What Happened This Week When They Found A Tumor In My Throat
“Yip- it looks like a cancer,” the specialist sighed, pointing to the video picture of the tumor growing out of my vocal chords. “Treatable?” I asked, petrified. “Oh yes,” he replied. “But not necessarily curable.” This was last Monday. So began the worst week of my life. Here’s what happened next.
My voice had been getting increasingly hoarse for months. “Acid reflux caused by increasing size of your gut,” the GP had counseled. Then I struggled swallowing; could only speak in a whisper. So to the specialist I went last Monday. He had the bedside manner of a cobra, found a tumor, speculated cancer, gave zero reassurance.
“I’ll remove it surgically if I can on Wednesday. Then pathology. If cancer, which it probably is, come to the hospital next Tuesday and we’ll advise treatment. If it’s early stage cancer, then likely more surgery and radiation. If spread, then chemotherapy too and a 50/50 survival chance. If spread a lot, then not much we can do.” And that was it. I walked out into the sunlight devastated. So began the five worst days of my life… days underpinned by one terrible thing:
Was I ok? Did I have cancer? If throat cancer, at what stage? What would happen to me next? What were my chances of survival? How quickly would I die if it had gone too far? I know a cancer diagnosis is not always a death sentence, but it’s hard not to think the worst.
Not knowing was the most debilitating, awful, soul destroying curse. If you have certainty, you can handle it. But I needed to wait five days for that.
My Reaction To Potential Throat Cancer- And Potentially, Death
- I had no fear about my potential demise. None whatsoever. Not yet.
- My over-riding focus was on my children: how to help them cope with the loss of me.
- I immediately threw myself into preparing a well-documented, clear financial plan and process for my family- knowing they would be ‘ok’ and getting things sorted would be easy for them gave me great comfort.
- I worried deeply about my Mother- how to tell her.
- I kept really, really busy: threw myself into work; at night, wrote 12 Possums posts!
My Realisations As I Waited
- An intense and overwhelming sense of gratefulness for the life I have had- it has been a great life. To die now would be premature, but ok for me (not for my darling family).
- A stark realization that I am a loved person- my family, colleagues, the few friends that knew of our crisis- their response was just amazing- particularly the incredible strength of my wife this past week. I am so grateful to be loved.
- I work too hard and put too much emphasis into my job and career. I should have balanced that. I should have enjoyed the spoils more. I have foolishly taken the future for granted.
- I am a selfish prick- allowing habits of over-eating, smoking and drinking (though I eat perfectly well at home and am surrounded by sound and constant counsel on my health- I just ignore it).
- I would have let my family down badly. They need me more than I need me. I failed them. The guilt was overwhelming. “I am so sorry, so sorry,” I kept sobbing to myself.
Two hours under the knife on Wednesday last week. He was concerned that if the tumor was too tightly lodged around the vocal chords, he’d only be able to take samples. “Need to know if it is a cancer first in that case, to inform how much we need to cut out of the vocal chords.” All went well. Tumor totally removed except for submerged ‘stalk.’ “It’s 50/50 a cancer,” the specialist told us afterwards. “90% of the tumors I remove from that spot are cancer, but this does not quite look like one.”
The Pathology Results
2pm Friday afternoon the call came in. “Benign polyp- all clear. I’m surprised. I was sure it was cancer.”
What Happened Next
I told my wife. We hugged long and hard. We rang our children. They cried. I emailed my colleagues. They cheered. I went home.
On my kitchen table that morning I had left two folders (photo below). Each represented a very different future. The first, all the details of an exciting trip in a few weeks to Provence to the wedding of the son of great friends. The second, a folder entitled “Me”, in which were all my worst case scenario plans, from ‘Fighting It’, to final wishes, to books I would buy and leave to give with an individual annual birthday note for each of my children until they turned 21.
I packed away the ‘Me’ folder in a bottom drawer. Opened the ‘Provence’ folder. I had my future back. Certainty. It had been 50/50. This time it had come out my way. And now the question is: how will I use this to change my path? Will I use it fully? Will this actually have been the very best week I could have had? I am determined for that to be the case.
Why Am I Telling You All This?
As I am coming to terms with the reality check this week has brought me, I guess I am saying to you: STOP…THINK…REVIEW…. ASSESS…. Don’t take the future for granted. Are you leading the right life for you?