Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Cancer is a scary word....

Oh. No. 
Not a word a person EVER wants to hear.
The big C.
Especially not traveling 75 mph coming home from Indianapolis.

Acinic Cell Carcinoma in the parotid gland.
It is a slow growing cancer, usually contained to one area. Usually.
But it is still scary.  Lots of facial nerves to work around.
And mine is a pretty big specimen.  Biggest the surgeon has seen in awhile. Nice. 
The simple 2-3 hour surgery was bumped up to 5 hours after seeing the results of the CT scan.

For those interested, I will continue writing about this crazy roller coaster ride below...
For those of you just checking in, here is the short version:
I am going to be fine. ( just keep repeating this)
Surgery to remove it and the lymph nodes on the left side of my face is scheduled for Monday, August 12 at Gundersen Hospital in LaCrosse.   Providing all goes well, I'll come home the next day, sporting a new 'facelift' scar...I tried to get the surgeon to cut the other side, too,  maybe tighten up all my neck skin, nice and smooth... But, sadly, no...but that suggestion did make him smile!

If Dr. Sdano can get all of this tumor and the lymph nodes are free of cancer, then I am done. Just screening once in awhile to make sure it stays gone. 
But if he cannot get it all or the lymph nodes are not clear, then radiation in a month.

The biggest terror for me at this point is loss of facial nerves.
Jeez, how vain is that?  
Cancer?  I can handle that, get it out, continue treating it if necessary. Make changes in my diet, more antioxidants, less sugar ( oh the sacrifice!)
But a messed up smile, a lopsided face, a droopy eye? I am not too happy about that scenario. There is nothing I can do to fix it...except more surgery.
Big breath....I am going to be fine!
For those of you sticking around for the whole story, here goes...
For YEARS I have had problematic lymph nodes on the left side of my face.  If I caught  a cold or a bug , they swelled up painfully. Ear aches, especially on the left side, were the norm in the winter months.  Sudden sharp pain from my jaw upwards reminded me I was not immune to aches and pains of 'aging'.  Never missed a day of work, though ( teacher friends will understand what an ordeal it is to get ready for a sub! )

Fast forward to the end of May, I went to give my quarterly pint of blood for The Red Cross, but was denied due to high blood pressure (155/110) which was creeping up on me each time I donated.  Time to drop some weight and up my daily mile walk ( more of a stroll actually) into something more aerobic (meaning sweaty...bleh) because I was determined to fix this with lifestyle changes and not blood pressure pills.  

Then in June were so lucky to get our bedroom remodeled!  We were actually going to have sheet rocked walls and a finished floor!  Which meant we couldn't sleep on our comfy new mattress for several weeks.  I developed whiplash-like symptoms which I attributed to sleeping on a different bed and from painting the ceiling ( you know that feeling?  I get it every time I paint ceilings!) Not a big deal, just uncomfortable if I had to look left, or move my head, or get out of bed.  Then the headaches started...sharp, frontal, almost blinding for a brief time.  2 Weeks went by without much relief.  Ice (actually a bag of frozen peas ) and Alieve were my best friends. And if you know me, you know I do not take medicine lightly .  I used up an entire bottle in two weeks.  

Then the slightly scary symptom of the inability to swallow without 'thinking ' about it...I make big gulpy noises once in awhile as I fight off that panicky feeling of not being able to swallow. Geez, I should just spit and get it over with!  
The last straw was when I went to take a bite out of a delicious looking corn dog, but I couldn't open my mouth wide enough without a very sharp pain in my jaw.

Time to buck up and see a doctor. But wait! I don't even HAVE one, just my wonderful  midwife who , although skilled, was probably not going  to be too helpful.  

The random internal medicine doctor was very thorough and "very concerned" about the large "lymph nodes" in my neck.  When pressed at what she thought could be the problem, she said it could be something as simple as a "crystal" blocking lymph node drainage to lymphoma.  ( although as previously stated, I missed the biggest symptom of lymphoma which is weight loss...kind of relieved...but I did have all over itching of my skin, hot flashes, some night sweats...but I am also of that lovely premenopausal age!). I think she really wanted me to understand I needed to follow up with her recommended ultrasound to rule out the scariest diagnosis. So I reluctantly agreed to further testing.   Gosh, I dislike doctoring.

