WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES
For some crazy reason, I thought surgery wouldn’t be a big deal and the first week of recovery would be a little tough and then the next week would be more like a staycation at home while they made sure everything was going to stay where they put it during the procedure. Well, I was wrong.
Two weeks was just long enough to get me showering by myself, walking more than from the bedroom to the backyard and back, and learning to dry my hair without scorching my ear (since its numb) and the fresh wounds I have on my face
Anyway, it was a much longer process than anticipated, but lucky for you I documented it in true Poco-fashion. Pictures of everything…every day!
So here it is…how Goneda healed day by day.
July 6, 2017: Fresh out of the operating room. The JP drain is draining fluid from the area to prevent swelling and infection
No matter what comes back in a path result…there’s a certain peace that comes over you when you finally know what it is. Good or bad…you have answers and with answers comes peace.
Call me crazy, but the moment I heard Dr. Carroll say “it was malignant” was one of the more peaceful moments I experienced through all of this. The moments leading up and the days after were a different story along with the days afterwards. I so wish I would have chronicled those times, but I was honestly too afraid of what might come out. I still don’t like to sit too long thinking about those days in fear that I might feel those feelings again.
Our generation is so closely tied with our parents generation where hearing the word “cancer” means you’re going to die. So in the days of waiting and the hours following the results, all I could envision was myself in a hospital bed with no strength and no will do anything. I basically just saw myself withering away and just wanting it to end so I didn’t have to watch my family hurt and suffer at the thought of me not being around anymore. I understand those are morbid and quite scary thoughts, but it took me days to understand that was not the reality of my circumstances. It took me days to realize that my body was healthy (other than healing up from major neck surgery) and that I was (Lord willing) still going to get to experience pregnancy, childbirth, birthdays, marriage anniversaries, a career and all of the other things I’ve been dreaming up for the last 28 years.
I was flooded with questions in my head like why did a CT, and MRI, and a needle biopsy all confirm that my tumor was benign when it was in fact cancerous? Why was this happening to me at 28 when I’ve barely been married 2.5 years, when we had been thinking about starting a family, and only 2 years after Mom had been diagnosed? Why had no one paid more attention to this knot in my neck for the last 7 years since it had shown up?
You get the idea. I was a mess. But the more I thought and the more I cleansed my soul with tears, the more the Lord reassured me that its supposed to be that way. I was supposed to go into surgery knowing it was benign because my little heart couldn’t have handled going into surgery knowing that I had let something dangerous live inside of me for that long. He knew I needed the excitement of getting it out to carry me into that operating room with peace and a feeling of security.
And so what we’ve only been married 2.5 years. A lifetime with him wouldn’t be enough, so no matter how long the Lord gives us together, it will never feel like long enough but each day is more than enough to get me through the hard times and to make me feel loved in a way I never thought was possible just 5 years ago. As I sobbed uncontrollably, he held me close and found a way to make me smile through my tears. When I asked desperate questions, he gave me answers that only the Lord could have spoken through him. And when I struggled to find the strength to get out of the bed or off the couch as I existed in the darkest fog I’ve ever known, he picked me up and steadied me until I could walk to our swing in the back yard for some fresh air which I desperately needed. He bathed me, told me I was beautiful every single day, and he was simply my angel.
I’ve also bragged on my mom for her strength and her determination through he treatments the last few years and I’ve said I admire her because I don’t know what I would ever do if those words were spoken to me. It’s truly amazing what the Lord prepares you for. Watching Mom power through everything she did has given me strength on so many days to know that I can too, and I thankfully don’t have to face half of what she did. I will admit I was mad at God that our family was being faced with this again, but I also have peace in my heart that the Lord allowed me to be Mom’s right hand girl through her treatments and that He brought her through it happy and healthy so that she could be there for me through mine. How could I continue to be mad at God knowing He healed my mom for many reasons, but in this moment He healed her so she can be part of my comfort on Earth.
