I couldn’t deny what was happening within my body any longer. The two excruciating words had been spoken.
The lump under my right jaw had been there for a long time. I hadn’t had it checked because it was painless and hadn’t changed. Any symptoms I was experiencing were easily explained by my age (hot flashes and disrupted sleep patterns are not uncommon in women reaching fifty). My annual physical was in three months. I’ll get that lump looked at then, I reasoned.
In the meantime, I consulted an herbalist about my hot flashes. For the first month, she recommended I give up caffeine. I did, and the hot flashes subsided. The next month, she suggested I try an adrenal support supplement to help with the flashes and a lymphatic support supplement to try to shrink the neck lump. I took them, and my body went into full revolt. The hot flashes were constant, and I called her in desperation. She told me to give it a week and try again on half doses. I did that, and got the same result. Something appeared to be amiss within my body, but once again, I thought it was just the program that wasn’t working for me.
The following week, my chiropractor noticed the lump and asked about it. He suggested I get in to see my family doctor sooner rather than later, so I made the appointment. My family doc decided I should see an endocrinologist to have a fine needle aspiration done, and that happened a week later. Within a couple of days, I got a call to come in and see my family doc again. She said that she was confused by the results. The test had found cells indicative of skin cancer, but she could see no evidence of lesions anywhere on my head or neck. She referred me on to an ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) surgeon. You know, the guys that take out your tonsils. Or so I thought.
A couple of weeks later, I arrived at the medical centre to see the ENT. I was still under the impression that we did not have a clear diagnosis. When I arrived at reception, they gave me a form consenting to participate in a head and neck cancer research project. What? Could this really be cancer? I filled out the form and let that thought begin percolating into my brain.
Then they called me into the exam room where head and neck cancer posters lined the walls. As the door closed behind the nurse, I felt those walls close in and wanted to run and not hear what the ENT would be telling me in a matter of moments.
When he came into the room, he immediately asked about my support systems since I had come to this appointment alone. He confirmed the diagnosis with his simple statement, “It’s cancer”, and outlined the next steps of CT scans, PET scans, and surgical biopsies. The fight of, and for, my life had begun.
An excerpt from my forthcoming book Unbridled – How I learned to release what doesn’t serve me, including cancer
PSA: A painless, unchanging lump in the lymph node that has been there more than three weeks should be checked as that is the most common symptom leading to a diagnosis of oropharangeal cancer.