It started last year, around November 2009, with a small sore throat. It was weird because I wasn’t sick and hadn’t been, not even a cold, for several years. At first I thought it may be some residual phlegm causing the annoyance. Then, that same month, I had an abscess on a lower rear tooth which needed a root canal. At the time I thought the connection to the sore throat was the infection in my tooth. An infection in a lower molar could potentially drip bacteria down the throat causing it soreness (I was told).
But after the root canal in December, the sore throat remained. (It was a weird sore throat, sometimes moving around). I had the root canal done in Colombia, South America, because I had been traveling there for business. After checking my full spectrum x-rays, the endondoncista discovered a large dark spot in the root of a front (capped) tooth. She said it looked infected and that the best course of action was surgery on the gum, breaking the old crown, replacing the old root canal (done 35 years ago), cleaning out the root, and fitting a new crown. Fair enough. I didn’t want any infections wallowing in my head, so I proceeded with this recommendation in March of this year. The infection, as I saw on tape, was old and there was lots of puss. It was a good thing it came out. I then thought that this old infection was perhaps the reason for the throat soreness, which kept ebbing and flowing in varying degrees of soreness, nothing too serious. Still, it was concerning. But, after a coupe of weeks, the soreness persisted.
So, while in New York City in April of this year, I went to a recommended ENT specialist. After scoping my throat through the nose, she said confidently that what I had was acid reflux, nothing to worry about. She said that 50% of the population has this and that all I had to do is either avoid certain foods (mostly things I liked) or take a little pill every day for the rest of my life. I left the office with my wife telling her that this just didn’t make sense to me. But what else to do? I wasn’t going to start taking pharmaceuticals daily.
So I did nothing. Until June 5th, when I woke up in New York right before a trip to South America with a ball on the left side of my neck. It was indeed kind of freaky. (sinister as the doctor now puts it). So during the next couple of weeks while away, I went to a medical doctor again who sent me to have various tests done; full blood work, scoped my stomach, sonogram of the neck, among others. Then I was told to have more blood tests. Nothing could really be explained. Then someone told me I’d better have a CAT scan done, which I did on the next trip. I took the results to an ENT specialist in Colombia who told me I’d better get a biopsy done, and that I shouldn’t wait too long.
Meanwhile, my sister in-law’s oncologists said not to do a biopsy without doing an MRI first as biopsy’s can be dangerous of not done correctly, and by a specialist.
I had had enough of trying to do this on my own in South America. During my last few rides in Colombia, getting up to about 85% of my max (heart rate), I was having trouble breathing heavy and taking in water doing so. And I found myself hanging back in the group (embarrassing?). So I told my buddy, the group leader, that I would hang back due to a sore throat. He and another good rider hung back with me up Matasanos (a not so easy few thousand feet that takes better than an hour to climb). Point is, they hung back for me and I couldn’t have them do that again.
So as soon as I returned to New York City in August, I made an urgent appointment with a general MD, who recommended that I see the ENT in her office the following week. This third ENT looked at the CAT scan and recommended immediately that I make an appointment with a head & neck specialist — I choose the place geographically most convenient, Beth Israel, located in Union Square.
The meeting was full of the same questions. Do I smoke? (no). Do I drink? (yes). How much? How often? etc. After hearing my spiel, he concluded that I indeed had a tumor, base of tongue or top of throat, and that in all likelihood, it was malignant. The biopsy was a formality. Wow, just like that — I’m given material to read about cancer and told about support groups.
Now going for verification, more tests, more news, developing an action plan.