Brooklyn, NY

The Patient Picked a Piece of Tumor Tissue off His Face and Placed it in my Hand

Photo byNational Cancer Institute on Unsplash

When cancer hits hard

Yesterday I had a young man as a patient. 37 years old and a time when he should be in the prime of his life. Riddled with cancer. There is that dreaded word again — cancer.

A word that is way overused. A disease we know way too much about and not enough of, or so science says. I left work feeling sad, tired, and helpless. I was itchy, and grossed out, especially after I held a piece of that evil in my very own hand.

Here is what I was told happened

According to the family, the young man originally from Brooklyn moved to Tennessee with his girlfriend. He was diagnosed in November 2021. One day he bit the inside of his right cheek, and it did not heal.

He went about his life and did not give it too much thought. Some months later he went to the doctor for something unrelated and casually mentioned his cheek had not healed. He was referred to a specialist for a biopsy.

Diagnosis — stage 4 sarcoma.

Cancer of the face, throat, and neck. Radiation was briefly tried, and the decision was made to place him in hospice as little could be done. It was cancer in his face; it had already spread everywhere so they decided to make him as comfortable as they could. Surgery on such a delicate area was not a consideration.
Photo byNational Cancer Institute on Unsplash

His girlfriend continued to care for him until some days ago when she suffered caregiver fatigue and upped and left him all alone.

They then flew to Tennessee and drove the patient directly back to the hospital. He is thin, emaciated, and unfortunately, just waiting on time….

His face is so swollen on the right side, and the tumor has distorted all his features. Inside his mouth is a white bleached open sore leading into the cancerous tumor. His chin, or what used to be his chin is a huge concave cavern of pink connective tissue. His speech is garbled, and the wound is bleeding and laden with what looks like connective tissue.

He says it is so painful and invasive, that he feels soreness and because of that is constantly picking at the wound until it bleeds. The cavern under his lower lip and neck is about six-inch diameter and is one of the most horrifying things I have ever seen or touched.

When he puts his head back, you are looking into a pink cavern where once there was a chin.

He keeps picking at it almost with a compulsive obsession and then he picks a piece of it off and God help me, hands it over to me. I put my gloves on and took it from him. I am after all a consummate professional.

I almost barfed, but I could not let the patient know how much disgust roiled up inside of me. The poor man is fighting an evil he cannot win. I will not make it worse for him. He of course is unable to swallow much except for very soft foods and some liquids. He needs frequent suctioning as even his saliva is an issue for him to swallow.

On my way home I could still see the open pink cavern on the lower half of his face. I felt sad, itchy, icky, grossed out, and wanted to take a bath ASAP. My skin was itching and is itching now as I recall the details of that disease robbing that young man of his life.

The look and feel of the bit of cancer he pulled off and placed in my hand, the texture of it, the color, the complete destructive power of that tissue was more than I could stand. While caring for him, I remained the consummate professional, but it was heartbreaking to have looked into the gaping face of pure evil.

Cancer is evil!

A destructive force that contains nothing that is good! All we can do is our best, eat well, exercise, mind our stressors, and put away destructive behaviors as much as possible. His relatives said he smoked since his young teen years. Though we cannot always know the origins of disease, we must make every effort to prevent the use of substances and/or environments that can potentiate any genetic predispositions.

Be grateful for your health.

Exist within a state of gratitude.

Remember the young man in prayer and take care.


A version of this story was published on my website at justpene@50

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