I wasn’t going to share this, and I’m not sure why. But, as I sit here, thinking about all the people who may be worrying about something today, I remembered that sharing my story may help someone else.
On December 19th, I was at the movie theater with Z. While I wasn’t necessarily interested in the movie had chosen, I was thrilled to be spending some one-on-one time with the littlest guy. About 20 minutes into the movie, I rested my right elbow on the armrest, and my right hand came to rest on my face, with 4 fingers on my cheek and my thumb under my jawline.
Oh my god! What is that?
I had felt a lump under my thumb. It felt like a marble. My mind immediately went to a bad place.
Oh my god, what is this? Why is there a lump in my neck? Oh my god it’s a tumor. It’s cancer. It’s back.
Z watched the movie, while tears formed in my eyes and I was frozen in fear. I wanted to text Derek but knew there was nothing he could do at that moment.
I tried so hard to not let Z know I was upset. I didn’t want to ruin his time.
The movie finished and as soon as we got home I told Derek. I wasn’t sure which doctor to call, so I started with the nurse at my oncologist’s office. She listened and said it sounded like it could be a swollen lymph node, likely related to a cold or other acute illness. She said to watch it for a few days or even a week and that if it didn’t get better to give a call back or to let my primary care physician know. A week went by and with each passing day, my fingers would come to rest on the lump, bringing a new wave of fear and anxiety each time.
When it hadn’t gone away or gotten any smaller, I decided to call the nurse again. This time, my favorite nurse answered. The one who has answered the majority of my calls over the past 2+ years and who knows me well. She agreed that it could be a swollen lymph node, but said she wouldn’t mess around with it, given my history and some recent thyroid bloodwork that had been a bit abnormal. She encouraged me to schedule an appointment with my primary care doc and to insist on a full thyroid workup as well as an ultrasound of my thyroid and this lump. I thanked her and called that doc.
The day of the appointment, the PA was super kind and spent a lot of time reviewing my health history. After seeing a lot of physicians, it is always nice when I feel seen and heard. She too believed this lump was something reactive to a virus or illness and likely would go away with time. However, she did agree to all of the tests I requested.
On February 9th, I walked anxiously into the radiology office, Derek by my side. It was one of the most horrible medical situations I’ve experienced. I was definitely not treated like an individual, but more like just a number in their day. It was obvious that I was scared, as tears ran down my face. And if that wasn’t obvious enough, I even said something to the woman, She could’ve cared less it seemed. After conducting the ultrasound, she left and returned to tell me she’d be right back with the doctor to do the procedure.
“Did you see something?”
“Yes. We will be right back to do a biopsy.” and she was once again out of the room.
I knew this was a possibility, and in that moment, everything came back in a flash.
The only other biopsy I’ve had was my breast….and we know how that turned out.
BIOPSY = CANCER = FUCK!
She and the other doctor were so incredibly cold during the procedure. It was horrible! I lay there crying, just waiting for it to be over.
When I walked out, Derek asked if everything was ok. All I could do was shake my head and motion to walk out the door. I filled him in on everything and he couldn’t believe my experience.
The next day, my primary care doc called to tell me that they believed this was a lymphoepithelial cyst. They believed it was benign, as that is what the small needle sample had shown (good news!), but that I would definitely need to have it surgically removed and sent to pathology to be tested. I asked her how urgent this was, as I was scheduled for my breast implant exchange in just 3 days. She said it could wait until I healed, but not to sit on it, and then referred me to a surgical ENT.
We had an appointment with the ENT, who was great. He agreed with what they’d reported as a cyst and that it needed to be removed and biopsied. Of course, I had some questions….
QUESTION: If it’s benign, why do I need to have this surgically removed? ANSWER: Because we can’t give a full pathological report from the needle aspiration and the only way to do so is by removing it. Also, this type of cyst grows large and where it is, it would need to come out at some point, as it’s so close to the salivary gland.
QUESTION: What are the chances this is cancerous? Could it be mets from breast cancer? ANSWER: He was very cautiously optimistic in reassuring me that this type of cyst is most times benign and that it is unlikely mets or a new cancer. He understood and acknowledged my fear. He of course couldn’t tell me for sure it’s benign, but he did his best to make me feel more confident.
QUESTION: What will the surgery be and how long is recovery. ANSWER: An incision just below your jaw line, which should heal quite quickly. The recovery is about one to two weeks, or until you have range of motion in your neck. It may hurt when you turn your neck and also when you swallow, for some time. He then mentioned that there is a nerve right next to where he will be operating, which impacts the lip and movement. It is not likely, but there’s a chance that could be impacted by the surgery. He then reviewed all the risks ,etc.
Derek and I left feeling comfortable and confident.
Fast forward to May 11th, surgery day. The anxiety hits me as I’m sitting in the waiting room. The silence in there. Knowing everyone is there for some type of surgical procedure. My heart rate increases and I text my sis. She reassures me that this is going to be benign and if it’s not, we will handle it then. We can’t worry about that now.
Once I’m called back, changed into a gown, answered all the questions, checked all the boxes, it’s go time.
IV in. We walk back to the surgical suite. They warn me it’s cold and I tell them “Yeah, I know, They always are!” They chuckle too as they know my medical history and that this isn’t my first rodeo.
I’m on the table, situated and receiving my “pre-flight cocktail.” Next thing I know, I’m nauseous, groggy, loopy and very sleepy. My eyes barely open. I hear a nurse telling me I’m in recovery. I tell her I’m nauseous. I hear muffled talk about getting me a wrist band for that. It feels like it’s all a dream. Slowly, I begin to awaken, but not much. The nurse gives me a can of ginger ale. It’s not very cold. I want to sip through the straw and taste the bubbles, but I’m too tired. “Oh, don’t fall asleep with that in your hands.” I hear her say with a little laugh. I guess I’m falling asleep again. She takes the can from my hands.
It feels like I’ve only been in here for a few minutes. She keeps working on waking me up. I hear her tell someone to call my husband and have him pull the car around front. She keeps prodding me. to stay awake. She tells me I’ve been in recovery for 2 hours! What?! And that it’s now time to head home.
Fast forward to today, May 17th. I’ve had this bandage on my chin for 6 days now. It’s pretty itchy, but other than that, I’m doing well. It definitely still hurts some to move my neck and to swallow. My tongue is still numb, which the doctor has told me is likely the nerves regenerating. My lower lip is a bit limp. I’m really hoping it gets better and isn’t some sort of damage. I see the surgeon tomorrow for my follow up visit. He said he probably won’t have a full pathology report yet. We do have the cytology report, and all is good there! I don’t feel worried. I’m really confident it will all be benign and I’ll move on from this in no time. Of course, when I say that, there is that little voice in my head, that reminds me not to be completely confident, because I need to prepare myself mentally for the other. Breast cancer took that innocence, that nativity, away from me. The one that never even thought about results doesn’t live here anymore. I’m okay with that. It doesn’t mean I’m pessimistic or negative. It simply is my reality right now and I accept it.