Ready, Set, Simulate

the mask

**WARNING: Images included in this post may be hard to look at due to…reality**

This journey has brought about emotions in me that seem to overwhelm me just enough that I cry. I actually hate crying, and I’m more than capable of going 6+ months at a time without shedding a single tear. I hate the feeling of tears reaching the point where they have no where to go but down my face, I hate the embarrassment of anyone asking what’s wrong, and I hate someone knowing that I was affected enough that tears were the only response I had.

But as with most things, the Lord is teaching me a lesson and He’s cleansing my soul with the emotions.

Today was simulation day. Simulation is a dress rehearsal of sorts of your actual treatment. It’s the day where they prep you for radiation, create any immobilization devices that you might need, and they do a CT scan that will be used for treatment planning. My type of treatment actually requires 2 immobilization devices: one to hold my mouth open and my tongue to the right, and all head and neck patients get a mask like I mentioned here.

I’ve clearly had my share of CT scans over the years to check up on Glanda. I’ve definitely had my share of mouth devices with braces, night guards for grinding, retainers, etc. And I knew about the masks. I’ve even SEEN the masks with my own eyes, and I knew how it worked. But I was far less ready than I thought I was, and I severely underestimated how real everything was about to get and what it would feel like for all the pieces to fit together…on me.

Everything was pretty standard to start.  I had to check in at the front desk and wait in the waiting room just like any other patient, and I even got to have a conversation with a sweet older lady that asked me my name so she could add me to her prayer list… while her husband is facing his second primary cancer. Bless that woman. Soon enough, one of my coworkers called me back from the waiting room and brought me into a patient room, gave me a gown, a few instructions, and called for the nurse to come start my IV for the CT contrast.

Next, they took me into the simulation room and laid me down on the table. It looked pretty similar to a normal CT scan room except the lights were much dimmer. I immediately noticed they had Christian music playing so I shut my eyes and just took it in a minute to ease the tensions starting to rise up in me a little. I knew they were about to ask me to put that mouth piece in and I knew the mask making was coming, and there was no way that was going to be fun.

They showed me how everything looked and absolutely everything was explained to me before anything was done. But there is literally nothing that can prepare you for them stretching hot meshy goo over your entire face and shoulders while your mouth is being held open by a mouth piece and then being bolted to a table while the mask cools and hardens.

Cant move. Can’t (really) swallow. Can’t see anything but the ceiling. And cant think about anything except the fact that this is how it will be for 30 fractions of treatment over the next 6 weeks while they zap any possible remaining cancer cells out of my neck.

I held it together just long enough to get dressed and walk back down to the hall to my office and absolutely fell apart. I didn’t even see it coming. The whole situation just overwhelmed me and reminded me of that little devil, Glanda. It reminded me yet again that I had gone to sleep on July 6th giddy with excitement about finally looking ahead to feeling 100% healthy knowing she was gone, but I woke up hearing that Glanda was cancer and we weren’t quite done with her yet. And it reminded me that the hardest days haven’t yet passed but we will get through them one way or another.

Since July 6th I have realized just how much fear lives inside of me, and I don’t like it. In some moments, the fear is so suffocating that it feels like it hides my faith but in other moments it’s hard to even feel the fear because I have so much faith. It’s truly the strangest emotional balance I’ve ever experienced, but fear is still fragile and faith stands on the truth, so for each day I wake up with breath in my lungs, I find peace in the truth and the purpose laid out for me.

My mom told me this weekend as she cuddled me like a little girl, that just as with her cancer 2 years ago, someday I will look back on these times and count them as the biggest blessings. It’s hard to believe that I will ever be thankful for cancer, but I do know I’m thankful for the relationships that it has strengthened, the ones that have shown their true colors, and the way that love is poured out in hard times. So in due time we will be thankful for all of this mess. Of course, I’m thankful now that Glanda is goneda but I’m praying that there’s even more thankfulness to come. And no matter what happens or what any scan says in the future, God is still and always will be good.

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