One year ago today I had surgery to remove a lymph node from my neck. They were going to do a biopsy to determine if I had cancer.
It all started when I went to the nurse at the school where I teach on the afternoon of Thursday, September 29th. I was so dizzy I could barely walk. The nurse said I looked pale and she made me sit in her office for a while. Good thing I had coverage for my class (Thank you, Karen!). She told me I was probably getting sick. She recommended I take it easy over the weekend so I said I would. Friday was also a rough day because I kept getting dizzy. I was also having hot flashes (I'll never forget my principal saying to me, "You're too young for personal summers."). I assumed, as the nurse had said, that I was getting sick. You know what they say about people who assume things...
I took it easy all weekend. I felt the same as I had on Thursday and Friday. I didn't get worse but I didn't get better, either. I felt much the same into the week. Also, I had noticed that the lymph nodes in my neck were swollen so I decided it was time to see my doctor. I don't really remember the events of the following month. What I do remember is the two high-contrast CT scans I had of my neck and head. It's not that the scans themselves were bad - they really weren't except for the whole being still thing. What sucked about them was the discovery that I am allergic to IV Iodine. I have never ever itched so bad and I never want to have that feeling again. I wanted to rip my skin off. It was awful. I know it could have been so much worse but it still felt terrible. I itched for weeks.
When the results came in from the scans, it was both good and bad. The scans didn't show anything. My doctor recommended I see a surgeon for a biopsy of my lymph nodes to see if it would give us an answer. She then told me some things to prepare me for what might happen with the biopsy. That's when she said it. Lymphoma. She told me not to worry about it, but that it was one of the possibilities. I had been doing research about my symptoms and had come up with that as a possibility myself. Of course I was terrified. Talking with my mom about it, we decided that if that was the diagnosis, at least we would have an answer. Besides that, it's curable. I saw the surgeon on the morning of Thursday, November 10th, 2011 (and my friend Becky tagged along so I'd have a second set of ears. Thank you Becky!). He recommended surgery to remove one lymph node for testing. Surgery. Yuck. I went out to the desk to schedule my surgery. The woman at the desk was amazing. I could tell she understood my fear and tried her best to calm me. She mentioned a few dates for surgery and then stopped. She flipped to a different page in her book and said, 'How about tomorrow?" What? No. Not tomorrow. No way. Becky told me to do it. She reminded me that I was off from work anyway, so I wouldn't have to take off another day. She even said her husband could drive me if need be. So I did it. I scheduled for the very next day (which was 11-11-11 - good luck, right?). I got paperwork and instructions. Becky and I left. She told me it would be okay.
I called my parents. I told them what the surgeon had said. My mom told me they would drive up to be with me (they live 6 hours away). I told them that wasn't necessary and that I could do it on my own. I got scared and changed my mind. My parents left work early, went home to pack, and drove up. We spent the night in a hotel and then went to the hospital the next morning for my surgery.
So while I was absolutely the most scared I've ever been in my whole life, I had the surgery. I don't remember much from before the surgery except that the anesthesiologist was hot and he kept telling jokes. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in recovery. That was a very freaky experience. I couldn't move. I couldn't focus my eyes. I couldn't talk. Slowly I regained my senses. I remember telling the nurse I couldn't move. She told me that was normal and to relax. I have no idea how long I laid there. All I remember is that it felt like an eternity and I just wanted to see my mom.
The rest of that weekend is fuzzy. I spent a lot of time in bed. I had a lot of pain. When my dad took off the bandages, my neck looked disgusting. It was a little better after I washed it, but I kept it covered up for a while at school so the kids wouldn't see it. Now it's just a thin line on the side of my neck.
I don't remember the day I got the results from the biopsy. I just remember talking to the surgeon. He told me the results didn't show anything. No cancer. I was relieved. Strangely, I was also upset. I was back at square one, not having the slightest idea what was wrong with me. I cried.
I went back to my regular doctor. She told me they had done all the testing they could. She told me it was probably from allergies having settled in my lymph nodes. She told me to take a daily allergy medicine. I still take the daily allergy medicine.
I still have a lot of pain/stiffness in my neck, but the lymph nodes very rarely feel swollen. I heard somewhere that people with TMJD can experience swollen lymph nodes. Even though my swollen lymph nodes occurred about 10 months before the TMJD diagnosis, my belief is that they are related in some way. As my dentist has told me, he feels I've had TMJD since I got my braces off about 15 years ago, but it was never bad enough to require attention/treatment until the bad pop of my jaw I experienced one day over the summer.
The photo is of my scar, one year after surgery. It's hard to see, but that's the point.
Thought of the day: "May you live the days of your life." -Jonathan Swift
After my cancer scare my perception of life changed. I felt lucky to be alive and well. I decided to make time for something I enjoy every single day. A year later I have not truly stuck to that, but I do try to find more joy where I can and enjoy life. Some days that is extremely difficult, but I do what I can. Life is a precious gift and that's why they call it the present.