Publisher: Auctus Publishers, Havertown, PA
So, you’ve just been to the doctor’s office, and the report wasn’t good. There’s no getting around this one; you have cancer. After the shock, denial, and rage wears off, what do you do? Purchase Mike Metzler’s cancer survival guide and read it, absorb it, and believe in its most basic bedrock truth – this will be the fight of your life, and your attitude going into it is everything. As Metzler states, whether you like it or not, you have just stepped into Cancer World, and make no mistake about it; you are not alone, because everyone who loves you is going to get dragged into it too. You’re allowed to feel good about yourself for this purchase because all royalties generously go to the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance (HNCA).
Mike Metzler’s life seemed to be hitting on all cylinders in 2006. During a near 30-year stint as a respected professor instructing future teachers in physical education at Georgia State University, he had written well-received college textbooks, been invited to speak at conferences and seminars around the world, and was recently married during an idyllic ceremony at the vacation hotspot island of Roatan, Honduras. His blushing bride Terry was a professor in the same department and considered Mike her best friend as well as a force in their chosen profession. They planned to retire on their own terms and ride off into the sunset, quite possibly with Metzler’s beloved Grateful Dead playing a happy tune as the credits rolled. Then, as it often does, bad news came knocking at their garden gate two-and-a-half years into their marriage.
Mike was diagnosed with head and neck cancer, not where it usually occurs at the base of the tongue or on the floor of the mouth, but deep in his left jaw. At the time of Metzler’s diagnosis, this form of cancer amounted to 6% of all types of cancers and accounted for 2% of all cancer deaths. While the ongoing technology has improved and concurrently the odds of survival have improved, on the day that he got the news his odds of survival were 50/50 at best. Writes Metzler in his brief introduction:
Mu own prognosis predicted a 50/50 chance of being cured of my original cancer, medically defined as “no evidence of disease” (NED) after treatments and staying that way for five more years. Because my tumor had invaded my left jawbone, surgery could have easily led to the loss of that bone, so the sensible decision was to be treated with a combination of chemotherapy and IMRT radiation and see what happens. Get treated with a coin-toss’ chance of survival, or surely die from cancer. I may be dumb at times, but I’m not stupid, so I accepted the known risks of treatments and focused on getting through them as best I could.
It’s these “known risks of treatments” that would ultimately lead to the book’s primarily title alluding to two trips in Cancer World.
Mike and Terry determined to document his first journey comprised of defeating the cancer itself in a blog entitled: Mike Metzler Beats Cancer. They both knew it would be far better for friends and family to hear whatever news that they wanted to be heard from them, and the blog provided the most efficient way to distribute it. Family, friends, colleagues, the throngs of doctors, and members of the HNCA, as well as the Cancer Survivor’s Network (CSN) who logged on and provided encouraging comments were inducted into “Team Mike” with Terry acting as its captain. At the date of publication, the team had over 175 members. Why team Mike? Mike Metzler was our high school quarterback. At this level, a good quarterback is a gifted athlete, oftentimes the best one on the team, but great quarterbacks have something more. A great quarterback is the team’s smartest and best prepared player as well as being a born leader. Mike was all that and more and was talented enough to go on to play at the collegiate level at Tufts University in Boston. All these attributes are evident in this book written fifty years later. This book is well organized, instructional, uplifting, and inspirational. If you would have asked any one of us back in the day who would be a candidate for cancer later in life, none of us would have selected Mike Metzler. He understood good nutrition, had even written books addressing it, he didn’t smoke cigarettes, and he was physically fit, capable of completing Atlanta’s famed annual “Peachtree”10K run for 15 years in a row. But, as the television ads hammer home, cancer doesn’t care. It can attack anyone, even him.
