Have you ever read something that just hit you in the face like a cast iron frying pan? I follow L. Amber O’Hearn aka @ketocarnivore on Twitter and she posted the following quote by Dr. Nasha Winters “Cancer is more than a tumor…eradicating it doesn’t eradicate the environment in which it grew.”
If I remember correctly, it was either the spring or summer of 2001, I found a lump on the right side of my neck. It was pretty small and I was invincible so I didn’t pay too much attention to it. Until it didn’t go away and got bigger. You couldn’t see it but I could feel it. I finally got my ass to the doctor because I started to worry a little bit. Well, actually a lot. I made up my own story about it. You know how that goes.
I had the best primary Dr. He has since retired but he was my Dr. for like 10 years when I lived in Philadelphia. His office was actually in Newtown, Pa but I was willing to drive. I made my appointment so that he could tell me I was going to be fine. He sent me to an ENT for further evaluation.
I made an appointment for my visit and off I went. I can’t for the life of me remember his name. I barely remember what I ate for lunch yesterday. Oh, beef. Never mind. Anyway, he took a fine needle biopsy and it came back inconclusive. Shocking. It was the size of a fucking eraser head. He told me to keep an eye on it while he retired. I remember when 9/11 happened like it was yesterday and I have used that as a reference for this particular experience because I can never remember the year. How fucked up is that.
I do not remember the exact day but in December 2001, right before the holidays, I noticed it was larger. Let the games begin. I went to the ENT that took over my previous ENT’s practice. I really liked him but I remember he wanted to do the ole’ wait and see also. What the fuck are we actually waiting to see? How long it takes me to die? Yeah, no thanks. I’m not a passenger in life and one side of my neck did not match the other. It’s like wearing two different shoes.
I insisted that he take it out. I fucking hate hospitals, being sick and feeling like shit. Zero tolerance to be exact. Anyway, I scheduled surgery in January 2002 and that was that. He removed my right submandibular salivary gland. Aside from that, I knew nothing else. I remember waking up from the anesthesia and my anxiety was through the roof! I bet the woman that shared a room with me would have liked to punch me in the face. It was all so annoying and a huge inconvenience because I had a stupid drain in my neck. Pretty. They finally sent me packin’.
I visited with my surgeon/ENT that did the surgery (can’t remember his name either) and I told him that when he got the results to please tell me over the phone if they were negative. I didn’t want to wait 3 weeks for a fucking appointment while I was tearing my hair out and eating ice cream. He agreed.
He called me into his office. I sat down and he told me that I had Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma. What the fuck is that? It’s a rare (just my luck) form of Salivary Gland Cancer that spreads via the nerves. I had the beginning stages of perineurial invasion (it had started to spread) but I had clean margins and it did not spread to my lymph nodes. It was stage 1 and I will take the credit as I insisted on taking it out. Good for me! I laughed like hell for the rest of the day. That night, I woke up at 3am balling my fucking eyes out for an hour. To me, for myself, crying is a sign of weakness so I tried to not let that happen again. I was not successful.
Chemotherapy is apparently not effective on that type of cancer so I had radiation to my face and neck everyday for the next six weeks after my incision healed. I lost a patch of hair that did not grow back which honestly I could care less about. I was burnt to a fucking crisp, like one of my steaks I left on the grill for a day and a half. I am laughing my ass off right now because I suck at cooking a decent steak. Anyway, I acquired a good case of thrush in my mouth and ate ice cream everyday. Isn’t that stupid? I took pain killers they gave me even though I didn’t need them. Just to see. LOL A half of a pill made me vomit for 3 days. I only did that once and I would not make a good drug addict. Flushes toilet……
I remember when I met with my assigned surgeon at Fox Chase Cancer Center that did not perform my surgery. He said ” You have a life threatening disease and I can’t tell you that you’re not going to die from it“. My mother was beside herself. It didn’t bother me too much. I am quite blunt and to the point myself and I was indestructible so it was cool. The brilliant Dr. that was in charge of my radiation was just awesome. I cried a couple of times on the radiation table but I felt safe there with him and his entourage, like everything was going to be ok. And it was.
I never told my father until after the fact. He would have worried like a jewish mother and likely called me 6 times a day. That is a decision I regret to this day. I told my mother instead. She called me everyday but only once and came once to visit me. That kinda sucked. Oh, well. My sister took me on Fridays to Fox Chase Cancer Center for treatment and we always went out to lunch afterwards. I looked forward to it and I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have her. She is almost a mother to me at times. After I finished radiation and my burnt as fuck skin was healed, she took me to New Orleans and we had so much fun. This is where I fell in love with fried oysters (I can’t eat them anymore either). I am grateful for her. She’s one of the best people I know. I should tell her more often. She’ll read this and know…….
My primary doctor called me every day from his home to see how I was doing. I have never experienced that type of caring in my entire life from a Dr. and I doubt I will again. They may be a dying breed. Nope, they are. Nowadays you cant even get a fucking apology for waiting for an hour in an empty office. The fact that both ENTs were hesitant to take out the stupid tumor is likely the beginning of my mistrust of the medical community. I continued to eat like shit because I didn’t know that food might help in some way. I didn’t know anything really. I was eating ice cream with a thrush in my mouth FFS.
This happened to me when I was 32. Honestly, it feels like it never happened. I never think about it and this blog post is the first time I have revisited it in it’s entirety in a really long time. I do think it was a turning point for me only I was too stupid to realize it. In hindsight, the experience really wasn’t that bad. It could have been a lot worse had I have been a passenger…….