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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: Seeking a brighter day

by Mike Masterson | January 7, 2023 at 3:39 a.m.


If I made it through surgery yesterday, I'm face up this morning on what I hope is a brighter day in a recovery bed at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.

If I didn't, well, my sincere thanks for all your kind wishes, support and prayers during what has been a 76-year-long wondrous ride around this crystal-blue globe.

Oh, and please try to leave this troubled place a bit better than you found it when you arrived. Gosh knows there are too many who don't and won't.

Thank you for reading and always remember to go out and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Meanwhile, after doing battle with The Beast I've also dubbed Squamous, the Ungodly Persistent, acclaimed ENT surgeon Dr. Maurice Moreno reached an agreement that Dr. James Y. Suen, with many decades of success in doing battle with countless beasts just like mine would try to wrest the creature's grip from its hold against the blood vessels and nerves beneath my left ear.

Dr. Suen has been repeatedly honored for being as good as America's surgeons come for expertise in cancers involving the head and neck. He's also the co-author of seven editions of major textbooks on cancers of the head and neck used in medical schools worldwide.

Some former patients use phrases in rating him such as "God-sent," "best in the business," "caring," "compassionate" and "literally world-renowned" to describe their experiences.

He reached out to me initially and has since taken the time and effort to review my scans and records at my request, and called me on his own volition to discuss my case while trying to help in every other way.

It's been my experience that physicians who demonstrate that level of caring and concern are rare. Another who leaps to mind in my ongoing battle is Dr. Paul Neis, the accomplished ENT specialist in Mountain Home.

The hope as Dr. Suen took scalpel in hand yesterday was that The Beast hadn't wrapped itself around vessels and nerves, making the surgery more complex and tedious.

Unlike the brutal 35 radiation and seven chemotherapy treatments that were unsuccessful in accomplishing the same feat, all I can tell you for certain in writing this for Saturday's deadline is that, if all went to plan, they rolled me into the surgical suite and the good doctor did what he's widely known for to the best of his abilities.

I'll have no remembrance of anything. I can only hope and pray he was able to successfully remove what remains of The Beast.

Those who've been through surgery understand once the IV goes into your arm and the Versed and other juices begin their dimming flow, the only thing you recall is a kindly nurse shaking you and whispering gently to wake up seemingly a minute later.

In testament to the value of genuine friendship, Richard Martin of Nixa, Mo., volunteered to chaperone us to and around Little Rock for the surgery, lease a three-bedroom house from Airbnb directly across from UAMS, then return us to Harrison after I'm released.

More than anything, the biggest positive to come from my seven-month battle has been to realize how many good and supportive friends and readers I have across the state and even beyond its borders.

The good wishes have come in the form of emails, cards, prayers, phone calls, quilts, shawls and the GoFundMe account established by friends without my knowledge to help cover considerable out-of-pocket medical expenses.

One disappointing "expense-to-injury" aspect to expensive medical setbacks is how much it can cost any cancer victim, particularly when a scourge remains alive after extensive treatments.

And as those who followed the treatments I underwent during July and August at the Claude Parrish Cancer Center in Harrison likely realize, there are only guesstimates in predicting any cancer's treatment success.

From what I understand, the location where The Beast had taken its stand is perhaps the worst place for my well-being. With so many nerves and blood vessels, including the carotid artery and jugular vein, converging in this corner, delicately sorting through them to get to The Beast can present a serious challenge for even the most sure-handed surgeon.

So someone in my position had to make a calculated decision, knowing all surgeries carry risk. This one had its share, but was the best possible of limited options.

Dr. Suen said before surgery that he would have a vascular surgeon on standby should one be needed to deal with any invasion into my carotid artery. Sounded ominous.

I was told last month that if surgery should fail, more chemotherapy or even immunotherapy "might" be effective in finally killing the thing. But those odds were a shaky 40 percent.

Every knowledgeable doctor I spoke with assured me surgery at this point was the only viable option with the greatest chance for a cure. And so here I lie under post-op care, hopefully, with Jeanetta and a friendly nurse nearby I've yet to meet.

At some point this morning, I'll learn how the surgery went and what awaits. It goes without saying that my prayer is Dr. Suen won the war.

Jeanetta is likely seated in my room with daughter Anna, coming from a suburb of Memphis as she has been for doctor's visits throughout my ordeal, along with son Brandon, who'd planned to come from Fayetteville.

Now I'll wait two days or so, depending on how much recovery is warranted, before Dr. Suen tells me I can return to Harrison.

That most likely will be with a heavily bandaged head along with what I suspect will be orders to take it easy for the next week until the surgical drainage tube can be removed by Dr. Neis.

So, valued readers, rest assured if you see that introductory notation on previous timeless columns in the next week that says I'm taking the day off, it doesn't mean I'm snow-skiing in Colorado, hunting moose in Alaska, or basking on a Gulf beach with a frozen drink.

And, God willing, I'll be back in the saddle before you even realized I was missing.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like your want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]


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