Chris Smith

First post: Dec 17, 2021 Latest post: Apr 14, 2023
This is Liz, Chris’s wife.  I know he won’t write this so I’m going to do it for him, although I know he’d do a better job because he writes so well. I’ll do my best.  I want to say first how wonderful everyone has been to us since Chris’s cancer returned in April.  We know we have the best support and we appreciate it so much.  

I’ll start at the beginning. In the spring of 2015, Chris noticed a white patch on the left side his tongue.  We thought it might be a canker sore but it didn’t go away. He went to his dentist who then sent him to an oral surgeon who did a biopsy on it.  Unfortunately we found out it was cancer. He saw an ENT who did a surgery to remove the cancer from his tongue.  The margins were not clear so he had a second surgery about a week later.  

We were told at that time by the ENT that if he had a neck dissection on his left side to remove the lymph nodes it would greatly reduce the chances of it returning.  We decided to go ahead with the surgery and that one was tough. He was in the hospital for about 3 days but did well.  The day he was discharged from the hospital was the day of Hank’s 6th birthday party and I remember Chris sitting in a chair at the party looking miserable.  Looking back, why was he even there?

As much as that 4-6 weeks was scary and stressful, it was quick and then we were done.  It has been a very different experience this time around. 

Chris continued to have scans that were thankfully clear for 5 years. It was so bizarre but in April 2021 almost 5 years to the day, he noticed another place on the other side of his tongue that was worrisome. He saw his oncologist and ENT and had a biopsy that revealed the cancer had returned.  We saw the ENT again who did another tongue surgery to remove the lesion.  He also had a PET scan that revealed concerning lymph nodes on the opposite side of his neck. The ENT thought this was strange that it showed up on the opposite side of his tongue/neck since it typically stays in the side where the cancer originated. 

We were told Chris would most likely need more extensive treatment this time around including radiation and chemotherapy.  But first he had to have another neck dissection on the side of the neck where the concerning lymph nodes were. So this was done on July 2nd and he stayed in the hospital for about 3 days and then was discharged. We were told all the lymph nodes were taken
 out during the surgery.  We were supposed to go on a trip to Colorado with my family to celebrate my parents 50th wedding anniversary.  Chris wasn’t able to go because he started treatment - chemo on July 19th.  Radiation started soon after on July 21st.

The next 6 weeks were awful.  I can’t describe it because I didn’t physically go through it but it was the hardest thing I’ve been through and I wasn’t even the patient.  Chris lost his sense of taste, he had burns inside and outside of his mouth and on his neck.  He could eat at first but then he couldn’t. It was just too painful.  He said even plain water hurt to drink.  Thankfully, I used to take care of head & neck cancer patients inpatient and outpatient at Vanderbilt so I knew how to handle the nutrition component.  He did not have to get a feeding tube like most patients but he did lose 60-70 lbs.  He was so strong during the treatment and even worked half days most days so he could still see his advisory boys in the morning.  He would still take Ben & Hank to shoot lacrosse. I laughed because I took more sick days than he did!

I remember being so happy when his treatment was over but didn’t realize it took 6-8 weeks to heal after the radiation.  I think they don’t tell you on purpose? I just kept waiting for him to get better but it was so slow.  We were told the CT scan in October was promising and there were a few little nodes and that one was dead inside. We felt good about it. 

A few weeks ago Chris complained of his neck being swollen and painful like a million bees stinging him and he did have a small wound there.   We thought it was because he didn’t have any lymph nodes left to drain anything.  It kept getting worse so I was talking to a nurse practitioner colleague describing his symptoms and she said it might be infected.  I called his oncologist and we saw him the next morning. He thought it looked infected too so gave him iv antibiotics in the office and an oral one. He also ordered a CT scan of his neck and a PET scan had been ordered by his radiation oncologist.  They deferred the PET and did the CT scan.

I did not go with him to the appointment with his oncologist to get results of CT because I thought it was an infection.  I did a lunch for work and called Chris when that was over and he was crying on the phone and asked if I was coming home. He told me briefly that his tumor had recurred in his neck.  

We have been devastated since hearing this.  We saw the radiation oncologist last week who did not have good news and today we saw the surgeon at Vanderbilt who said surgery wouldn’t be wise at this point because of all the anatomical features involved. Chris will start chemotherapy on Friday.   He is ready to fight despite being in a lot of pain.  We need a miracle. 

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