So yes, path results are for peace. Mine scared me quite a bit, but knowing is less scary than the unknown, and it gives you the opportunity to attack whatever you’re facing with appropriate action and feel good about it. I’ve made it to a place of peace. Back to the immediate peace I felt when I heard from Dr. Carroll but also more of a settled peace. A peace knowing the Lord has me and I’m going to be perfectly ok. Thank you, Jesus!
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.
July 6th @ 6:30am: Arrive at UAB hospital for surgery.
I basically skipped into the hospital. I am by no means a morning person so the fact that I was even walking at this hour is a miracle. I was having a parotidectomy for a benign mass in my left salivary gland (Glanda) as confirmed by a CT scan, an MRI, and a fine needle aspiration previously done in May as well as several scans done in years past leading up to this point. The incision would run from the top of my ear (on the cheek side) all the way down and curl up around my earlobe, down through my hairline, and down my neck like a hook.
Glanda had always been a bit bothersome as she was tender to touch and she was positioned just right so if I turned my head the right way, layed on her funny, or hugged someone on that side, I could feel her and it wasn’t totally pleasant. I also experienced what’s referred to as first-bite syndrome which means I would feel tinges of pain through my cheek and jaw on the first bite of food or a new flavor. However, since none of my pain was ever constant and it wasn’t unbearable, there was no malignancy suspected.
Pre-op they gave me a new blue dress, a matching hairnet, and some rubber ducky yellow socks with grips on the top AND bottom in case surgery went awry and I was forced to walk on the tops of my feet after surgery. Jk. I still walk normally. The usual folks stopped by to prep me and my family kissed me, told me they loved me forever, and gave my gurney an extra push down the hall to hopefully speed up the time that would pass before they saw me again.
4 hours later.
Surgery went as planned. My tumor was relatively marble shaped and scooped out whole. It ended up being plastered to my facial nerve and had to be peeled away, however, there wasn’t any disruption in the function of the nerve itself which is an unexplainable blessing. Parotidectomies usually come with some temporary facial paralysis due to the involvement of the facial nerve so if you happen to notice my face looks different for a little while, try not to laugh. Actually, my pucker looks ridiculous and I give you permission to giggle a little. I’ve also been practicing my whistle.
I had packed for vacation so I was expecting to win a stay in Hotel UAB West Pavilion and I have to say I was quite pleased with my corner penthouse suite I was awarded complete with a husband, mom, dad, brother, and mother-in-law. The only unfortunate part was that I wasn’t hilarious like I was when I got my wisdom teeth out that one time.
So actually there was one more unfortunate part. Dr. Carroll did his rounds around 6:30pm and was quick to share with me that my tumor looked “fishy” and that it had some indications of malignancy. Path straight up didn’t know what it was at the time, so we really didn’t have any other option except to get our on our faces and pray and know that whatever it was, the Lord was already before us as well as with us in these moments. I think I knew the moment Dr. Carroll looked me in the eye and expressed his concerns. And the vision of my family’s dry eyes circled around my bed absolutely haunts me and gives me the sweetest peace at the same time.
The family started to trickle out and my brother was the last to hang around and hug my neck before it was just KT and me. It wasn’t long before KT crawled up in the hospital bed with me and put his head on my shoulder and shared that the family knew that there was a chance of malignancy before I was even taken to recovery (which explains the dry eyes). In the days to come I did everything I could to talk myself out of the fact that there was any chance that Glanda was meaner than I thought she was. I told everyone we talked to that I really felt like it wasn’t anything and I was going to be fine. And both of those things are true.
The Lord carried me and my family through surgery, waiting, and many doubts and fears. He gave us rest and led us to green pastures and quiet waters so that we were refreshed even though we were weary. He gave us peace in hard moments and wiped tears from our eyes when our mouths couldn’t speak the words our hearts wanted to say. And He made dang sure that Glanda was removed from my body in just the right timing. Praise the Lord, y’all…Glanda is Goneda!