we decided it was time for Blaine to get the follow-up work he so desperately needs to improve his quality of life. ---Enter the Air Force Medical Institution, a beaurocratic process otherwise known as “Tricare Insurance".

Blaine’s surgeons and dentists at Ft. Gordon Army Medical Hospital in Augusta, Georgia, are fabulous and I credit them with saving his life (or at the very least, his vision) when the cancer was discovered. However, the extreme, extensive scope of reconstructiveness (is that a word?) of this type of surgery is beyond what they can do. Blaine’s primary surgeon recommended Blaine go to Seattle, WA, and have a specific doctor there perform the surgery, a doctor who is one of the leading experts in this field of oral/maxillo-facial/reconstructiveness. In fact, this guy flew to Augusta last year and has examined Blaine already and agreed he can do the surgery. But, in an attempt to cut costs, the Air Force wanted to try and find someone more local to perform the operation. As a taxpayer, I appreciate that. As a wife, UUUGGGGHHH!

So first he was told to see a plastic surgeon in Atlanta. It took over a month to get an appointment, then the first appt was cancelled because the doctor didn’t have the records he needed, and then when he finally met with Blaine, he took one look at him and said, “Why on earth did they send you to me? I can’t do this. You need to see my colleague at the Reconstructive part of the other facility.” OK … another month for another appointment. Then, when Blaine finally saw *that* guy, he said, “You do know that I do BREAST reconstruction, right?” Blaine figured “great, they can put a boob on my head and I’ll just blow my nipple every time I get a cold!” In fact, this doctor’s exact comment to Blaine was, “Are you actually aware how major your defect is? You are lucky to be alive.” Well, thanks for the warm fuzzy, Mr. Boob-guy.

Needless to say, although the Air Force STILL wouldn’t send him to Seattle to see the doctor we wanted, they did agree to send him to MD Anderson in Houston, TX. As luck would have it, after getting an appointment, getting his records and cat scans and MRI’s ready, and flying to Texas for the appointment last week, the doctor he was supposed to see was out of the office because his wife had a baby the night before. That’s some great timing on our part, wouldn’t you say? So, Blaine was examined by a resident whose exact words were, “I have no idea if we can do this or not.” Wow, that’s really encouraging, isn’t it? He called the other doctor, who responded with a bit more enthusiasm, “Well, I don’t know either, but we’re sure willing to give it a try!” Um, yeah. Somehow, NOT the level of confidence we were hoping for.

So finally, after foot-stomping and yelling and outrage (on my part) and a calm but decisive discussion (on the part of Blaine and his doctor) they agreed to fly him to Seattle for a consultation with the expert. And that’s where he is now.

His appointment is tomorrow and it would mean a great deal to me if you would all think really, really positive thoughts that this doctor can answer our questions and say with confidence that he has performed this exact surgery before, many times, with great results. Is Blaine’s life on the line? Shoot, no. But if it goes well, the surgery could bring about a drastically improved quality of life. And if it were to go badly, we’d be right back at square one, with an even BIGGER hole in his head and lots more dental work to face. So we are very hopeful, and a little bit nervous, since we’ve pretty much put all our faith in this guy and can’t see anyplace else to go if he turns Blaine down.

That’s probably way more information than you wanted or needed, but I felt compelled to write it all down. If you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with me through the entire journal entry! In light of everything Kendrie has gone through since her diagnosis, I have to admit that Blaine has gotten the short end of the stick. Instead of being the supportive, empathetic, compassionate wife that I always should be, I have pretty much left him to fend for himself in his own treatments and rehabilitation process. So maybe this public plea for good karma is my way of making it up to him!

I’ll keep you all posted on how it goes.

Oh, and don’t forget to check back and see the fourth and final installment of “Celebrity Hairstyles for Kendrie”
Thanks for stopping by, and especially for signing the guestbook. We read it every day and love seeing messages from friends, both old and new.

Take care,
your long-winded friend,

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