2. Hard to Swallow

What drove me to seek more than the usual attention I don’t typically demand? A strange little lump in my throat that made swallowing annoying and sometimes difficult. It seemed like a simple case of post-nasal drip after months of the horrid respiratory trouble and a serious flu with endless coughing. The odd swallowing issue lasted too long after my flu left for my comfort, so I sought an Ear-Nose-Throat specialist–one of the best reputed.

Nothing. There’s nothing there. Nothing is wrong with you. For those who have exhibited no tell-tale signs of sickness, but know something is wrong, receiving this pat answer to an earnest seeking can be outrageously maddening. It was for me and has been during the years of various physicians telling me I “looked” fine, slim, becoming, and very healthy even when my neuro-hormonal symptoms and some tests suggested otherwise. But that was and is the quandry–reconciling whole body, holistic wellness and compartmentalized, often-organ-specific perspectives on regaining health. It is in the grey area that isolation, hopelessness, rage, as well as soul-saving resolution happens…over time, of course. Even after several visits and scopes sent down my breathing passages revealed nothing, I refused to accept that I was behaving as if I had Globus Hystericus–the name itself obviously suggesting it was “all in my head.” Irritation… yes, absolutely. While various factors that may have caused this might show in the years to come, in this moment, I resisted this mild-mannered dismissal and I persisted until I was sent for an ultrasound, just in case.

Wish my intuition was wrong–the imaging tests showed suspicious spots on my thyroid. And then a fine-needle aspiration (biopsy) confirmed papillary carcinoma. And getting the results was not easy either as the doctor who initially told me the results since my main ENT doctor was unavailable didn’t know how to really tell me. It was awkward and I had to pull it out of him since more than a week had already gone by and I no longer wanted to wait to get the confirmation that I already felt in my gut. Just say it and tell me I insisted. So he did. Cancer. He said the only solution was removing it…and actually, that meant removing the thyroid. Unacceptable to me.

That weekend (after the biopsy results) I was scheduled to participate in a 3-day martial arts survival training program…and it was brutal. I wondered if every strike with hand or knife from throws and falls or practicing self-defense moves would make me worse or break free the cancer from its current location. I remember resisting hard not to spontaneously cry in the middle of the massive mental and physical learning curves… my pain was emotional, but the physical challenges were tough, too. I’m a fighter I kept telling myself… I did make it through the 3 days and weathering the onslaught helped me curry a deeper, inward warring spirit which I innately knew I would need for all that was ahead.

When I finally let the news settle and set an in-person meeting with the ENT doctor I initially sought for an annoying lump, I didn’t tell others. I was not in a place to tell my husband either as he was very busy and traveling so much, I just didn’t find and want to add another stressor to his already busy life. Yes, I know, this is also not a healthy situation. Nonetheless, it just shows how difficult to swallow a medical diagnosis like cancer can be and how much resistance can come in the place acceptance must be to allow for empowered decision-making.

As I mentioned, I promised myself I would fight cancer naturally and avoid conventional go-to solutions of surgery and radiation. That’s precisely what I told the doctor when my husband and I went to discuss my options. He said he would only have to take 1/2 my thyroid and would monitor the other half and the remaining parathyroids hoping they would not go into shock and also be felled to death. From an outsider’s perspective, it was reasonable– a fair-enough compromise, with very little risk, and a speedy way to get rid of the “problem.” In violent opposition, my psyche refused and my body tensed, square against this sending a feverish revolt through my body up to my head. I could not take this simply proffered option. I said no and politely asked him to take me on as an “experiment” to watch and see as I wanted to explore other options.

Such explorations will be shared later, but for now, the main matter is the diagnosis and the response to it. I felt disappointed that I did not react as positively and resolutely as I promised myself I would should I become part of the 1 in 2 or 1 in 3 to be diagnosed with cancer in America. And I see now that I was not being fair to myself and beating myself up for what I perceived as lack of bravery and failure in adequately taking care of myself. It was understandable in that I was already tired from my uphill battle to recover from an electrical brain injury which became the chronic inflammatory assault on my entire body that brought confusion within my cells including cancer. I was trying not to be angry at the woman (a medical practitioner and medical machine manufacturer) who was responsible for my electrical injury… I was trying not to be sad at feeling so alone as most medical professionals had dismissed my need for help saying I “looked fine” for years… I was heartbroken and didn’t want to face how upsetting it was that my husband was too busy to be an actively involved part of all this… I was hard-pressed from every side from external and internal pressure. I just did not want to feel anything… at all. It was too much and too hard for too long and this last drop of an added trial nearly pushed me over the edge. To simply function, I refused to process fully or let myself feel anything at all… Not for many months, actually.

I squelched every rumbling of rage and capped sobs into silence and unfortunately, I let my soul fester with all these poisons for a while before I even asked God for His direction and hope and listened. All I could think of was pounding everything into submission like mixed martial artists in a blind rage do to their opponents. Kill-kill-kill. Destroy, destroy, destroy. Not much finesse in denial, hurt, and fear…and that is where I remained for a while. I had to grow quite a lot to face my brokenness and broken heart so I could see a way forward unto life. All I knew was I was determined to win and do it my way and that no one was taking my body apart. Radiative dissolution or surgical removal of this powerhouse hormone modulator felt tantamount to letting the Devil cut my throat and drain my life. Yes, it was that insanely dramatic for me. All I could do, think, or say was that I would not be beat….not by anything. Funny how such denial of a full perspective could masquerade as determination. At least I still had that… and that is where I started.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. -2 Corinthians 4:8-9

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