The Road to RadOnc

I graduated from Auburn in 2011 with a B.A in English with an unstoppable love for words and writing. I soon dove into the web world and learned more about design, programming, and the interworkings of a website than I ever thought I could. My next adventure would involve flowers and some pretty wonderful floral designers that I was more than blessed to spend some time with and learn alongside, but the daily life in Flower world was less than desirable to say the least (except for my girl Marigold).

With that being said, I started planning my escape route. K.T. and I planned to watch the national championship game with friends and since my beloved Auburn tigers weren’t participating, I was job searching. By halftime, I had sent my resume to our friend sitting next to me who had heard about a job opening earlier that day in her department. Worth a shot. So 3 visits to UAB, 7 interviews, and an offer letter later…Boom. Program Coordinator in the research Department of Radiation Oncology (also known as RadOnc). At this point it is important to point out that my experience was in websites, and I was soon to be reading clinical trial protocols and making sure everything was in line and everyone was out of trouble. Um, hello Jesus.

Seems like a short enough story that it wouldn’t need it’s own post, but there’s another story line that coincides with all of this.

Back in 2009, all of the Halloween candy I had stolen from my brother for years had caught up with me and I got my first cavity. It wasn’t long after my cavity was filled that I noticed a tiny little nodule near the hook of my jaw that hadn’t been there before but felt like it could have been due to the several novocaine shots it took to numb me up at the dentist. It wasn’t, but when it lingered around too long and it became a little tender, we called in the doctor. CT scan #1 led to 2 super confused ENTs and zero answers.

Skip ahead to 2015: Marriage in March, Mom’s breast cancer diagnosis in July, and CT scan #2 in October. I figured after Mom’s diagnosis and the fact this little nodule had obviously gotten angrier in size and tenderness I should check on things again. The conclusion was that I had an extra piece in my parotid gland and I was advised to go about my business as usual. While they basically told me I was “special,” I was perfectly fine hearing that I was fine since Mom was starting a haul of chemo and radiation for the next 6-8 months and I needed to be there for her 100%.

After I landed the job at UAB Radiation Oncology, I obviously started reading A LOT of oncology protocols and (not so ironically) the first protocol that I was handed to review was a salivary gland tumor study. By the end of April, I had scheduled yet another CT scan to check on Glanda the bad witch. Inconclusive. Next was an MRI because I was demanding answers at this point. Inconclusive.

Out of frustration, I emailed one of our radiation oncologist here and explained that two ENTs at Grandview were unable to figure out what it was and I asked if he could take a look at my scans. Moments later I was in our scheduling office making an appointment with the chairman of the Otolaryngology department at Kirklin. Not because he saw something scary, but because he wanted to make sure and put me in the hands of someone that would know for sure so I could have some peace.

In the meantime, the ENT’s at Grandview had also done a fine needle aspiration and path results concluded that what I had was a pleomorphic adenoma, a rather common benign salivary gland tumor. Awesome. I collected my slides from the lab, brought them back with me to UAB, and scheduled surgery about a month out after Dr. Carroll said he would remove it not matter what if it were his family member.

While this is actually the story of how we slowly but surely we realized Glanda needed to die, but it’s also the road that led me to the career I never knew I needed. The career move that saved my life.

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