“Normally you should be able to place the two middle joints of your index and middle fingers in your mouth” reads one of the many handouts that I was given at the Cross Cancer Institute this week.
You tried it, didn’t you? I knew you would!
I can do it, but barely. In fact, when I do, I’m left with imprints of my teeth on my fingers.
I’m amazed at all the services available to patients at the Cross and I haven’t even had to go looking for them. This week, I had appointments with a speech language pathologist (who knew that they also deal with swallowing issues?), a nutritionist and an occupational therapist and now I have a whole new exercise routine to follow. I have lip exercises, swallowing exercises, jaw exercises and neck exercises to do! Sadly, none of them requires cute exercise attire!
The lip exercises are meant to help correct the crooked smile that I was left with after last month’s surgery. It has been gradually improving as the facial nerve recovers and if it never got any better than it is right now, I could certainly live with that, but I might as well do what I can to help it along. The exercises, which involve making a variety of funny faces, are simple and easy do while I’m engaged in other activities.
Surgery also left me with a fair amount of stiffness in the neck and jaw area, hence the difficulty getting two knuckles between my teeth. Radiation can cause increased stiffness in these areas so, rather than becoming a permanently stiff-necked person, I’ll be doing neck and jaw exercises at least 3 times a day for the duration of my radiation treatments and for several weeks or possibly months afterwards. Fortunately, they’re also simple to do and don’t take very long.
Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, is a common side effect of radiation to the head and neck so the swallowing exercises that I’m doing are preemptive, designed to minimize or prevent problems from arising. They’re not particularly difficult to do, but because they’re done with sips of water, they involve consuming copious amounts of H2O. Since staying well hydrated is important, this isn’t a particularly bad thing but it does mean having to break the exercises down into manageable amounts spread throughout the day.
I haven’t lifted weights since having surgery and the treadmill is gathering dust again now that the weather is suitable for walking outdoors, but I’m still fitting in my regular morning exercises 4 or 5 days a week. This is the first time I’ve worked on being physically fit from the shoulders up though!