While at the doctor for bad headaches two months ago, I informed them that my lymph node had been swollen for “quite a while.” “What’s quite a while,” they asked? “About a month or so,” I told them. So my doctor who was not my normal doctor, but one that I could get into on a day’s notice via Yelp while my other doctor was booked, told me I should have an ultrasound done. After the ultrasound, I was told it was not a swollen lymph node, but a 1cm nodule that they needed more info on. So they ordered an MRI and since I knew I was quitting my job soon, I wanted to do everything as quick as possible under insurance, so I did the MRI about two days after my ultra sound. Since the doctor I had been going to knew I was super freaked out, she called me on a Saturday to tell me it was a benign tumor in my Parotid Gland (the saliva gland,) and no further action was necessary. I asked if I should have it removed and she said no, the surgery was risky and it wasn’t necessary. I didn’t quite understand how they could tell it was benign through an MRI but I liked the information they gave me, trusted them, quit my job, and didn’t give it much thought. When I went to my actual doctor for a cold a week later, I told her about everything and she wanted to see the scans and MRI results, etc. I thought for sure she would tell me the same info as the other doctor, but she did no such thing. She felt my lump, read that my MRI results were “most conclusively benign,” but not “conclusively benign,” and told me to go to a specialist. I went to an ENT specialist in Lincoln park named Dr. Baim, thinking he was going to tell me it was no big deal, and he ordered a biopsy and followed that with, “Either way, it’s gotta come out.”
parotid tumors are 80% of the time benign but a lot of them sit on your facial nerve that effects the half of the face the tumor is on. If it grows, benign or not, it can paralyze the face. Also, there’s a 10% chance your benign tumor can turn into a malignant tumor and that is a cancer that is not easily cured. The longer your tumor grows, the harder it is to get out, so I wanted to get mine out ASAP. (Fun fact: a quick google search on “LeBron James Parotid” will pull up pictures of his parotid tumor that grew pretty large and was removed in 2009.)
So of course after Dr. Baim tells me this, I start crying. I was told I was fine, and now I needed to have someone slice down my ear and into my neck which was “risky” due to the fact it was so close to my facial nerve, and also get on Cobra insurance because my boyfriends did not cover pre-existing conditions like this. For a negative thinker like me, it seemed like no matter what (removed or not,) I was walking out of this with half a paralyzed face. After explaining all this to my parents, my mother, who is slightly short of superwoman, pulls all the strings she has and gets me into the Mayo clinic for a consultation and hopeful operation in Minnesota two weeks later, where her cousins husband works as a cancer specialist (shout out to Dr. Shives) and she refused to have me go anywhere else. I was ok with this. She wanted the best of the best working on it, and we ended up with Dr. Kerry Olsen who does a ton of these a day and his track record with avoiding facial paralysis was 100% on benign tumors so I felt comfortable in his hands, but still terrified. Surgery is scary and the most I had ever had before was my wisdom teeth out and I was a big wuss about that.
On December 3rd, my mom and dad drove me to Minnesota and we went in for a consultation only to find out the doctor was leaving for Poland the next day to give a talk on the Parotid gland and it was unlikely that we could squeeze surgery in. I was so upset. There was so much anxiety leading up to this, that I didn’t want to go through another period of time waiting, drive back to Minnesota, etc. But since it’s the Mayo and they are super accommodating, somehow they got me in first thing the next day.
We checked in at 5:45am, and they prepped me for surgery and put me in a holding room for 45 minutes where I anxiously awaited while several doctors came to set me up and answer questions while I waited for my 7:45 operating time. Eventually, a beautiful young woman chewing fruit flavored gum came to put my IV in. I can’t imagine she was any older than me, and was from Oklahoma. It was her third year at the Mayo studying anesthesiology, and she told me how easy this procedure was, how good the doctor was, and how I had nothing to worry about. It was helpful and I asked if she would be in the room during surgery and she said yes.
