The Lump in my Throat

In January of this year during my annual physical, my doctor found a nodule on my thyroid. She palpated, hmmmm-ed, grimaced, and finally said, “I don’t like the way that feels.” Gah! At that moment, a seed of apprehension began to grow in the pit of my stomach, slowly climbing into my chest like heartburn, bitter and nauseating.

The next day I was scheduled for an ultrasound. It is the weirdest feeling getting an ultrasound and not being pregnant. I kept anticipating the sound of a heartbeat booming through the room, the feeling of excitement as an image of squirming life appeared on the screen. But there was only silence and a meaningless shape, followed by a gentle, “All done now, Honey” from the technician.

A week later I was back again, this time to see an Endocrinologist. I was already growing weary of my doctors’ visits. How the hell do people with actual cancer manage this?? The ultrasound confirmed a growth was covering nearly 80% of the left side of my thyroid. I was told to immediately schedule a biopsy and warned, in all likelihood, I would face surgery regardless of the results. Suddenly this lump in my throat felt huge, gagging me from the inside.

I delayed the biopsy for a week due to travel. I tried hard not to think about it, this lump in my throat. But I could feel it. Like a gumball lodged uncomfortably, not matter how hard I swallowed, it remained. I stayed busy with work, Cub Scouts, homework, soccer, friends, all the distractions of my life.

And then, I was lying on a gurney in a hospital room starring at the ceiling while a doctor stuck a needle in my neck.

In an attempt to normalize the situation, the doctor and nurse talked to me during the procedure, which was painless and easy. They asked me what I did for work, how many kids I had, how long I had been married.

That’s when I broke. I choked on my words as if they got caught on the lump on the way out. I could hardly say them out loud, afraid I might never say them again.

What if 14 years was all I got to be married?

What if 10 years was all I got to be a mom?

What if 39 years was all I got to be on this earth?

Now these are silly thoughts, I know. In reality, the odds were always in my favor. Thyroid nodules are exceedingly common, especially in women. Thyroid cancer is rare and, if it does occur, is often highly treatable.

But these statistics didn’t comfort me. I’m not a statistic. I’m a human with a very full, beautiful life that suddenly felt so much more precious.

For seven agonizing days I waited for the results. PSA: if you have to get a biopsy, never do it on a Friday!

When the nurse finally called me, the news that no cancer cells were detected was at once both unsurprising and an incredible relief. Of course, I didn’t have cancer. The statistics told me that. But at the same time, I was overcome by a wave of gratefulness. #thankyousweetJesus! The confirmation was like being baptized when you’re old enough to know what it really means: your soul has been renewed.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you that now I have a new lease on life so I quit my stressful job, work out like crazy, and am traveling the world with my children in a decked-out minivan equipped with a greenhouse on the roof that feeds us organic Swiss chard and mung bean.  None of those things happened and mung bean is effing gross.

Still, my perspective, in some ways, has definitely changed.

I was reminded of the importance of being kind for you have no idea the battles others are fighting. I needed kindness these last few weeks, and I felt like an ass for every time I was, ahem, blunt with someone which unfortunately was a lot of times because my patience is equivalent to the life span of Mayfly.

Tense situations often bring out the things that are most important in your life. Like the people that surround you when things aren’t perfect. Those who build a circle of support around you so that no matter where you turn, someone is there. I’m humbled by my fierce support circle.

I find myself taking risks that I may have previously avoided, like taking on another project even though my boss gave me an out or booking first class for our upcoming ski trip without consulting my husband.  (Don’t worry, Sweetie, it was only for the return trip!)

Mostly I find myself sitting outside more and saying yes to chocolate milk pleas after I know those kids stole my last zesty orange diet coke (little shits!).

This year has already brought us so many good things. My husband got a promotion, we’re moving forward with a kitchen renovation we’ve talked about for years (that’ll be good blog material!), and now this, and yes, it is a good thing. It’s a gentle reminder to stayed focused on what truly matters and to make that appointment for your annual physical!