To expunge the cancer from his body Mike underwent three chemotherapy treatments and 36 radiation treatments between March and June of 2009 and appeared cancer free (at least for the time being) in November of that year. The chemo forces the cancer cells to present themselves, while the radiation zaps them. Mike’s Prairie Dog metaphor likens these annoying little critters to the cancer cells which quickly appear, disappear, and then reappear somewhere else. Just when you think you got them all, up pops just one more, and thus the book’s subtitle and the necessity for so many treatments over time. Through it all, Mike kept up the blog when he could, and when he was too sick or exhausted to do it, Terry took up the slack. They frequently requested “good vibes” be sent along from Team Mike and Metzler himself was doggedly determined to keep his mindset focused within what he terms as, “The zone of a fighting chance.”At the end of the treatment schedule, the good news was that the Prairie Dogs had disappeared as the doc’s had zapped them all. The bad news was that those “known risks” (translate: the gifts that keep on giving)availed themselves in terms of difficulty in swallowing, slurred speech, and dead bone tissue spreading further throughout his left jaw. The medical term for this is Osteoradionecrosis (ORN) and it is a devastating condition. Dead bone would dislodge itself, work itself up through the gum, and come free in his mouth. It was tolerated for a few years as Metzler simply dealt with it as his “abi normal” (or an ongoing succession of new normals) with an occasional “age adjustment,” but by 2014 there was nothing to do but replace the left jawbone with a bone “harvested” from his left fibula. If you’re thinking that the cancer cure was worse than the cancer, as Metzler explains, it really wasn’t, because the cancer had to die in order for him to live, and the jaw replacement, while harrowing, was not considered life threatening. Of course, there was the issue of the quality of his ongoing life. At this point I was wondering, How much can one man take? Well…when you’re as determined as Mike Metzler is,you take that and the fact that a second procedure would be necessary to adjust for a bone graft that was unsuccessful with the new donor bone being harvested from his left wrist, and throw a few metal plates added for stability (mouth and wrist)in June of 2015.
You have to hand it to the Metzlers, because they devoutly maintained their blog, and Mike made it interesting enough to include a Wheel of Fortune game show edition for head and neck cancer that was truly creative, because by now I was asking, how much more can I take? The suffering was wearing everyone down and for Mike it wasn’t over yet. By 2018 it looked like the surgeries were coming to an end, but not the difficulties. States Metzler in the last of his 21-point bulleted descriptions of his ongoing health issues:
So I now use the feeding tube three times a day to provide me with 90% of my caloric and nutritional needs. I first hoped that it would be on a trial basis but it’s already clear that I’ll need that tube for the rest of my life. It has to be replaced every six months.
The point here is not to feel sorry for myself, or to seek pity. As my oldest brother Jim once told me, “Any day you can get out of bed with both feet hitting the floor at about the same time, is a good day.” I can do that and with the feeding tube providing reliable nutrition and regaining enough physical function to start exercising again. I have begun to rebuild this broken down palace [Grateful Dead song]. I know it will take a long time, and it will be a difficult road after so many physical injuries, acquired disabilities, and creeping age, but I am getting on with it...
After more than ten years I know that I have not beaten cancer. It has changed my life and Terry’s life in ways that will never end. Honestly, I have survived cancer and its treatments for these ten years and fortunately still counting(p.245).
Mike Metzler’s unfortunate journey through unimaginable pain and suffering is a truly amazing story, and through it all he has displayed an uncommon courage. As he states, this is a club that nobody wants to belong to. To put it mildly, he’s been to hell and back. This book would prepare anyone for that journey, and if you have cancer and are wondering how you can survive it, Metzler’s last two sentences are his most poignant:
I started these journeys not by thinking, “I don’t want to die,” but by taking stock of all the things that were good and important in my life and deciding to fight as hard as I could to get back to them. Sure, some of those things are now gone forever, but I’ve recovered enough of them to have my two Journeys in Cancer World well worth the high cost I’ve paid for them (p. 247).
An uncommon courage indeed.
So, you have cancer and have now read this wonderful guide on what to expect and how to cope with it. All I can say is, that like Mike Metzler, I hope and pray that you can, “Keep on Truckin’.”