Saturday, July 2, 2011


About six weeks ago I found a small lump at the base of my throat. Once you find something like that (and I pray you don't) it is impossible to ignore. I called my internist immediately and they scheduled an appointment for me immediately. Scary. "I'm sure it's nothing, but let's do a sonogram just to make sure," he said warmly and confidently. I bought his confidence and spent the next morning getting to know a sonogram tech who didn't mask her process very well. She left to show the images to a doctor on staff (Scary. Images mean "something".) I tried to look at fuzzy pictures of "something" but self-diagnosis has never been my gift. She returned, noticeably more somber--and as I expected, told me they would send the images to my doctor as soon as possible. Wait Number One.

After 48 hours I started calling the office, and without any patience in my pocket, I became That Person. After my fourth call, and another sleepless night he called. He used the words cyst, nodule and lump...endocrinologist, "90% of these are benign", but let's get you in there swiftly. Five days later I met the specialist. He sensed my overactive Internet Research, my inescapable anxiety and the fact that I was already way past "I'm sure it's nothing." 30 minutes later I was having a fine needle aspiration. Happily. It was a step toward knowledge. And "nothing". Wait Number Two.

Exactly one week and one day later the nurse from his office called. A very positive voice mail with the words "I'll be happy to speak with you about your results" threw me off. It had to be good. She wouldn't use the word happy. Wrong. She used words in our short conversation like suspicious and inconclusive: not determined to be benign nor malignant. "Suspicious" immediately became my least-favorite word in the English language. My "sample" would be sent for molecular testing--a lengthier, more involved study of the cells. Wait Number Three.

Five minutes after our family arrived poolside at Lost Pines for a graduate school reunion the call came in. I missed it. Short message from the endocrinologist: "I need to speak to you about your test results". Transparently not good. And that was ok. I called back standing next to my four best girl friends from UNT, my husband and all of our kids in 100*. Without a pen. "Suspicious Cells. 50% or more likelihood of cancer. Not an emergency, but I'm going to refer you to a surgeon. The thyroid needs to come out. Call me if you have any questions." He was warm and empathised with my chaos. I scrambled for a pen--intuitively provided by Beth. I think I forgot to give it back to her. Frozen. Wait Number Four.

Fortunately a weekend of five women, a husband and eight kids distracted me from thinking...too much. 3 am brought some horrid moments several nights in a row but I started breathing and worked my way out of those caves back to a semi-restless sleep. One week later I met the surgeon. Answers. Questions. And the road came to a fork: option A) take half of the thyroid (the one with the lump) and test it for cancer--if positive a return to surgery to take the other half; if negative the remaining thyroid would likely do the work of both (amazing body); option B) take the whole thyroid and be done with it; if positive some radiation and a body scan; if negative (and in both cases) take a synthetic thyroid for the rest of my life. We didn't stand at this impasse long. Getting to the "rest of my life" sounded really good, so we went with B. And No Wait. She was open tomorrow, which was Tuesday of this week. Just the way I like it. No Wait.

As a veteran of 21 operations for cleft lip and palate a thyroidectomy wasn't so bad. I had a formidable band of loved ones around me--in person, and texts and flowers, and calls. I believe in the power of prayers, and so in a bold move I posted a short report on FaceBook (much to my brother's dismay). I think I was a tad delirious when I typed it, but the response was overwhelming. I sent out a few emails--an effort to maintain some level of information management. As a patient, for the first time in a long time, I am humbled by and empathize with the need for a) peace in patience as one waits for information and b) privacy. If you know anyone going though this, know that procedures and tests, even surgery are the better moments in this process, because they are steps toward something or optimally, nothing. Frozen moments of waiting are the worst.

However, now that I can finally write about the last few weeks I find it cathartic (borrowing the word of a dear friend). I am now in Wait Number Five.

Tuesday I should get a call with the pathology results. Another fork, but this one has no option. There is a fifty-percent chance I will have what is known in the field as "The Good Cancer". The kind of cancer--if you are going to have cancer--you want to have. "The Good Cancer" immediately became my least-favorite oxymoron in the English language. I will need to treat surrounding cells for cancer and look for more..and survive a few more "Waits". Or...on the other side of the coin:

A fifty-percent chance I get to leave "frozen" and turn down the other the rest of my life. Exhaling...and praying.