Early last summer, I had an ongoing migraine that lasted for over a month. Plus it was accompanied by serious deterioration of my vision. I kept saying to myself what’s up with my glasses, they don’t work like they used to. I went in to see the doctors and they proceeded to tell me that I must be stressed from starting the business. Hmmmm….okay…I was a year and a half into the business at this point…I get that there is ongoing stress, but nothing out of the ordinary all of a sudden.
Then, I found a small lump in my neck at the intersection of my earlobe and the end of my jawbone. Strange for sure. I go to see the doctor again. They ask if I’ve been sick. I say no. They proceed to tell me it’s just a swollen lymph node and not to worry about it. Sounds good to me.
One month, two months, three months go by. The lump is still there… I’m like, I’m no doctor, but something is up here. Back to the doctor I go.
They proceed to tell me that it’s still probably a lymph node, but we could get an ultrasound just to be sure. But, why don’t we wait another month? At this point, I’m like no F-ing way, let’s get the ultrasound.
Go for the ultrasound and never hear back. No news is good news I guess. I guessed wrong. Get a call 6 weeks later from my doctor saying he noticed that no one ever called me back with my test results… I should come in.
Turns out it wasn’t a lymph node. (I could have told them that a long time ago…) It was a parotid (salivary) gland tumour. Motherf*&$%! I’ve been telling you guys something is not kosher here for months and no one was listening.
Part of me is definitely pissed that the system had gotten things so wrong up until this point. The other part of me however was relieved that I wasn’t crazy. I was tired of hearing from everyone that it must be in my head.
Now I have to see an Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) specialist.
Do the biopsy and get the call a couple weeks later from my regular doctor that it’s benign. Awesome! A little dance of joy with Jody. All is well in the world.
I go for my follow-up appointment with the ENT surgeon and he says, well no, it’s not benign, it might be, we’re not sure, it’s that the results of the biopsy were inconclusive. For the second time here: Motherf*&$%!
Small important detail here. The ENT doctor is in Gatineau and speaks French and so do his reports. My regular doctor is in Ottawa and speaks English. Apparently there was a little something lost in the translation between the two…
So, it turns out that the place where the tumour is located is the same place where your facial nerves come out from behind your ears to keep your face moving, smiling, frowning, squinting, you name it. So if the tumour does grow, it can get intertwined with your facial nerves and increase the likelihood of one of them getting cut during surgery and subsequent permanent nerve damage and loss of functionality in your face.
This tumour had to go.
While a second biopsy was an option, we decided to take it out regardless. Cancerous or not, this bitch had to go. First off, I couldn’t live with this thing in my body. What if it spread? Plus, I seriously wasn’t down with potential facial paralysis later on. That’s not my jam by any stretch.
I go for surgery on November 19th. The first surgery of my life. I had been lucky up until this point to only have had a few broken fingers. I was definitely nervous. Ironically, mostly about looking deformed post surgery. Call me vain, but the facial paralysis thing was really nerve wracking.
Go to the hospital with Jodes. Do a few blood tests to make sure I’m ready for surgery. Lay down in the less than flattering and highly exposing gown and wait. When they finally go to wheel me in, Jody was understandably in tears. That certainly made things harder. I didn’t want her suffering through this ordeal
While in the hallway waiting area staring up at the fluorescent lights and nasty ceiling tiles, I couldn’t help but think how precious life is. How brief our time is here on earth. How many things I have left on my to-do list. I want to grow old with Jody. Be there for Savannah and Jasmine as they grow up and become the extraordinary women they are destined to be.
As I lay there waiting, the room is also filled with other people going in for their own surgeries. Most of them older, except for this one younger woman. Probably early 30’s. I hear the doctor reviewing the procedure with her. She has ovarian cancer and is getting her ovaries removed. She will never be able to have kids of her own. My heart broke for her as I could feel her making peace with this inevitable outcome.
My situation paled in comparison to that. For sure.
She got wheeled in before me and I was able to share a brief warm smile giving her every ounce of silent encouragement I could that it was going to be okay.
My surgery went pretty smoothly. They cut from the top of my ear to mid way down my neck. Removed everything that needed to be removed. Stitched me back together. Face intact.
That was November 19th. It wasn’t until January 15th that I got my results. I sit down in the office waiting for the surgeon to show up. When he finally walks in, he’s all smiles, just another day at the office. Then he opens up my file.
The immediate reaction in my head is that doesn’t sound like benign…motherf#$%?!.
He proceeds to tell me I had stage 1 cancer. Everything was removed. It didn’t spread. Everything should be hunky dory.
WTF — this is not helping me in any way shape or form. I get it. These were the only possible answers. He was playing the odds. My only issue was the fact that the odds had been wrong every step of the way thus far.
So, it turns out I had been living most of 2018 with a cancerous tumour in my neck. That is a bit of a mindfuck when you start to think about it. A bit grateful that I didn’t know it that whole time, but hard as hell to fathom that I might have been minutes, days, months away from it spreading everywhere.
Back to reality. Time to go for chest x-rays just to be sure it didn’t spread. Worse than that. Time to call Jodes and tell her the news.
Sitting in the waiting room for my x-rays, I call her.
Insert stomach sinking, I think I have to throw up, prolonged pregnant pause here.
Tears, tears and more tears. Jody explodes into sobs that took both our breath away. I start crying as well. Alone. In this dingy, dimly lit, ascepticized waiting room with my earphones in and quiet tears creeping down my face.
Jody asks if I’m coming home? I didn’t see what the hell I was going to do there. Wallow in self pity. Ruminate over whether this thing is coming back at some point. Go down the dreaded Why me? line of thinking. Naahhh. Not much value there. May as well go back to work. So I did.
Thankfully, after a series of follow up appointments, it was confirmed that the cancer didn’t spread. I was clear. The cancer had come and gone in some sort of weird Houdini trick. Gone before I even knew it was there.
That said, however faintly, it’s echoes will never fully leave my mind. I’ve been forever pickled with cancer. I can never go back to being that nice fresh cucumber so to speak.
At first, that sounds like a bad thing. I.e. I can choose to forever worry that it might come back to bite me in the ass and take me out. And while that does remain a real possibility, it is also a source of tremendous motivation.
Memento Mori is a latin phrase that translates to remember you must die. Far from being morbid, it serves as an incredible reminder that life is short and we must make the most of the time we are here on earth.
It serves to clarify what we would like to be, do, live, accomplish while we are here. For me, my brief touch with cancer served exactly this purpose. To remember death. To review all the places I was spending my mental and physical energy. To eliminate all the thoughts and activities that are no longer serving me. To hone in on the ones that will help me fulfill my reason for being and push me to be the best possible version of myself. Both for me and for all of those who are most precious to me.
In the end, cancer for me has become the most precious of gifts. A course correcting, epiphany popping, light bulb go offing, awareness deepening, gift.