When it was time, they took me from the holding room to the operating room, where I thought I would have a little more time to mentally prepare before they drugged me up. That was false. The second they wheeled me in, seven doctors jumped on me moving me from one bed to the next, sticking things in my IV and before I knew it, I was sobbing into a face mask the pretty anesthesiologist was holding on my face while rubbing my shoulder telling me I was going to be just fine. The last thing I remember was slurring, “you’re pretty and nice,” which is exactly what I said to the stripper in Prague who let me take a picture with her after a few beers on the way out of the club we accidentally wandered into thinking it was a piano bar type of Cabaret and not a super naked strip club type of cabaret. But I digress…
The first thing I remember when they woke me up after they were finished was telling them I wanted to stay and finish my beer. While they were removing a tumor in reality, I was at a bar in the suburbs with my boyfriend and his twin cousins. Then I remember the pretty anesthesiologist telling me to stop touching my eyes because I kept trying to wipe the now dried tears off them.
They put me back in the recovery room, which was the original holding room I was in before surgery and I remember a different anesthesiologist dude on the phone with doctors explaining that half my smile wasn’t working and that they needed to give me more drugs because I got sick when my tonsils came out from the anesthesia. With all of my might I remember slurring, “I HAVE MY TONSILS,” and trying so hard to tell him that I never had surgery before and I didn’t feel nauseous or need more drugs, and to please tell me what’s going on with my face, but it was all coming out like, “blub blahhh blubmablabla.” I also noted that I couldn’t swallow and my throat was very sore and they informed me that they had shoved a tube down it to keep me breathing during surgery which I just never bothered asking about because, gross.
So they wheeled me back to my room where my parents were waiting and apparently I was incredibly “with it” for being fresh out of surgery. It was there they told me that the Parotid removal went great, except for the nerve damage to my face but it was definitely not permanent… but maybe gonna hang around for a few months at the most. Which is fine I suppose because I was worried about total facial paralysis forever so I can deal with a few months of a crooked smile. But then they told me they found a lot of little lymph nodes that they wanted to check for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. They scrapped the biggest one off my throat (which also explains the soreness) and took it to the lab to get tested which would take a few days.
To be clear, these things are totally unrelated. So, of course I freak out again, promise I wouldn’t google it, then google it the second I’m alone only to discover I have EVERY SINGLE SYMPTOM according to Wikipedia. Unexplainable itchiness all over? yep… I’ve been going to the doctor for that since June and getting allergy tests only for them to never figure out why I’m itchy all the time. Night sweats? Uh huh! For the past few months I had been waking up drenched in sweat and cold. Loss of appetite and weight? Also yes. So I convince myself, my family and my boyfriend that I have cancer, and the doctor keeps telling me that I’m probably fine, but if I do, it’s fairly easy to cure with Chemo and we probably caught it early.
I spent the night in the hospital, watched a lot of “Friends” and face-timed half my friends on Oxycodone with a head bandage, and they released me the next day without cancer results.
I slept at my mom’s cousins house where the Shive’s and my folks took excellent care of me, put me in bubble baths, made me soup, and walked me around the house. I can’t open my mouth very wide, or turn my head, or talk very well, but I’m told that will all go away in a week or so. We drove back on December 6th from Minnesota, and on the way back we got fantastic results that there were no signs of lymphoma and it should be smooth sailing from here on out.
My parents left yesterday and It was so wonderful to come home to my boyfriend and cats and I have been pampered and loved and taken such good care of. I have two cat nurses and one Dr. Boyfriend who baths me, cleans my scar, makes me food and milkshakes, and took four days off work during his busiest month to stay by my side and give me my medicine and watch movies with me. I feel very lucky that this is all over, and that I have a number of amazing people that made sure I was and will be taken care of. Not to mention an overwhelming amount of beautiful friends who reached out and sent well wishes and good vibes. You know who you are, and I am so, so grateful.
Here is a pretty rad photo of my brand new scar that ryansievert took. The stitches will dissolve soon and in two weeks, I should be back to normal! And the morals of this story are: Always get a second opinion. Preferably from a specialist. They know what’s up. Also, get those weird bumps looked at. When things feel abnormal, they probably are. Don’t delay a doctor appointment because you don’t want to deal with it. And maybe most importantly, DO NOT GOOGLE YOUR SYMPTOMS. Good talk, guys.