On Memorial Day Weekend I was struck with an illness so bad that I questioned how I ever thought I could’ve been sick before. Surely I had misdiagnosed the minor discomforts of past random colds and flus as being “sick” because what I was experiencing was so bad, it paled any ailments that ever came before it.
This mass of invaders worked their way around my entire neck and head in a slow, meticulous fashion. Starting in my throat, a pain so deep and searing I felt like I could black out from it.
I pushed through the weekend and come Monday morning I was so not well that my hands and feet started peeling massive amounts of skin. Imagine when you are a kid and put Elmer’s Glue on your palms and peel it off but do that 20 times and it’s your actual skin. I admit it was a little bit fun. Gross, disturbing fun.
In between peeling my hands I happened to press around my throat and discovered a hard, small brazil-nut-sized lump on the right side just beneath my jaw line and guessed it was a swollen lymph node from being so sick. I already hated this thing because brazil nuts in a mixed nut can are the lazy co-workers who don’t do dick and take all the credit. I had never had one of these lymph nodes swell up before. My trusty ol’ compatriot, Denial (who is OUTSTANDING at his job) got right to it as I avoided Google searching my ailments like I do a ringing phone.
I do, however, promptly make an appointment with Dr. V. Like many people I am hesitant to trust the medical system but Dr. V. is my guy. He is young, smart and has earned my faith in a way that most people can’t.
Upon inspection Dr V. determines that yes, I have an ear and sinus infection so antibiotics are in order and then some cream for my hands. The lump, that is a swollen lymph node from being sick and will subside within 2-3 weeks. Good job self-diagnosing, Shannon! Fuck you, Google. You don’t know shit!
Here I will try and shorten the rest of the story. I was ultimately sent to the Ear Nose and Throat Dr., had a few more rounds of antibiotics, a 7th-circle-of-hell-ear canal suction-thing (not the technical term but should be) then 2 rounds of steroids.
Steroids, to my disappointment, did not turn me into Usain Bolt as expected but instead left me as a crying puddle of a mess over little things like discovering I accidentally left a wet load of wash in the machine for too long and had the overwhelming task of rewashing it. So you could say steroids turned me into a hot mess of Olympic proportions.
After a month and a series of Dr’s appointments the swollen lymph node never went away.
I was then sent for an ultrasound and biopsy. I didn’t tell anyone about this and made it seem casual to my boyfriend. “It’s no big deal!” I tell him and myself. I quietly sneak off alone to get it done.
If life were a boring-ass baseball game (AKA every baseball game), here is where I am at the plate.
Strike one: When I check-in for the biopsy and they put a medical bracelet on me and I feel my stomach drop. In my massive effort to do all things on my own, stubbornness and lack of need for anything from anyone left me with this thought: “you should have asked someone to be here for this”.
Newsflash: having a crazy-long needle headed right for the jugular is a scary, scary thing. As the techs were chatting and talking like we were having overpriced lattes at Starbucks, I was doing my best impression of a person who I imagine has minimal anxiety issues. I have no idea exactly what a person like this acts like but I pull my best Meryl Streep and I think the techs buy it. I feel like I am giving an Oscar speech as I casually talk weather with the nurse while she wipes the ultrasound goo off my neck in preparation for the needle presentation.
Eventually I get the call that this lump is not cancerous but the ultrasound revealed a tumor and although the biopsy shows it’s benign, this mass needs to be removed and lies within my salivary gland. WTF, body? Who gets a tumor there? Could you be more random?
The surgery I will undergo is called a Partial Perotidectomy. The main risk in this is facial paralysis on the afflicted side of the face because the salivary gland hangs out right on the main facial nerve.
Stirke 2: When I get the news, I promptly cry for about 5 minutes then chalk this situation up to old lady stuff. This is what happens when you turn 40. Cue *Denial soft-shoeing with a cane across the stage *. This surgery, like the biopsy, it is no big deal (clearly I haven’t improved my swing since Strike 1). I think “Although we are all dying a little each day, I’m not dying DYING. I mean, I am ALIVE, Man.”
Strike 3: Through all of this I would kid/not kid with Dr’s by saying things like: “Not to brag * brushes shoulder off* but I don’t get sick, ever”. They laughed. I laughed. Then we all laughed and laughed our way to the operating table.