So, the very next week, I was at the mercy of a radiologist who crisply told me I have a tumor in the carotid area, I need a surgeon, an MRI, and surgery.  Then he left the room. Crappo.  The poor technician tried to offer comfort, but to tell you the truth, I really was in shock. I had no coherent questions or witty comments.  I left like a zombie and sat in the car in the parking lot and sobbed.  When I finally wiped my eyes, I saw the Target sign like a beacon, so I went shopping (with my sunglasses on because, believe me when I tell you, I am not a pretty crier!) 

The next step was to see the Ear,Nose,Throat doctor the next week. Man, he really was a good listener.  After gently feeling my " lump" and reviewing symptoms, he thought the tumor was more in the parotid gland area. He ordered a biopsy, blood work, and a CT scan. He assured me that most (90%) of these tumors were benign. The pathologist stopped by to perform the torture, I mean biopsy.  He couldn't get enough cells on the first try (owie) or the second (ouch!) to get conclusive results on the 20 minute test so on the THIRD try ( I cannot remember anything more painful in my life...and I've had 6 babies with no pain meds and suffered through a root canal without one of the roots being novacained so I know pain!) he did get enough to run the more accurate 24 hour test.  In retrospect, I did overhear him talking with the surgeon about the 20 minute test...I heard the words abnormal...cells...and some other sciencey words...should have known then but I really wanted to dwell in the denial phase a bit longer.

The surgeon listed possible surgery dates which were really too late for me to be recuperated enough to start the school year on time.  When he discovered I was a kindergarten teacher, he shared that his wife was, too!  He then called a colleague, rearranged both of their schedules to fit me in on Monday.  How thoughtful was that?  I should be good to go for most of workshop week, but definitely for the first day of school!

BTW, the CT scan was amazing!  The human body is so fascinating in how it works!  If you've ever had a CT scan you know what I mean as you feel that dye coursing through your veins!  

So, we are back to the beginning of this story.  I was just coming back from my 2nd trip to Indianapolis for a Grandbaby fix when I got the life changing news...."suspicious cancer cells " ....well, you can believe I clung to that word "suspicious" because  that means maybe not...the surgeon quickly told me that was just semantics, that the pathologist has never been wrong, that once the tumor was out they would verify the type and stage of the cancer. My bit of hope, shot down.  Which is actually kind, on account of how awful false hope is.  Ten percent chance of cancer...that's me!  

Just 6 weeks have passed since I first sought medical intervention.  I really thought I would just get antibiotics and a warm compress to fix this.  Ha!  Wasn't it a roller coaster ride?  The waiting in between appointments was always the worst.  But now I have a plan, I feel much better.  We have finished so many projects!  I get to mend my body and spirit in the comfort of my newly finished bedroom complete with a blue-ray player and a big tv and soft gray walls.

Plus all my grown up kiddos are coming home from Atlanta, Indianapolis, Wisconsin Dells. My husband was been very sweet and has been spoiling me. The kids at home have been so helpful, I rarely have to play the "mama's got cancer so I can have/do whatever I want" card! My sister, whom i haven't seen in a year, is coming to stay for a few days. My auntie took me out to eat at Carlos O'Kelly's.  I've been pampered with pedicures, chocolates, flowers, food for the freezer...and on Friday, my first full body massage compliments of my sister!  My mom and stepdad are sponsoring a pizza day for the whole crew on Sunday. Silver linings, folks, silver linings!

So you can see I am fine.  Or rather, will be.  Yes, once in awhile the fear bubbles to the surface and I have mini panic attacks.  But I am fine. I am putting my faith in the skill of Dr. Sdano and his staff.  
And you, my friends and family, for helping me through this adventure.
Thank you for your thoughts and prayers and acts of kindness. I will keep you updated (with shorter posts, I promise! ). 

Wish me luck!






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