The Umpire calls: “You’re out!” – Ok, fine, it is here I began to admit 2 things:
1 – Mayyyybe I feel a bit too entitled to good health
2 – I mayyyyy be a bit more vain than I thought
At this point I wasn’t yet fully convinced these 2 things could be 100% negative life philosophies. I mean, they had to have some value, somehow, right?
Then on Monday I had my face cut open.
Being the Sultan of good heath, naturally I was shocked to discover that I took this whole operation thing far too lightly. I believed I was untouchable and this silly surgery thing would be a quick chore to get through like taking out the trash or cleaning my bathroom.
I was HELLA wrong.
My vanity had me reeling when I now see my face swell up to epic proportions, a gash, knotted scar around my ear and on my neck gave way to my new face shape I like to call “Sloth” from Goonies. I make a mental note to Pinterest my searches for “best haircuts for Sloth shaped faces”. It is at this point I won’t allow my boyfriend to come see me in the hospital.
In relationships people struggle with their baggage and the big rolling bag I bring to ours is my inability to be vulnerable. To have my strapping, hot boyfriend see me in a hospital gown, no make up, face looking like Frankenstein and body slowly limping like The Hunchback of Notre Dame while dragging an IV pole to the bathroom was unfathomable to me.
And here again…I was HELLA HELLA wrong.
Authenticity is ineffective if you only apply it selectively. I began to feel pretty garbage-y for disregarding this fact.
Now it’s Saturday and I am in pain, have no feeling in much of my ear and some of my face, everything is swollen and I have a scar residing around my ear and jaw area. I keep making “My face hurts, it must be killing you!” jokes.
All of this is supposed to subside. I also can’t chew for the time being which leads me to trolling and pinning Pinterest recipes like a porn addict would but for food. Yes, I am feeling Pinterest these days. I don’t know why. I think it must be because I am a white lady and it’s Fall, or something.
And I am existential mode. I cry a bunch. Recovery from head/neck surgery is not a straight line as the swelling comes and goes (so I am learning). I also am awaiting the results on whether or not they find anything malignant with the tumor. I text, call and harass the Dr’s office nurses like a chick who got the wrong idea on a first date: “TODAY IT LOOKS LIKE THIS! IS THIS NORMAL?!” and “ARE YOU SURE THIS IS NORMAL FOR RECOVERY?” and “HOW CAN THIS FUCKING BE NORMAL?” I am repeatedly assured this is all somehow normal.
My kids, family, boyfriend and boss have been awesome during this time and for this I am eternally thankful. My favorite people, my kids, tell me I am beautiful and dutifully do their homework without the typical complaints. My mom has been by my side the whole time. All kinds of calls and offers have come in from my Dad, Stepmom, Ex-Husband and Friends. After much cajoling from my BFF and Mom I did allow my boyfriend to be there for me which was one of the toughest things about all of this.
Once I heal I will plan my race schedule.
Although I have been actively running leading up to this surgery, I have not signed up for any races until I see how this all pans out. I have a bit of an obsession with The Karate Kid (just the first movie, the rest blow) and dramatically imagine my running comeback to be quiet, private with many “paint the fence” type of runs before I crane kick the shit out of whatever race goal I set up for myself.
Through all of this I know it’s not life or death but in my life, this has been the hardest thing I have had to endure from a health standpoint which makes me an EXTREMELY lucky individual. I am very VERY well aware of how fortunate I am. My vanity has taken a back seat. I feel endless gratitude for all my family and friends who have been there during this time who have unflinchingly accepted me and my rampant stubbornness for what we are.
Much of my life I have been so cruel to my own self in many ways but internally critiquing every “flaw” in my face is kind of my jam. So it is here I quit that shit because despite thinking I was too legit, I realize I am not. When you know better, you do better so that’s what I am going to do.
I don’t know why I am sharing this. Maybe I do feel self-conscious and need to make it public so that when you see me, it won’t be some awkward explanation as to why my face looks like this? Maybe it’s some sort of processing that I need to do? I don’t know.
Either way, as clichéd as this sounds: I am weirdly happy this happened because I have gained a lot from it, so far. Being humbled is one of the best things that can happen to us for it brings great insight. Also, I can’t wait to make and eat Halloween Chex Mix.